Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s story.
What is it that makes Heart of Darkness, a rather simple plot engender so much interest and interpretation? What is really Marlow talking about? Marlow’s description of the “wilderness” he encounters brings Jung’s archetypes, the ancient images that lie in the depths of the human psyche strikingly to mind. Marlow’s story makes an impact on the reader because the reader responds to the images hedescribes. My argument is that in describing his experiences, Marlow actually uses images from our collective unconscious to describe significant psychological processes that he goes through. I will show that what Marlow comes in contact with is the contents of the unconscious and the dark side of man (including his own). He seems to go through the four stages of psychic development all alone, a task that taxes his powers and partly explains his state of mind when he returns to Brussels.
The method of this thesis is based on a close reading of the text and its division into chapters. The chapters correspond roughly to important incidents with the related images of nature and the thoughts they elicit in Marlow. These chapters are grouped again in the: Chapter I Introduction, Chapter II The Opening, Chapter III The Breaking Down of the Conscious World, Chapter IV The Shadow, and Chapter V Conclusion.
I will consider in some detail what Marlow sees and experiences and how this affects him. In doing so I will use Marlow’s own description of the situation and the thoughts it evokes in him. Marlow often turns to nature when he describes an event connecting in this way the images of nature to the situation. I am going to use Jung’s analytical psychology as a support text to Marlow’s story because I think that Jung’s theory often throws a light upon Marlow’s words. In treating the issue in question other points of view will be mentioned as well.
Part I contains the description of the narrative situation, Marlow’s effort to obtain a job in Africa, his physical journey to Africa and his staying at the Company’s Station. Part II describes Marlow’s first encounter with African nature, his description of the people at the Central Station and the beginning of his journey towards Kurtz’sInner Station. This part is both a physical journey and the beginning of a journey within. In part III Marlow meets Kurtz at last; most of part III is about Marlow’s thoughts and feelings about Kurtz and also about their actual meeting.
What makes a rather simple plot elicit so much interest and interpretation? Heart of Darkness is a tale without an end, thus insisting that the tale must be retold. The fascinating images which the first narrator successfully uses to illustrate his speech is still another point that confirms the fact. These images, which according to Jung spring from our collective unconscious, elicit a response to the reader who interprets them in accordance with his own perspective thus applying his own meaning to them. It also confirms the fact that the author approaches the reader by using our ancient language, the images that are stored in our collective unconscious.
Another question posed in the Introduction is what Marlow is talking about. He tries to tell another person’s story and he attempts to link another person’s life story to his own. Marlow is also talking about European imperialism, revealing its greed and injustice. Moreover, he is also talking about human nature, about man’scruelty to man, revealing the existence of the guardian angel and the familiar devil in man. Marlow pictures the workings of a civilization expressed in words but not in actions and what happens to individuals created inside its frame: lacking inner moral guidance, they either cross the line by acting all that is contemned in their society orthey kill themselves for no apparent reason.