Heart of Darkness Analysis

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Heart of Darkness Essay

The heroic journey. This is a familiar feature of many stories. From Odysseus of ancient Greece to Harry Potter of popular culture, this archetype remains a predominant feature of a myth. From gypsies sitting around campfires telling tales of magic and wonder, to twenty-first century audiences crowding around their television screens, stories that we tell are to enlighten, advise and entertain. The structure of creating tales with archetypes composes an enthralling piece of work and a story line that keeps readers engaged and interested. These archetypal patterns are woven into Joseph Conrad’s story Heart of Darkness. The novella encompasses the frames of the ancient myths and the hero’s myth along with the archetypes which reveal the hero’s inner world.

Symbolically, the Hero’s journey represents the descent into the unconscious. In Heart of Darkness, the hero is represented in Marlow and his personal unconscious is represented by the jungle, or the forest; the forest is traditionally dark, like a labyrinth. The most developed stage of Marlow’s journey is to realize his Shadow. When he reaches the jungle, he recognizes it. In the story the shadow character is Kurtz. The other archetypes aren’t quite as well developed; nevertheless, their meaning is very important in the understanding of the story.

A hero is character that remains almost exactly the same throughout the ages; as it has distinct qualities and characteristics that each adhere to. As Campbell states, the Hero must feel that “something is missing in life” (Campbell) and it should evoke his desire to leave the familiar space and enter the unknown. For Marlow, a spur to go on a quest was his, “the mariner’s, not being on a voyage for long enough and desire to visit the place he had wanted to go since childhood”(Conrad Pg.21). His desire to go to Congo was so strong that having failed by himself, Marlow asked his relatives to help him get appointed for a job there; as that notion drove him. Marlow was eager to go to the jungle because there was a river which “resembling an immense snake uncoiled … had charmed [him]” (Conrad Pg.22), when he had looked upon a map. A strong impact of the idea on Marlow’s conscious reveals that it was caused by the hero which typically creates either outward or inward necessity for changes. Being a wonderer he could do without traveling. Therefore, the longing for voyages implies that the hero got tired of the surroundings of the land and needed an escape to the sea or a river. However, the need for a change in surroundings may be symbolically viewed as a need of a change in one’s mind.

Campbell claims that the hero has to cross the threshold of consciousness and adds that the entrance is not free and is protected. The guardians “mark the point of no return” (Campbell). In Heart of Darkness the symbolic threshold is the Continental Concern Marlow worked for. Here Marlow’s first entering the company should be considered. He entered the building of the Company through an “immense double door ponderously ajar” (Campbell Pg.45). The door shares its meaning with the threshold. It is a transitional point from one place to another, from lightness to darkness. What concerns Marlow was that he was invited to move from the conscious to the unconscious and discover the different realms. Nevertheless, the manner of his entrance was of great importance; he, the hero “slipped through one of these cracks” (Campbell Pg.47). The contradiction of the “immense double door ponderously ajar” and “the crack” suggests that the other realm is entered through a narrow passage; a secrecy which creates the feeling of danger.

Campbell claims that when the hero reaches his unconscious, another realm, he is overwhelmed with doubtful thoughts and sometimes despair. This is all considered to be a part of the process during the journey of the hero and coming to a realization and understanding, as well as obtaining the...
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