Chaos Theory Portrayal In Heart Of Darkness

Chaos Theory Portrayal In Heart Of Darkness

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In Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, the strongest conflict is an internal conflict that is most prominently shown in Marlow and Kurtz. This conflict is the struggle between their image of themselves as civilized human beings and the ease of abandoning their morality once they leave society. This inability has a close resemblance to the chaos theory. This is shown through the contrast of Kurtz as told by others and the actuality of him and through the progression of Marlow's character throughout Heart of Darkness. defines chaos theory as the phenomenon of unpredictable and complex dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to small changes in external conditions. In Heart of Darkness, the difference in input is Africa and the absolute power found there. "Absolute power corrupts", not so much from the power, but from becoming the only judge of your actions. Without an external controlling source, a human is likely to run to a more primitive source of control--human instinct.
Kurtz was first introduced to us as "a first-class agent" (Heart of Darkness, 29) and "a very remarkable person"(29) by the chief accountant. He was shown to be a painter and a poet with "moral ideals" (51) that ruled his life. Everyone who really knew him revered his opinions and words. "You don't talk with that man-- you listen to him." (90) All this points to a very moral and upstanding gentleman who follows the edicts of society to the bitter end.
The man we meet deep in the Congo isn't the same man. He isn't civilized or truly respectable anymore. At this point, he had gone mad. He had the heads of "rebels" (97) on posts around his house, staring at his home. "He [Kurtz] hated all this, and somehow he couldn't get away." (95) Kurtz had two opposing sensibilities. The one said that he should leave and return to civilization and his fiancée while escaping the sickness that seemed to pervade that jungle for all Europeans. The other sensibility was more basic. It was a growl for absolute power over the lives of the natives and also the material want for more ivory. He couldn't escape this hunger. Even at the end of his life when he has been carried onto the ship and is happy to leave, he tries to break away from this decision and return to the jungle.

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The progression of Marlow from the beginning to the end is not as dramatic, but it is still an insight into the reaction of human minds to a lack of ‘good' guidance. In the beginning, Marlow makes statements that give him a kinship with the Africans. "…this also…has been one of the dark places of the earth."(6) and when he is talking to his aunt about the ignorant millions, Marlow states that she made him "quite uncomfortable"(9). This seems to give him the air of being above thinking of Africans as savages or infidels. He may not consider them to be his equal, but they are not so far beneath him. On his voyage into the jungle he is hit by the strength of the African's but he also acknowledges that he will become accustomed to their treatment. "I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly"(25). He speaks of the men who become less formidable when pretending to civilize a group of people while actually feeding on their toil and pain.
Marlow slowly changes from that man of knowledge to a man of the African jungle. He was thrilled by "the thought of their humanity-- like yours-- the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly."(59). This excerpt shows that Marlow is becoming more confused between who he was and who he could be. Then the lines become even more blurred and Marlow seems to forget what he used to be. He refers to his helmsman as "an improved specimen" and "to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind-legs."(61). He feels he is training this dog of his to be of better use whereas before he entered the Congo, he felt some kinship to these people. More kinship than to call them a "fool-nigger"(76) when they attempt to protect themselves with a gun.
In the end, he sides with Kurtz. It's not clear whether he is simply choosing Kurtz's method of honest evil over the company's ruse of civilization or if he truly believes in what Kurtz was doing. "Nevertheless I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man" (105) influences the thought that he supports Kurtz's methods. Kurtz's method of holding a gun to a man's head in order to take their ivory. Kurtz's method of beheading ‘rebels' and posting their heads about his house. Kurtz's method of intimidating the local populace into believing that he is a god. This is what Marlow is calling a good method; coming from a ‘remarkable man'. This image is at odds with the person we are first introduced to.
Joseph Conrad portrays these two characters in very similar ways. They both were very educated men with definite constructs of power. Both come from countries with a King, or Queen depending on the era, and are subordinate to someone. When they leave Europe, these constructs are left behind. They enter a new society where men rule by strength of will or strength of weaponry. The freedom of this comes at a cost. Human minds are fallible-- it is very difficult to find a person who always has the right answer for a problem and the right method to reach that answer. So when a person can make the laws in whatever way they deem right, they can suffer from megalomania as Kurtz does.
In these two cases-- and a few others including a Swede who hung himself and Fresleven who unpredictably started to beat a native over a pair of chickens-- an unpredictable result occurred in seemingly normal men who were subjected to Africa. Few people can picture themselves letting go of a paradigm for living to become what Kurtz and Marlow ultimately become. They are the unpredictable outcome of a dynamic system. Conrad chose to display this side of human nature to expose the underlying necessity of a society and control.
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