Modernism and Existential Loneliness Demonstrated in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and James Joyce's The Dead

Modernism and Existential Loneliness Demonstrated in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and James Joyce's The Dead

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Two authors who demonstrate modernism in its rawest form are Joseph Conrad and James Joyce. Both Conrad and Joyce incorporate one of the key characteristics of modernism throughout their works, Conrad in Heart of Darkness and Joyce in The Dead. The key characteristic that each writer targets in on is existential loneliness. It is a predominant theme throughout both of their works. A working definition of existential loneliness as illustrated throughout Conrad and Joyce’s works is the inability of one character to feel accepted by his or her peers, regardless of the close proximities that he or she is resides in. The individual who suffers from existential loneliness is incapable of interacting with on a personal level. He or she often feels isolated among others.
The application of existential loneliness used by Conrad is illustrated throughout the depiction of his characters, and more specifically, through Kurtz. Conrad intentionally prohibits the reader from attaining any connections with the characters throughout Heart of Darkness. With the exception of a few characters throughout his story, Conrad prohibits the characters from revealing any personal identity. The reader only knows them by way of “The Lawyer, The Accountant, and The Director” (Conrad 2141). Conrad’s lack of naming the characters establishes a sense of disassociation with any of them, which demonstrates intentional loneliness. The characters themselves feel no real connections with one another. For lack of conversation among each other they resort to mediation and placid starring (Conrad 2141). Even the narrator of the story remains nameless, again, establishing the lack of personal connection between the reader and narrator.
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...try to rectify the isolation he is feeling is shattered by his wife’s rejection. The first awakening that he has had in a long time is disregarded, again, reminding him that “his own identity was fading into a grey impalpable world” (Joyce 2472).
Both Conrad and Joyce demonstrate a modernist approach to literature through their continual use of existential loneliness with their depiction of Kurtz and Gabriel. Each character is isolated in a world that seems to disregard their presence. Conrad’s portrayal of Kurtz as a man who is unable to endure life in a civilized society and Joyce’s portrayal of Gabriel within a civilized society illustrates that regardless of one’s environment, it is easy to be alienated. Existential loneliness is a modern characteristic that takes place within the individual, a trait that is clearly demonstrated by both Kurtz and Gabriel.

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