Where is there complacency in Heart of Darkness, Hamlet, and Frankenstein?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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To understand where complacency is present in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Shakespeare's Hamlet, we must first understand it. Complacency is defined as:

...self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies...

In truth, there is an idea that complacency means that someone is "self-satisfied" and uncaring when he/she is aware of deficiencies or threats, but this is not the case. With the definition given, we must look to those satisfied and unaware in these pieces of literature.

In Frankenstein, Victor is complacent as he studies and eventually creates life. He is unaware of the danger that could be involved if the being he created turned out to be something he could not care for or control.

After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter...now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.

In Hamlet, several characters are complacent—unaware of dangers or deficiencies. Hamlet is never one of these characters. From the beginning, having returned from school, he is devastated at his father's death and disgusted by his mother "o'er hasty" marriage. Gertrude seems unaware of her deficiency in what she had done: she has married her husband's brother. During Elizabethan times, people believed that husband and wife were of one flesh...this means that after Old Hamlet died, part of him remained with his wife—who then married and slept with his brother. In other words, the audience would have believed Gertrude was committing incest. Ophelia seems unaware that there is any threat. Had she been, she might have been more cautious about sharing what she knew about Hamlet with Claudius. (However, she also had no power to resist if she had known.) Laertes is the worst of all. He is so blinded by his own need for revenge, that he never objectively questions why Claudius is so eager to kill Hamlet. Claudius tells him that Hamlet wanted him (Claudius) dead, but never offers satisfactory reasons. (His wife getting angry or the people being annoyed wouldn't really count for anything if Claudius had proven Hamlet was a murderer, but Claudius sneaks around like a common criminal.)


...If he be now return'd

...I will work him

To an exploit, now ripe in my device,

Under the which he shall not choose but fall;

And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe,

But even his mother shall uncharge the practice,

And call it accident.


My lord, I will be ruled;

The rather, if you could devise it so

That I might be the organ. (IV.vii.65, 67-75)

As Claudius plot Hamlet's demise, Laertes asks if he can be the one to carry out the murder.

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow (the narrator) and Kurtz (the manager of the Inner Station—who is also insane) are both very much aware of the danger about them. Those who seem to be complacent are members of the Company (the uncle and his nephew) who are so jealous and resentful of Kurtz's success in the depths of the Congo. Ironically, Kurtz's financial success costs him his sanity, his life and perhaps his soul—he is not one to be envied.

kmmitchell | Student

Thank you so much. Explains a lot and will help me out on my exam tomorrow as I will be able to connect a lot of what you said to different themes and ideas within each of these works.

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