Interpretations of Heart of Darkness

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  • Topic: Heart of Darkness, King Leopold's Ghost, Leopold II of Belgium
  • Pages : 3 (1102 words )
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  • Published : August 6, 2010
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In Conrad’s 1902 novella Heart of Darkness, there are several ways of interpreting Marlow’s journey down the Congo River. Marlow’s journey is symbolic and metaphoric, and hence can be interpreted psychoanalytically, mythically and historically. A psychoanalytical reading involves examining Marlow’s journey in the light of Freud’s and Nietzsche’s understanding of humanity’s inner psyche. A mythical understanding reverberates on the plot, such that Marlow engages on a heroic quest to find his holy grail. Furthermore the text can be examined historically, as a depiction of the colonial enterprise and the rhetoric that it stood for. Hence all three interpretations are valid and depict Marlow’s symbolic journey through narrative techniques such as frame narrative, metaphor, symbolism, setting and irony.

A psychoanalytical understanding of Marlow’s journey stems from the philosophical developments of Freud and Nietzsche in their books The Interpretations of Dreams (1899) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883). Freud’s ideas encompass the notion that dreams are the gateway for deep human subconsciousness. In Heart of Darkness it can be said that Marlow’s physical journey to Kurtz is symptomatic of his own psychological journey to understand his own inner identity. This becomes easily apparent through the dream-like nature of Marlow’s journey in, “Going up to that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetarian rioted on the earth and the big trees were the kings.”, suggesting through hyperbolic simile that man’s identity is timeless and concealed within the metaphoric “impenetrable forest” of the conscious mind. This identity is what Kurtz comes to represent, emphasising man’s inner savagery, brutality, lust and desires which are repressed by society. Hence Freud suggests through Conrad’s novel that, when unrestrained, the unconscious desires of man become reality. This idea supports Nietzsche’s Übermensch, that is, one who gives up...
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