literature, Uncategorized

Using Critical Theories To Read Into Literature

Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness was written during a time of colonization by the British Empire. Psychoanalysis and Marxism theory analysis is vital as it is Conrad’s words that separate the themes or race and class into two concurrent storylines. Sarvan writes, “Conrad’s setting, themes, and his triumph in writing major literature in his third language, have won him a special admiration in the non-European world” (Racism and the Heart of Darkness). Not only does the story capture Marlow’s thoughts on the realities of African colonization, but it defines his moral beliefs of the socio-economic classes of men sent to Africa as the colonizers. By analyzing The Heart Of Darkness using psychoanalytical and Marxist theories, a subaltern perspective of ‘the others’ can be made of race and class as Marlow struggles to come to terms with colonization.

Passage One:

Marlow speaks of colonialism early on. Part I reads, “I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your work and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilize you. It was very fine for a time, but after a bit I did get tired of resting. Then I began to look for a ship—I should think the hardest work on earth. But the ships wouldn’t even look at me. And I got tired of that game, too” (Conrad). As he refers to Asia in his jest of colonization, it infers to readers that he was aware of the colonization of foreigners taking place. Conrad’s use of language like invading, mission, and civilize further hits home the imperialist ideology. His mention of SE Asia sets the narrative for a racial theme using Imperialist psychoanalytical studies. Marlow’s comment about ships not giving him a chance also speaks to classism. When using a Marxist theory, it changes the focus of this same passage to one of class in that he did not fit in as others judged he was too inept to work as a crewman. Conrad wants readers to focus on race and class via Marlow’s character who sees colonialism through two lenses.

Passage Two:

In part III, it says, “All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill…He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity” (Conrad). Marlow’s first thought is directed toward race as he sympathizes with their enslavement. The language is clear using a  psychopathology perspective that defines a racial shift into slavery as the colonizers dominate the ‘savages.’ The word violently defines an underlying hatred brewing toward Whites for their invasion. There is a shift to class as Marlow sizes up the jailer’s jacket missing a button (something a higher class would do) and his rascally grin (inferring he is a brute of a lower class).

Conrad clearly balances race and class by focusing on the colonized and the colonizers. Module Two reads, “…human consciousness consists of three components: the id, the ego, and the superego” (SNHU). Marlow’s character was created to serve as the id, ego, and superego of the reader’s subconscious that focuses on two separate issues. In comparison, a reader will best learn about the effects of racism when using the psychoanalytic lens and classism when shifting the focus to the Marxist theory. Marlow serves as the medium to do so as he shifts the narrative from others to self-identity.


Works Cited
Conrad, Joseph. “Heart of Darkness.” Project Gutenberg. (2009). Acc 2 Aug 2018.
Sarvan, Charles P. “Racism and the Heart of Darkness.” International Fiction Review 7.1 (1980).
SNHU. Module Overview. SNHU Blackboard. (n.d.). Acc 2 Aug 2018.



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