Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Through a Freudian Lens

1194 WordsJun 18, 20185 Pages
Without personal access to authors, readers are left to themselves to interpret literature. This can become challenging with more difficult texts, such as Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness. Fortunately, literary audiences are not abandoned to flounder in pieces such as this; active readers may look through many different lenses to see possible meanings in a work. For example, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness may be deciphered with a post-colonial, feminist, or archetypal mindset, or analyzed with Freudian psycho-analytic theory. The latter two would effectively reveal the greater roles of Kurtz and Marlow as the id and the ego, respectively, and offer the opportunity to draw a conclusion about the work as a whole. Sigmund Freud’s…show more content…
His European-influenced judgements of many of the things he sees – such as the valley of death, where Marlow stands “horror-struck” (Conrad 84), and the pilgrims’ “little fun” with the Winchesters as the boat departs Kurtz’s Inner Station – are not shared by anyone around him (151). His active super-ego allows Marlow to impose European moral codes over himself in and his perceptions of Africa. Others, all of whom lack such a faculty, lost when they entered Africa what civilization they possessed in Europe. Throughout his time in Africa, Marlow is able to adhere to the demands of his super-ego, and this affects his friends’ perception of him when he returns to England. They are only human, while Marlow seems to have transcended his humanity: he “[sits] apart” from them, “indistinct and silent,” like “a meditating Buddha” (164). His account of the time before his departure for Africa indicates that he too was simply human at that time; he became Buddha-like sometime in the course of his travels. The point of his ascention from humanity is clear when another method of interpretation is applied. When Marlow and Kurtz are viewed as archetypes of the ego and the id, the story as a whole takes on a greater metaphorical meaning. Marlow’s journey is not to Africa; he travels into his own mind, and the forest is his unconscious. Marlow sets out to discover and

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