Comparing Heart of Darkness and Freud's Totem and Taboo Essay

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Parallels Between Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Freud's Totem and Taboo

The force of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness lies in the strange relationship between Marlow and Kurtz, and the responses of Marlow to what Kurtz has evoked in him. Ultimately, the novel functions as a subjective account of one man's experiences with what he believes to be a more essential and more pure state of man. That much of the novel consists of Marlow's attempts to understand, define, and redefine his opinion of Kurtz points to this man's importance in Marlow's views of the primitive state of humanity. Kurtz functions as a European who has crossed the line from European civilization to African barbarism. Thus he becomes emblematic of the
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This power sets up Freud's later transformation of the father into a god. The same kind of influence emerges in Conrad as well, as Kurtz defies specific definition by Marlow. Just as the primal father had possessed all the women, so too does Kurtz possess a strength of character. Marlow is "unable to say... which was the greatest of his talents. ... He was a universal genius" (Conrad 71). The contradiction of broad universality and something as specific as genius or talent demands that the pairing of the two either appear absurd or grandly powerful. Kurtz takes on a mythical dimension for Marlow by the scope of his talents. For both figures, the possession of such power produces both reverence for the bearer and a feeling of inferiority in comparison with him.

The power of the father figure in both these texts becomes complicated by the sharply characterized ambivalence of his survivor. Freud describes this relationship in terms of two strongly conflicting emotions. He posits that the original sons "hated their father, who presented such a formidable obstacle to their craving for power... ; but they loved and admired him too" (Freud 177). Marlow, as well, feels both impulses toward Kurtz. On one level, he detests the society Kurtz has created in Africa, rebelling against the rules of its organization so strongly that other horrors of his experience seem paltry by comparison.

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