Every literary novel ever written, has never been limited to any one meaning, theme, or analysis. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is no exception, at first look it is the journey of a man into the depths of Africa. Although with a little more digging and a wider perception gathered, Heart of Darkness is actually an even darker journey within the subconscious– discovering what some may never uncover about themselves. Conrad closely binds his character’s development throughout the plot with famous psychologist Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theories. This is done through his demonstration in; the nightmares presented, unique motifs of the mind and the soul, and representation of the Id, Ego, and Superego.
One major point in psychoanalysis theories, is the ability of dreams and nightmares to show the subconscious, this is done through dream analysis which was a major point in Freud’s research agenda. Within Heart of Darkness, Conrad brings up many examples of nightmares– both literal and figurative. For example, Conrad states “I did not betray Mr. Kurtz – it was ordered I should never betray him—it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice” (53). In this example, nightmare is figurative but still demonstrates Freud’s conception of the Ego. By balancing between his fierce desire for Kurtz and his morals against corruption, he chooses the lesser of two evils, or “nightmares”.
To him, Kurtz’ corruption is far less worse than the company’s corruption. Although when nightmares are used literally in this piece of literature, the same sort of point is illustrated. Marlow’s fading sense of reality is clear when Conrad writes “They had behind them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares” (Chapter 3). Conrad makes it crystal clear that the character of Kurtz is meant to be marlow’s alter ego. Throughout the novel it is a recurring occurrence for Marlow to build Kurtz up into a god like figure in his mind, which could possibly be a role model figure of the man he’d like to be. By demonstrating that Kurtz speaks of nightmares yet they are common, he stresses that this is an evil that can easily fall upon any common man, representing the Id. The Id being the unconscious animal instinct and desire that sometimes takes total control over our thoughts and actions if the ego does not intervene. Another unique motif that shows a repeating pattern throughout the novel is that of the soul.
Conrad seemed to have an engraved interest in Kurtz’ soul, more specifically, how the jungle took a toll on it. He writes, “I Marlow saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself” (Conrad, 52). While nightmares and dreams do in fact lead an immense role in psychoanalytic theories, Freud’s entire psychological research was based around connecting the unconscious and the soul together. Kurtz’ character’s purpose is to establish what happens when all restraint is withheld, leaving behind purely passion and desire. This character’s time in the jungle has stripped him bare of every day society’s coverage; morals, values, and proper etiquette. Marlow uses the word ‘mystery’ regarding the soul because of how rarely one is shown to the outside world. This idea is further emphasized when marlow says, “But his soul was mad.
Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens I tell you, it had gone mad” (Conrad, 140). This demonstrates the same characteristics of Kurtz in his character development. The jungle could perhaps represent the Id within the subconscious, as it brings out the presented characters’ animalistic instincts and desires. Now finally, concluding with the most obvious factor within the faction of psychology; the mind. Conrad makes his interest in the science of psychology brutally obvious throughout Heart of Darkness. For example in this quote by Marlow, “I remembered the old doctor, ‘It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes in individuals, on the spot.’ I felt I was becoming scientifically interesting” (50).
Marlow is clearly describing psychology in and of itself here. It is evident in many literary novels that the authors’ opinions and ideas inevitably shine through the words on the pages, Conrad’s specific interest in the psychology of the mind presents itself in this particular quotation. Another important reference included within the novel is “The mind of a man is capable of anything—because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future” (Conrad, 98). This allows the reader to have a deeper look into Kurtz’ epiphany and his thought process. His time in isolation has opened up his perception of the world and himself, introducing yet another subcategory of psychology; self-awareness. The section in the novel when Marlow meets with the doctor before heading into the jungle, seems nothing short of strange to a reader who has no foreshadowing of what is to come later.
The doctor measures Marlow’s skull and mentions that he has never been able to compare measurements as he has never seen anyone come back from the jungle. The doctor also makes a comment of how it does not matter what is on the outside of the head, but the inside (Conrad, 26). Conrad uses the figure of the doctor in this novel to represent the general motif of psychology.
Through various literary techniques and references to famous psychology motifs, Conrad successfully develops a strong underlying theme for his novel. Anyone can find out the basic facts of Conrad’s life; day of birth, hometown, family, childhood, etc. It is not until a reader picks up his book that they will truly know Conrad’s story.
Heart of Darkness successfully exemplifies many themes, meanings, and morals. Thereby showing what matters most to him not only throughout his own life, but what he would like to see in other’s lives as well. Although with the recurring mentioning of psychology within the novel, Conrad expresses his interest in this specific line of work. Specifically in the darker sense of the matter, of what can go wrong and how the slippery slope unfolds into a nightmare when humans are stripped down to their very core.