Traveling through the jungle, Arsat in “The Lagoon” and Marlow in Heart of Darkness amass a great deal of wisdom from their respective experiences which together help to reveal author Joseph Conrad’s philosophy of life to the reader. A major temptation to Arsat and Kurtz, the delusional prospect of controlling fate leads to the eventual ruin of both. In “The Lagoon,” Arsat believes that by running away with Diamelen, they will live happily ever after together. However, real life is a far cry from the utopian nature of fairy tales, which is why Conrad uses Arsat to shoot down the common misconception that nothing can touch true love. Conversely, Conrad believes that fate is out of the hands of humans and instead for the spirit in the sky to determine. In losing his brother and Diamelen, Arsat receives poetic justice, in Conrad’s opinion. Likewise, in Heart of Darkness, Kurtz also attempts to grab hold of his destiny by anointing himself god to the natives. By doing so, Kurtz falls under the false impression that everything belongs to him: “My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river” (Conrad 60) Marlow recalls hearing him say. However, these material possessions give Kurtz no hope for life after death because he will not be able to take them with him after he dies. Because Kurtz cuts himself off from sin by making himself believe that he is above morality, his soul becomes darker than anywhere in the jungle. Conrad hopes to convey to the reader through the downfall of these two characters that, although appealing, the potential for a human to control fate does not exist.
Conrad also uses Arsat and Kurtz to prove that selfish actions often bring undesirable consequences. After Arsat falls in love with Diamelen, his devoted brother agrees to help them escape from the tribe. When his brother beelines for the boat, Arsat prematurely pushes off shore, unwilling to turn back even as he hears his brother plead for help three times. Arsat greedily places his own interests above the health and safety of his loyal brother, selfishly declaring, “What did I care who died? I wanted peace in my own heart” (Conrad 6). By taking the life of Diamelen, Conrad seeks to prove that selfishness is a seed of misery, and by making a selfish decision, Arsat loses the only two people important to him. Similarly, Kurtz’s egotistical actions in the jungle end in failure. At first intending to civilize the natives and spread Christianity to them, Kurtz resorts to robbing other stations and threatening the natives in order to stockpile enormous sums of ivory, leading the delusional manager to pronounce him “the best agent he had” (27). Unbeknownst to those in the other stations, however, Kurtz’s unbelievable exports result from his ignominious selfishness and brutal coercion of the natives. By giving up on his original mission in order to fulfill the gratification of his various lusts, Kurtz destroys the truth of morality and restraint and must face the repercussions of his decision. His expansive material possessions, legendary god-like status, and high position in the company cannot spare him from his inevitable death, which underscores Conrad’s belief that those who act only in self-interest will end up doomed to a tragic demise.
The most prevalent aspect of his philosophy, Conrad’s belief in the existence of evil within every human also appears in both works. In “The Lagoon,” Arsat betrays his brother even though his brother has done nothing to warrant such treason, which shows that the wickedness that exists in everyone can break even strong relationships. Arsat abandons the original plan even though his brother risks his life in order to fend off the tribe, a most evil act from a seemingly moral and compassionate person. Similarly, Kurtz’s downfall in Heart of Darkness illustrates the darkness existing in the heart of everyone. Before leaving for Africa, Kurtz “electrified large meetings…He had the faith” (Conrad 90). Kurtz had a reputation of being an up-and-coming moral mastermind, one who could deliver much needed leadership and change in a world that so desperately needed it. However, when placed in a setting without restraints of law, social morality, and public opinion, Kurtz finds himself unable to prevent the black hole of evil from sucking him in. Contrary to his values, he forces the natives to perform “unspeakable rites” (Conrad 61) and oversees the mass genocide of the rebellious natives who have the nerve to question his position. Conrad wishes to show through Kurtz’s demise that its not a question of who is evil, but a question of what will bring the darkness to light.In conclusion, Conrad shares his philosophy through the truths Arsat and Marlow learn as they navigate to the center of not only the jungle but also the human condition in “The Lagoon” and Heart of Darkness.
Heart of Darkness and “The Lagoon” by Joseph Conrad