Explain in detail, without using quotes, three distinct ways the physical journey of the novel, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad plays a central role and adds to the overall meaning of the...

Explain in detail, without using quotes, three distinct ways the physical journey of the novel, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad plays a central role and adds to the overall meaning of the book using a clear arguable thesis.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The physical journey adds to the overall meaning of Heart of Darkness in several ways.  The physical journey is the vehicle through which self-exploration takes place. The physical journey becomes a journey into "the heart of darkness."  It is through the journey where men like Kurtz and Marlow better understand their own sense of being.  Their place in the world is articulated as a result of the physical journey.  It is fair to say that neither man fully understands himself prior to the journey being taken.  When the physical journey takes place, they are confronted with the realities that embody the very "heart of darkness" which plays a large role in forming their identities.  The physical journey becomes a means through which an internal journey is understood.  Essentially, subjective understanding is understood through physical voyage.  In this regard, the physical journey plays a central role and adds to the overall meaning of Conrad's work.

I think that another way in which the physical journey adds to the overall meaning of the book is through the suggestion that process might be more important than product. This is especially so in the case of Marlow, as the physical voyage proved to be essential in his definition.  It enabled the process of change to take place.  The process of change was facilitated as a result of the journey.  The voyage enabled him to move to a realm where he began to understand and identify with Kurtz.  The physical journey enabled a process of change and self- awareness to take place.  Conrad might be suggesting that human maturation does not simply "happen."  It is not simply "product" based.  It takes time, is muddled at times, and transpires as a result of a process.  The voyage is the setting where this process happens. For Marlow, his change takes placed over time, over the course of the voyage. This enhances the meaning of the work in suggesting that the destination might be secondary to the voyage or journey to it.

Finally, I think that the physical journey helps to enhance the meaning of the work because it emphasizes that human identity might be best understood apart from the trappings of external self definition. Prior to their voyages, both Marlow and Kurtz are defined by the European "civilization" around them.  They have purpose and understand their own identities, the result of affirming the social and economic order around them.  Their identities are formed as a result of the conformity to the setting in which they live.  However, it is only through their respective journeys that depth emerges in their identities. When both men leave their world of conformity and social expectation, true identity, in all of its ugliness, is revealed.  

Conrad might be suggesting that in order to understand one's sense of self, there has to be a separation from the world in which one has come to understand themselves.  This is where the physical journey is critical.  It provides the setting in which individual understanding can emerge apart from the social trappings in which we live.  In order to better understand our own "hearts of darkness," we need to remove ourselves from a world that has played a large role in defining us. For this reason, Conrad affirms the physical journey as important and an entity that enhances the meaning of his work.

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