The Cosmogonic Cycle in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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The Cosmogonic Cycle in Heart of Darkness  

The short novel Heart of Darkness tells a story just like any other heroic myth, except better. This novel rewards an educated reader. Many find the work to be extremely confusing, and actually quite dull. Though it is a complicated book, a reader is stimulated by the symbols and linguistics used by Conrad. The most noticeable is the flaw in the Cosmogony Cycle. This cycle is an integral part of every hero’s journey. An important step in the cycle, the second step in fact, is finding a guide, either spiritual or tangible. If one were to look hard enough in most works of canonical literature, he would find all the necessary components of the Cosmogonic Cycle on the protagonist’s journey, the travel into the underworld, confronting the father figure, meeting, and saving, a female prisoner, then the journey back into the conscious. A guide is there to lead the hero. He generally is a man or woman who has been on a similar journey and knows the pitfalls where the hero may fall. Without this figure in Marlow’s journey, he fell into the temptation of staying in the unconscious "evil" domain. Conrad never gave Marlow a guide, in essence, dooming him to fail his mission.

At the beginning of the protagonist’s journey it seemed as though the "two women . . . knitting black wool" (Conrad 13) in the trading center office were there to foreshadow the mortal death of Marlow. One may have drawn this conclusion because this is an obvious reference to the women who knitted while watching aristocrats executed by the guillotine during the French Revolution. I believe it meant something much more deep. A good writer, one of Conrad’s caliber, does not place superfluous scenes, words, or phrases in his or her book. He writes only what he needs to write. With that in mind, because Marlow did not die at the end of his journey, therefore the women then had to represent something else. They foreshadowed the death of Marlow’s soul. They knew he was without a spirit guide because they were aware the Trading Company had not offered him one. They also knew Kurtz hadn’t had a guide either.

There were multiple uses of the word soul in the final chapter, many of which talked of the inability for a man’s soul to escape the forest.

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"The Cosmogonic Cycle in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." 22 Mar 2018
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The forest seemed to envelope it and keep it for its own. Marlow lost his soul to the forest. He left Africa with an admiration for Kurtz. While talking to Kurtz’s European girlfriend he stated, "He was a remarkable man" (73). The man was crazy. Marlow’s loss of soul can be traced to the heads on the poles. He said himself he was not shocked by them. How can one not be shocked, let alone not appalled? Just as a worshiper of the Devil cannot call himself a Christian, one who follows Kurtz cannot be considered sane, nor in control of his self. Had Marlow had a guide to tell him of Kurtz’s evilness, even though it seemed apparent to the reader, the ending of the story may have been very different.

Conrad gave the reader two rock hard telltale signs of Marlow’s change. The first is the setting, which was "dark . . condensed into a mournful gloom" (7). Though this may seem insignificant in the beginning, its symbolic value cannot be overlooked. All the other men were tired, except for Marlow, who seemed right at home. He has become comfortable in the evening, in the envelopment of darkness.

The second is Marlow’s transition from what he would call moral to immoral. When he re-emerges from the underworld he is depleted rather than stronger and more knowledgble. Without someone to lead him, he chose to block out the experiences through work, and was never affected by his exposure to events that occurred during his journey.

In the early part of the novel, Marlow tells his listeners that he would never tell a lie. In fact, he stated that it was the devils work to tell a lie. At the end of the work though, he tells the European girlfriend of Kurtz that his last words where her name. That was a bald faced lie. He had made a one hundred and eighty degree turn during the trip from the outer station to the inner station, and back. Marlow hadn’t been strong enough to take the journey alone, and during the course of the excursion, gave in, and relinquished some traits in order to stay sane.

All this was not Marlow’s fault though, because he had been doomed to fail. The most interesting part is that unless the reader knew of the Cosmogonic Cycle, specifically the importance of the spirit guide, or looked into the symbols used by Conrad, he or she may have thought that Conrad had gone unchanged through the novel. This, obviously, was not the case. He was changed by his experiences, but not in the heroic paradoxm.


Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988.


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