Struggle between Freudian Personalities in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"

Struggle between Freudian Personalities in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"

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Heart of Darkness, is not only an intense tale of pursuit, but also a psychological roller coaster as, through the characters of the story, Joseph Conrad shows us a powerful struggle between the Freudian personalities of id, ego and superego. The main characters of the novel, Marlow and Kurtz are mainly identified with the id and the super-ego type of personalities, and throughout the novel, these characters are placed in intense situations which makes them question their own beliefs and reactions, and ultimately their human personality. Hence, in between the characters, not only is there a battle in the physical sense, but also on the meta-physical level. This leads to a psychological imbalance between the human personalities of both the characters, and while one character is already dominated by his id to a large extent, the other character grapples with the struggle of his id with his super-ego.

This story is set in the backdrop of the Congo River, in the African jungles. Joseph Conrad, the author of this novel himself had piloted a small steamboat up the Congo River amidst a dense land which was being heartlessly exploited as the private property of King Leopold. Although Conrad wasn’t to meet any Kurtz, the entire experience of the journey left him morally, mentally and physically crippled. Thus, this novel possesses many auto-biographical elements as Conrad has included many inferences based on his own experience in the African jungle. And this also heavily impacts the psychological nuances which the characters in the story go through.

Now, relating the psycho-analytical elements of the novel to the Freudian division of personalities, the characters of Marlow and Kurtz draw a parallel with mainly the superego and the i...


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...he also tries to tell us that like Kurtz, some men can stray so far that it becomes impossible to come back.

Thus, in this novel, the characters of Marlow and Kurtz, are, at one time, shown to have been dominated by their super-ego, brought up in the British society believing in the White man’s burden. Then, both the characters journey through the African jungles, where they are confronted by horrors that they struggle to stay human and civilized. While Kurtz gives in completely to his id and becomes an inhumane barbarian, controlled by his wants and wishes; Marlow doesn’t completely give in as much as Kurtz but does remain psychologically affected from his experiences. Finally, through this intense struggle between the personalities of the characters, Conrad tries to tell us that human personality is indeed very fragile, and can be compromised without restraint.

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