Madness And Insanity Conrads Heart Of Darkness English Literature Essay

Madnessâ A complex and very subjective mechanism that is often misconstrued as a target entity of simplicity, a black and white line between normality and abnormality. However, is it really so? This theme is explored quite closely in the literature 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad. The aim of this paper is to discuss the concepts of madness and insanity and exactly how they are encountered in the above mentioned novel in an attempt to answer the above question.

The very first thing that must definitely be understood is what insanity is really defined as. According to Howes (2009), insanity is thought as "mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is at the mercy of uncontrollable impulsive behaviour. " Madness, on the other hand, is merely defined by the Oxford dictionary (n. d) as "extremely foolish behaviour".

In terms of the novel, the main give attention to madness is how it is spread through the unknown. That is, how the foreign and wild African jungle setting ate away at 'civilised' European white men's moral boundaries, made them lose themselves in their own great moral struggles and drove these to insanity. That is portrayed through various scenes in the novel wherein strange occurrences are observed with people exhibiting foolish and/or nonsensical behaviour (Shmoop, n. d).

The first indication given that the Congo is a location of madness is when Marlowe, the novel's protagonist, expresses his surprise at the doctor he must see never being to the Congo before. To the the doctor calmly replies "I am not such a fool when i look, quoth Plato to his disciples". (Conrad, 2011:15). In saying this, the physician is implying that setting out to the heart of the Congo is foolish and anyone who does so is only setting themselves up for defeat and madness. That is further re-enforced when the doctor asks to measure Marlowe's head, as back in that day scientists believed that the form and size of one's skull was a factor that helped determine to see if someone was mad (Conrad, 2011).

Upon arriving in the Congo, the first sign Marlowe actually sees that portrays madness quite nicely in terms of its nonsensical nature is a scene wherein Marlowe finds a French man-of-war firing into a shoreline that are empty. He even says that "there is a touch of insanity in the proceeding" which it was not exactly dissipated when one of the men on his boat assured him, in earnest, that there is a camp of natives, or "enemies", hidden out of sight for the reason that shoreline somewhere (Conrad, 2011:19). It could be argued that is the actual beginning of insanity for Marlowe as he feels he is entering a new world wherein nothing really is practical (Conrad, 2011).

The next event is not very significant in itself, but is of great symbolic importance. It is when Marlowe recounts that he almost falls into a random hole that somebody had dug on a slope they were travelling on, he goes on to convey that he had not been able to divine the purpose of this specific hole (Conrad, 2011). This is symbolic for two reasons: One, the random hole the statement which it seemingly has no purpose is an indicator of the escalating incomprehensibility and absurdity of the Congo jungle. Two, the actual fact that Marlowe almost fell into said hole signifies having said that absurdity is no more harmless; ergo things become far less amusing (Conrad, 2011).

When Marlowe reaches the station where his steamboat is intended to be, it is sunken and as a result Marlowe must live there for a long time to fix it. During this time, it becomes clear that the madness of the Congo is slowly beginning to touch on him. He becomes enthusiastic about fixing the steamboat as he believes the only path he can remain sane is to work by himself (Shmoop. n. d). This is portrayed when he says that working by himself is the only way he could keep his hang on "the redeeming facts of life" (Conrad, 2011:33) and this it allowed him to find himself. He insists on working by himself as most of his fellow crew members are wandering around aimlessly, which does not sit well with him because of his keen sense of purpose.

The true madness, however, only gets revealed when Marlowe meets Kurtz in the inner station in the centre of the Congo. That is fitting to the extent as the Congo is an analogy for madness or insanity throughout the novel. When the audience is first introduced to Kurtz, a guy of great repute in Europe, it immediately becomes evident that something is terribly wrong. He's worshipped as a god of sorts amongst the people of the station and has started acting relative to their 'savage' ways, killing off the very inhabitants who worship him. That is observed much to the confusion of Marlowe, who had thought Kurtz to be an honourable and intelligent man, not the poster-boy of delirium before him (Conrad, 2011).

Marlowe soon realises, however, that because of his stay static in the heart of the Congo, or more aptly, the heart of madness, Kurtz has become accountable to nothing. He ingeniously describes this when he says that Kurtz had "kicked himself loose of the earth" (Conrad, 2011:98) which "there was nothing either above or below him" (Conrad, 2011:98). To place that statement quite simply, Kurtz has spent so much time in the heart of the Congo, living what sort of natives do, that he has entered a dimension of existing wherein all his past knowledge and joys have effectively become useless. He no more recognises European moral values or the concept of good or evil. It can be argued that for that reason freedom, due to this floating around in the unknown for so long, Kurtz has truly gone mad (Shmoops, n. d).

Perhaps the best tragedy in this case could be that Kurtz knew he was going mad. He knew that being in the wilderness alone like this would eventually make him go mad and he struggled with himself really hard to avoid it. However, he did not win as he was blind to his greed for the ivory that trapped him there. This is enforced when Marlowe states "I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself. " (Conrad, 2011:99)

Marlowe faced the same struggle as Kurtz in the sense of his battle with madness in the Congo. He mentioned that Kurtz's soul had opted mad and he previously to undergo the same ordeal of looking at his soul as well, just like Kurtz had (Conrad, 2011). It could be argued that Marlowe won this struggle against madness and insanity as he did not succumb to the greed for ivory that Kurtz had. That is demonstrated when he chooses to leave the ivory behind when he leaves the inner station after Kurtz's death (Conrad, 2011).

In conclusion, the madness and insanity explored in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' is profoundly intricate, showing how humans removed from the places they are being used to and put where they don't belong eventually go mad, but also how greed is important in making people go mad by keeping them in said places. It proves that madness is not as simple a mechanism as is popularly believed.

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