As one of the first novelists of the modernist movement, ambiguity and complexity were techniques used extensively by Conrad. The title of Heart of Darkness then is both an explicit enigma and a medium by which Conrad explores the human mind and behavior. The phrase “heart of darkness” itself is a recurring motif and used in such a way that the reader feels as if he is being guided to a place of self – actualization. The journey to the heart of darkness is an exploration into the human consciousness, and the culminating experience is the realization of the pervasiveness of our unconscious desires.
Conrad and Freud were both pioneers in stressing the irrational elements in human behavior which resisted orthodox interpretation. One of Conrad’s great contribution is exposing the nightmarish qualities of irrational politics which depend on the neurosis of a leader (i.e. Kurtz), in turn upon the collective neuroses of a people (i.e. the Europeans). This irrationality is best seen in the story on Kurtz’s greed for ivory. It is an object for the rich and hardly necessary for physical or mental survival. Such an insight is timeless, we ask ourselves, for when has human race carefully preserve life while also squandering it so carelessly? Conrad not only caught the hypocrisy of the conquerors in the story but also the “dark” side of nature in human behavior which tries to justify itself, only to surrender to explosive inner needs. These are the same material that Freud was concerned of. To analyze the seemingly illogic, the apparent irrationality of dreams, etc. Conrad and Freud both wanted to penetrate into the “darkness”. The state wherein people are free to pursue they’re deepest desires. Whether in sleep or like Kurtz and his followers- reality.
Marlow is a man of order and moral courage. He looks upon the world’s work as simply just and fundamentally good as long as it is done by civilized men (the white man’s burden). For example, he never asks why white men should be in
Congoor whether they should be there in the first place. He just assumes that they should be as bringers of civilization. But the great revelation took place when he sees and thrown into a world that is of chaos, “unspeakable rites”, inexplicable. A law – abiding man thrown into a chaotic world. In contrast, Kurtz is as much as an inner embodiment of Marlow. He is an “apparition” and a “shadow” which can be read as him being a part of Marlow’s psyche. Kurtz is the monumental testament to western colonialism. The desire to rise at everyone’s expense, the manipulation of people for selfish ends, the obsession for image and personal power. This and the various inner desires, he makes the id of Marlow’s mind. The id/Kurtz is the representation of Marlow’s impulses and beliefs that he dared not follow and suppresses it.
The idea of restraint is very evident in the passage describing the restraint of the cannibals. Marlow “would just as soon have expected restraint from a pack of hyena prowling amongst the corpse in a battlefield.” They are able to withstand the “devilry of lingering starvation, its exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its somber and throbbing ferocity,” They do so and Marlow cannot begin to understand why. These cannibals exercised restraint even the most desperate circumstance involving the most basic human need – food. These “cannibals” (if they were really) must choose between the restraints of civilization and the natural desire to feed themselves, and the reader will wonder why they choose the former. It is then quite absurd. The world is absurd and ironic as Kurtz choose not to restrain himself to something that is entirely pointless. Traditionally, beauty for the few is gained with blood of the many (e.g. the creation of pyramids involved the slaving and deaths of many Jews). The absence of social morality is equated to the nonexistence of Kurtz’s superego.
Marlow had plunged into the depths of his soul and seen a glimpsed truth. He had not only discovered himself but also “all the hearts that beat in the darkness” – what he saw is universal. He had identified the source of darkness in himself and in the consciousness of his civilization; and at that moment finding for the first time the heart of darkness.
Marlow’s discovery of the heart of darkness gave “light” on his life and the title illuminates the story for the readers. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a powerful exploration into the complex unconsciousness of the human mind.