Heart of Darkness as a Psychological Novel

Heart of Darkness as a Psychological Novel | Psychological Journey

  • May 16, 2021
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It is better to know about this specific genre of literature i.e. Psychological Novel before making a decision that whether “Heart of Darkness” fits in this genre or not. Every novel has importance of his own as per his own subcategory of novel. Psychological novel is not entirely dissimilar from the remaining subcategories of novels, however, from some perspectives, it is definitely different from the remaining ones. Psychological novel totally focuses on the internal qualities of characters, hence, it is more about the emotions and less about what practically a person does. Suffice is to say that psychological novel depicts innersole of characters, hence, what they think is more important than what they do if we give proper definition to “Psychological Novels”.

Heart of Darkness as a Psychological Novel:

In view of the definition of psychological novel, critics have regarded Heart of Darkness as a masterpiece of art. A group of critics is of the view that among the postcolonial novels, “Heart of Darkness” has place of its own, however, that does not make it actionless from any perspectives. Readers always consider that psychological novels often become actionless when writer tries to portray inner conflicts with the outer issues. Nonetheless, it is not the case with “Heart of Darkness”.

Firstly, as it is the requirement of psychological novel that it must give detail description of memories from the past, therefore, Joseph Conrad creates a character who narrates a story as it is as he remembers when he once visited the Congo River and its nearby places. He has also witnessed barbaric and savage attitude of whitemen towards the Africans due to which there are some complexities between his own mental pictures and the images that he has seen in Africa.

Marlow and Kurtz are two main characters that may seem parallel to the audience but in fact they are different from each others as there is a lot of difference in their thinking and ethical values. Needless to mention that everything in this novel is obvious only through its symbols; there is no direct attack on any nation. Both the people either they are whitemen or Africans have issues with the psyche presented in “Heart of Darkness” so for as psychological definition of the novel is concerned.

Chinua Achebe wrote a complete book on the novel and delivered a lengthy lecture in which he has compelled people from both nations to believe that Joseph Conrad has not given the African a proper place that they deserve as their birth right. According to him, the writer of “Heart of Darkness” has remained partial while narrating his story and somehow he has favored his own people but many of the critics are of the view that it is not true from any stretch of imagination if we do psychological analysis of this novel.

Symbolical as well as psychological significance of “Heart of Darkness” reveals that this novel of Joseph Conrad favors the African people rather than the force that colonized those people. Nevertheless, at the same time no one can ignore that Marlow remain impartial in telling the story and it is on his listeners whether they believe on it or not.

No doubt the book/novel locates something hidden in human souls. It is satire on both the souls; educated and uneducated or civilized and uncivilized. One can judge human soul and mind from both perspectives. Whitemen were called civilized at that time whereas Africans were regarded as uncivilized creature of God. Purpose of colonization was to educate them and improve their performance and development of their country, however, none of the objectives was completed as it is evident from psychological analysis of Kurtz’s role in the novel “Heart of Darkness”.

There are a lot of conflicts that are related to mind in this novel. First conflict is between the major characters; Kurtz and Marlow. Africans worship Kurtz and consider him God as he is the one who feeds them. On the other hand, Marlow knows the truth that he is not the Kurtz who is feeding Africans instead Africans are feeding Kurtz and his nations as Kurtz is in Africa not for the purpose of so-called civilization but for the purpose of ivory.

He is Marlow, who tells a story to his listeners, but psychological presentation of the novel, is of Joseph Conrad, writer of the “Heart of Darkness”. It seems that he is more concerned about his own thinking than thinking of his readers. He seems very much confused to us. Autobiography of Joseph Conrad reveals that he was not happy with British rules of imperializing different countries for the sake of civilization, therefore, through “Heart of Darkness” he expresses his freedom of speaking and satirize the psychological condition of greedy people who brutally impact on the lives of other people.

Civilization in form of savagery is not acceptable to him. It is therefore, he says:

I have seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire, but by all the stars! These were strong, lusty red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men – men, I tell you. But as I stood on the hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months later.

Marlow in Heart of Darkness

Thereby, “Heart of Darkness” is among those novels that explore the spiritual, emotional and mental lives of characters. Resultantly, it is crystal clear that this novel fits perfectly in the category of psychological novels. One one hand, Africans were living miserable life under colonialism. On the other hand, whitemen were enjoying fruits of African’s labor by just saying them to work hard for the name of development. “Heart of Darkness” is the presentation of both types of nations through emotions and mental status.


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