In my essay I intend to prove Joseph Conrad's use of the Freudian model of the human mind, as portrayed in his characterization of Marlowe, Kurtz, and the "wilderness". Further, using that model I will explicate Conrad's ambiguous tone in Heart of Darkness.
First, I must define each figure in Conrad's novel with its appropriate Freudian psyche. These psyche are defined in an essay by Ross C. Murfin's essay, "Psychoanalytic Criticism in The Awakening":
"the human mind is essentially dual in nature. He called the predominately passional, irrational, unknown, and unconscious part of the psyche the id, or "it". The ego, or "I", was his term for the predominantly rational, logical, orderly, conscious part. Another aspect of the psyche, which he called the superego, is really a projection of the ego. The superego almost seems to be outside of the self, making moral judgements, telling us to make sacrifices for good causes even though self-sacrifice may not be quite logical or rational."(Murfin 219)
We see the characteristics of Freud's "id" in the descriptions of Kurtz's savage actions as well as Marlowe's analysis as to why he acted this way:
"I want you to clearly understand that there was nothing exactly profitable in these heads being there. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him-some small matter which when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence. Whether he knew of this deficiency himself I can't say. I think the knowledge came to him at last-only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terr...
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...y the memory of gratified and monstrous passions." (Conrad 132)
It is the connection between Kurtz, Marlowe and their inability to figure out the "wilderness" that we are left with Kurtz's chilling last words: "The horror. The horror." This quote is significant because of it ambiguity. Conrad keeps the readers curiosity by having us searching for "meaning" in what the heart of darkness is. The feeling of eerie confusion we get from Kurtz and Marlowe's fear and bewilderment of the wilderness is symbolic of the human mind's inability to realize the unconscious. Conrad uses the "wilderness" as Marlowe's symbol of the unconscious.
Murfin, Ross C.. "Feminist Criticism and The Awakening." in Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Boston: Bedford Books, 1993.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. New York: Signet Classic, 1997.
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