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Comparisons Between the Development of the Subconscious in Characters in Gordimer's July's People and Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Amber Lee English 2 - World Lit September 22, 2002 Comparisons Between the Development of the Subconscious in Characters in Gordimer's July's People and Conrad's Heart of Darkness Following an irregularity or turbulence of one's environment and lifestyle, basic human motivations and behavioral patterns undergo many significant changes. The psychological development of the characters in July's People and Heart of Darkness is comparable to each other, as the characters in both novels experience a change from living a life of comfort and luxuries to being reduced to a lifestyle dependent upon nature and few material privileges. This also causes the characters to feel a severe threat to their sense of mastery as a European. The characters in both novels are driven into the less explored regions of Africa, which Graham Greene describes as a great continent in the shape of a human heart, "a place where barbarism triumphs over humanity, nature over technology, biology over culture, id over superego." (McLynn, ix) It appears that Africa has become a topology of the mind, all beckoning part of the chaotic unconsciousness within the while European, waiting to be discovered and explored. It is easy to scout parallels between Marlow's tale and the Smales' stay in Africa, seeking insight into the language of depth psychology. In July's People, revolution forces the Smales to escape to their former servant's dearth black village where they are alienated and deprived of their material luxuries, an emergence of the Smales' class identity. ...read more.


Have I? Have I? I make mistakes, too. Tell me. When did we treat you inconsiderately-badly? I'd like to know, I really want to know- (Gordimer, 71). Also, because she is unwilling to relinquish her status as a European, she does not adapt to her new surroundings as well as her other family members. Maureen grieves over the loss of possessions, while her children, not so concerned with a life of luxury, easily adjust to their new environment. Unlike her husband Bam, who attempts to become a part of the community as a way of coping with the situation, Maureen feels trapped and alienated within the village, which causes her to go mad. Her loss of civility is revealed when she drowns a litter of kittens, which she justifies as her "obssess[ion] with the reduction of suffering" (90). The characters in both novels experience disequilibrium of their setting, which first destroys their sense of time. Without a watch, Maureen quickly loses her internal clock and continues her existence "not knowing where she was, in time, in the order of a day as she had always known it" (17). This seems to be immensely discouraging for her, as the track of time is an organizing principle offering the semblance of order. All the stable, secure regularity of privileged existence such as appointment books, tiny rolled bits of paper money and what class the Smales had represented back in Johannesberg mean nothing in the death black village. ...read more.


It made you feel very small, very lost" (Conrad, 104). As Marlow is recounting a spiritual voyage of self-discovery, the Smales, particularly Maureen, also take a journey into the hidden self. For Maureen, the end result of having to live a life on mere necessity uncovers the selfishness and darkness within. Eventually, she becomes less and less of a wife and mother and drifts apart from the family. When the helicopter is heard at the end of the story, Maureen is more vibrant and happy than she's ever been since she arrived in the village, and runs for the helicopter, forgetting her family whom she no longer loves or feels obligated to. Little consideration is taken into the consequences she might bring upon her family or to July's people. Marlow's deep psychological journey into his own darkness leads him to the confrontation of the impulsive savagery in his unconsciousness he had never acknowledged while in the deceptive milieu of a "civilized" existence. Much of this reflection is based upon Marlow's final meeting with the power-hungry egomaniac Kurtz, in which he describes him as "lack[ing] restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him" (Conrad, 133). The modern odyssey the characters take toward the center of the Self within the primitive wilderness of Africa uncovered much of the character's personality-- the personality that had been hidden under the influence and pressure of being European. The African experience stirred the unconscious forces within the self, bringing out all the true, repressed dark aspects of the personality. ...read more.

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