The art of becoming : description, space and spiritual identity in An outcast of the islands, Lord Jim, and "Heart of darkness"
Terblanche, Christina Maria Atrecia
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Conrad's description and the sense of space in his texts have long intrigued readers, critics and even fellow authors. Within the context of the complexities of Modemism, understanding the relationship between Conrad's description, space and spiritual identity is imperative for an understanding the complex fabric of his work. This dissertation is an attempt to investigate this intriguing dynamic in three of his texts, namely An Outcast of the Islands (1 896), Lord Jim (1 goo), and "Heart of Darkness" (1 899). The dissertation first takes a cursory look at the crisis of the Modernist age in chapter one. A brief discussion of the related ideas propounded by the philosophers of the time, such as Freud, Nietzsche and Bergson, as well as influences such as colonialism and industrialization provides the background to the central themes in Conrad's work. After this, the study introduces the three texts under scrutiny. The thesis argued in the dissertation is that Conrad employs his unique descriptive techniques in describing space in order to indicate the main characters' identity crises which arise from, amongst others, their morality and spirituality. The main characters are all isolated and confronted to re-examine the self, which throws them into a crisis concerning the essence of their spiritual identity. The characters' interaction with and perception of space becomes a reflection of their moral and spiritual quest to "become", to find meaning, purpose and harmony. The investigation of the interaction between description, space and moral and spiritual identity starts off by examining Conrad's descriptive techniques based on an analysis of An Outcast of the Islands in chapter two. The chapter attempts to clarify these techniques, which include delayed decoding, the prominence of nature description, colour symbolism and chiaroscuro, while the subsequent analysis reveals how Conrad's description of space foregrounds the main character's problematic spiritual identity. The second step towards an understanding of the mechanism in Conrad's work pays attention to the main character's attempts at reconstructing his moral and spiritual identity through cycles of interpretation. Chapter three includes an analysis of Lord Jim that aims at uncovering the character's process of looking, misinterpreting, looking again, adjustment, perhaps repeating the process several times. Chapter four turns the investigation towards the experiential element of the text. Throughout the processes that the characters undergo, the overwhelming and impenetrable atmosphere which they encounter contributes to their spiritual identity crisis. Conrad's descriptive techniques also involves the reader in the emotional experience of the character, since the reader too finds the atmosphere overwhelming and impenetrable. This chapter delves into the ways in which Conrad succeeds in creating such an atmosphere by means of description through an analysis of "Heart of Darkness". In chapter five the cathartic moments of all three texts are analysed. The characters' identity crises gain momentum until they bring each character to a pivotal moral choice and a process of adjustment. This moral choice highlights the character's conception of God and spirituality, and the character's integrity is tested, as well as the success the character had in adjusting his spiritual framework and integrating his view of God. The three texts present the reader with diverging results, indicating the verisimilitude of Conrad's work. With this interaction between description and space Conrad succeeds in touching the very essence of human spirituality and identity. It brings the reader to a deep understanding and a first-hand experience of the complexity of the human condition.
- Humanities