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The Exploration of a Dream: Heart of Darkness and the Journey through the Congo

A dream can be many things; vague, distinct, realistic, wildly imaginative, or even scary. Many people believe that dreams are just random bits of information, but sometimes they can be a journey of thoughts the dreamer did not even know they were thinking. Chemist Friedrich August Kekule believed dreaming was more than just a journey, when speaking at a scientific meeting he told his colleagues, let us learn to dream, gentlemen, and then we may perhaps find the truth (Bressler, 142). Truth comes in many forms, and in the case of Joseph Conrads book, Heart of Darkness, truth is found at the end of Marlows journey. His journey is an exploration of ideals, beliefs, and society. Throughout Heart of Darkness, the character Marlow tells the story of his adventure in Africa through the Congo to find a man named Kurtz. The exploration through the Congo serves as a metaphor for Marlows (or Conrads) exploration of the restraints of society and the possibilities the Congo encourages to class-climbers such as Kurtz. It is imperative to remember that, for this essay, Marlow and Conrad are the same person, as Conrad is speaking through Marlow. Marlows journey is very dreamlike to the shipmates he tells the story to. They hear the story as they would the explanation of a dream; it is vivid yet incomprehensible, amazing yet terrible. Using both Marxism and Psychoanalysis, Marlows journey will be revealed to be a search for himself and his place in society. The experiences of Marlow are difficult to express, and he describes situations he doesnt fully understand as mere glimpses or whirls of motion, similar to how parts of a dream will be remembered. Marlows dreamlike state (his trip through the

Ruhland, 2 Congo) is not only a journey to find his true self, it is a journey through the mind that attempts to find a classless/idealistic society. When using psychoanalysis, one must take a literary text and treat it like a dream, applying psychoanalytic techniques to the text to uncover the authors hidden motivations, repressed desires, and wishes (Bressler, 149). In her article considering Heart of Darkness as a gothic novel, Jennifer Lipka explains Marlows trip as a journey into his unconscious mind (29). This journey takes place as a dream, where the unconscious mind usually expresses itself, if sometimes in a puzzling way. The far-off, exotic settings, nightmares, visions, night and darkness aplenty, a damned soul, and a ghost haunting Marlow justify the surreal quality of Marlows tale (Lipka, 29). Throughout Marlows story, there are many moments where he thinks of and explains his experience as a dream. Telling the story to his shipmates feels as though he is trying to tell you a dream making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible (Conrad, 42). Marlow is struck by the overwhelming sense of the bizarre, that which the dreaming world consists of. After Kurtz dies, Marlow knows he had remained to dream the nightmare out to the end (Conrad, 87). It is important for Marlow to realize this, because the best avenue for discovering the content and the activity of the unconscious is through our dreams, and it is in dreams that our true intentions or desires are revealed (Bressler, 143,145). While working, it is the chance to find yourself. Your own reality that Marlow likes, and in his dream his boat is both his work and his path through his

Ruhland, 3 unconscious (Ridley, 45). His boat serves as the main transportation through his dream world, into the dwelling of the darkness of his unconscious. In Marlows prior life, it was work that defined him to others; he was a member of the proletariat class. Therefore it is no surprise that his unconscious and conscious are centering on his society as a form of neurosis, a battle of the inner powers of the mind to determine what it is Marlow really wants. Marx states that consciousness does not determine life: life determines consciousness (Bressler, 193). What this means is that humans define themselves through the way they live, that through concepts of who we are, not the way we were born, we will create our consciousness. These two concepts merge together for Conrad; through Marlow he uses dreaming as a way to express his own definition of himself. His consciousness is created through who he is, but his unconscious is using the dream to betray uncertainty about whether he agrees with himself and his place in society. According to Freud, the unconscious will break through to the conscious in the form of dreaming. Concealed wishes are shaped into acceptable social activities (Bressler, 148). This is aided by processes such as displacement and condensation. When Marlow journeys to the Congo, the meeting with Kurtz takes place in a dreamland capable of accepting these unconscious wishes. The unconscious is unsure of its place in society, and there is also the concept of society not being acceptable to the dreamer, who is both Conrad and Marlow. In this dream, displacement is used to represent society as it seems to Conrad, and how he believes it should be. In this case, Kurtz signifies multiple forms of displacement. Kurtz is society, Marlows confusion, and the fork in the pathway where Marlow/Conrad must decide who they are. Marlow says of Kurtz, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to

Ruhland, 4 draw back my hesitating foot (Conrad, 87). Marlow doesnt agree with Kurtzs notions, but he respects them. Here, the reader can peer into the dreamers thoughts and realize that society, in the eye of Conrad and Marlow, is dysfunctional, like Kurtz, but should be respected because it had candour, it had convictionit had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth the strange commingling of desire and hate (Conrad, 87). Conrad and Marlow might not have agreed with their place in society, and how society functioned, but at least society did something, had something to say. In Heart of Darkness displacement and condensation go hand in hand, working together to explore the unconscious mind. Mr. Kurtz is the Companys best agentan exceptional man, and Marlow shows great contempt for the praises from the manager, saying Hang Kurtz (Conrad, 37). Here Conrad employs condensation, where the psyche may consolidate ones anger towards a variety of people and objects into a simple sentence (Bressler, 148). Displacement and condensation work together with Kurtz, first representing society through Kurtz then showing contempt for Kurtz, and thus society. Language is also very important in this journey of the mind. Conrad, as Lipka states, wrote this story using very dreamlike language, and Marlow repeatedly explains he is living in the nightmare of his choice, living a waking horrific dream (Lipka, 30). In a book like Heart of Darkness, language and irony act like a veil between a patient and the horror of a traumatic experience such as Marlow feels (Lipka, 30). Lacan also believed in the importance of language, it was his opinion that language shapes and ultimately structures our unconscious and conscious minds and shapes our self-identity (Bressler, 153). Much of Conrad and Marlows word choice shapes the dream, and thus his self-identity. On his journey he meets many dark and dangerous turns and surprises,

Ruhland, 5 much as in reality. Marlow would talk of penetrating deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness, and how it was similar to an unknown planet (Conrad, 51). There would be a whirl of black limbs accompanied with an incomprehensible frenzy or the savage discords which filled their ears (Conrad, 51, 55). Marlow acknowledges how another social institution, that of language, is also nothing more than a tool used to justify ones identity (Lipka, 28). Marlow and Conrad seem to both be very unsure of their sense of belonging, and of their identity. Their language conveys this feeling, this sense of the unknown. Conrad draws on language, condensation, and displacement to help the reader understand his dream, and also to allow himself to understand. Marlow is clearly a member of the proletariat class, but in Africa his class is more unclear, and it is questionable whether Marlow even wants to have a place in this society. His goal in the Congo is to find the answers to many of the complex questions about how life is and ought to be experienced while simultaneously challenging other ideologies to provide their pragmatic answers for these same concerns, which is also the goal of Marxism (Bressler, 192). Many of these questions will never be and can not be answered. Marlow uses his journey through the Congo to answer as many of these complex questions as he can, in order to help him determine who he really is. Florence Ridley, in her article that attempts to discover the ultimate meaning of Heart of Darkness, recognizes that Marlow must find his place in society. She also states that there must be an understanding of self in order to determine his way in life and in his conscious and unconscious mind (Ridley, 45). Marlow, a member of the proletariat, or working class, realizes that proletariat only defines what someone else believes him to be, not who he actually is. Therefore, he must discern his true self from within his

Ruhland, 6 dream. Kurtz is very helpful in this process, as Kurtz is not so much that of a mirror image, a double to Marlow but more his opposite, providing an example from which [to] learn (Ridley, 45). Meeting Kurtz helps Marlow to consider the type of man he is and wants to be. Marlows dream leaves him with many choices to make and thoughts to dwell over. Once Marlow has confronted his destructive nightmare, he is given the option to reject society, and face the consequences which will be in store for him or to reintegrate himself into healthy society (Lipka, 32). When he lies to Kurtzs Intended, it is clear that he has chosen to go back to society. Marlow could not tell her. It would have been too dark too dark altogether (Conrad, 94). Marlow realizes that in order to stay within society, we must live surrounded by darkness in the flickerof lighting in the clouds (Ridley, 52). The illusion that Kurtzs Intended lives with, as well as all others of society, is one Marlow is free of, due to Kurtz. However, this illusion is not only darkness. Conrad has also written of the subtle but invincible conviction ofsolidarity in dreamsin aspirations, in illusions, in hopewhich binds together all humanity (Ridley, 52). Although the dark illusion is blinding, there is still opportunity for rays of light. While reading the story, critics will see the significance of the dark, [they] take no notice of the light (Ridley, 44). However triumphant the darkness is, the last exultant triumph belongs to the light. Marlows lie to Kurtzs Intended begins with darkness, but the pinpoint of light that is Marlows intentions becomes steadily brighter, and overtakes the darkness. Perhaps Conrad is saying that evil is not complete, overwhelming; instead he is pointing out that even with faults everyone and everything (including society) still has virtues worthy of respect.

Ruhland, 7 Although Marlow chose to return to society, he does not return blind, surrounded by the darkness of the illusion. Instead, he takes with him some of Kurtzs beliefs. Marlow senses the threat posed to his Victorian English liberal values, his ethos, by both the Companys vulgar materialism and Kurtzs unworldly idealism (Lewis, 214). When his dream comes to the ultimate test of morals and society, Kurtz succumbs to the darkness completely. Marlow, however, does precisely the opposite and does not go ashore for a dance and a howl (Ridley, 46). Marlow understands where Kurtz goes wrong, and abhors the idealisms of Kurtz, but he still believes in something of Kurtzs appeals to moral ideas (Lewis, 214). Kurtz tells Marlow all about human beings, tells him in what way the ever-threatening darkness can triumph, and what the result of such triumph can be, but Kurtz does not convey this knowledge directly, nor by serving as a double, but by serving as an object lesson (Ridley, 46). The difference between Kurtz and Marlow is that Marlow has some kind of inner strength, of faith in something (Ridley, 48). Kurtz is a hollow man, with no inner strength or faith, and his last words, The Horror! The Horror! are reminiscent of this (Conrad, 86). Marlow sees what is wrong with Kurtz, but he also sees what is good in Kurtz, his words were an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory (Conrad, 88). Marlow is loyal to Kurtz because he had something to say, and that something, although not of Marlows taste, had conviction, had a ring to it that Marlow knew he must remember. Marlow has divided opinions about Kurtz, but whatever his opinion, he respects him. Along with that, he takes the ideals that he learned through Kurtzs failures.

Ruhland, 8 Marlow, as a representative of Conrad, faces many challenges in the nightmare of his choice, and comes out only a little less uncertain from than when he began (Lipka, 30). Kurtz is very important on his journey of self-discovery, and through Kurtzs misdeeds Marlow is able to find the beliefs and morals that he values. Marlow does not turn on his society, but he comes back to it enlightened, and with a sense of judgment and misgivings of the faults of society than he first believed. His journey brought him closer to understanding self. Complete awareness of self is an unreachable goal that should nevertheless be reached for as often as possible, and Marlow determines to do so. Instead of living in the dark, he goes forth with new possibilities and a sense of who he is. Although he refuses to break the darkness, the illusion, of the Intended, he does not do so with himself, he leaves the light on in order to judge more carefully the society he has accepted once more.

Ruhland, 9 Works Cited Bressler, Charles E. "Marxism." Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 191-211. Print. Bressler, Charles E. "Psychoanalytic Criticism." Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 142-66. Print. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed. Ross C. Murfin. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996. Print. Lewis, Pericles. ""His Sympathies Were in the Right Place": Heart of Darkness and the Discourse of National Character." Nineteenth-Century Literature 53.2 (1998): 211-44. Print. Lipka, Jennifer. "The Horror! The Horror!": Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a Gothic Novel. "Conradiana 40.1 (2008): 25-37. Web. 11 Nov. 2010. Ridley, Florence H. "The Ultimate Meaning of "Heart of Darkness"" NineteenthCentury Fiction 18.1 (1963): 43-53. JSTOR. June 1963. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.