(Edited to add: as of March 6, 2017, I am a more sophisticated reader and writer. This essay was a draft from BA times and I see things in this essay that I cringe at with my present-day skills and knowledge. Most of all, I feel as though I handled the “natives” poorly in this essay, and if I wrote something now, I’d have a lot more to say about Comrad’s treatment of the people living in the region and how his descriptions of them are part of his struggle of understanding what it means to be human. But, I also feel it’s a useful post and a good reminder, so I keep it)
Yup. I know it’s Wednesday, but here’s a short response that I think does a good, short comparison of two works I am reviewing for my Masters comprehensive exam (I’ll update a real post soon):
The Mixture of Duality
The rational and irrational sides of human character are described in the two classical English works The Heart of Darkness and Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. These works show the duality of man by proving that people can have different sides. Throughout Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the title character is split into two forms in the same body. The positive character, Dr. Jekyll seems to behave consistently rational, while his evil counterpart of Mr. Hyde behaves irrationally. On the other hand, in Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, the split is less obvious. Through the use of many characters and pairs that seem to complement one another, one can suppose that everyone has a rational and irrational side. There are no clear shades of good and bad. Throughout these works, it becomes clear that the duality of man can exist in anyone.
In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the two sides of one character are displayed more clearly than in The Heart of Darkness. One character has two sides. Dr. Jekyll is good and a positive member of society while the other side, induced by an external source, is negative and can be considered pure evil. However, Dr. Jekyll is the same person as Mr. Hyde. Even the house they live in is split. The setting of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reflects the morality of the present character. The active character’s morality at the given moment will be reflected in his surroundings. The neat and orderly character of Mr. Jeckyll is reflected by his orderly household while Mr. Hyde’s half of the house shows negligence just like his character does.
“Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east, the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two stories high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower story and a blind forehead of a discolored wall on the upper; and bore in every feature the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor nocker, was blistered and distained.”[a] (Stevenson 7)
On the other side of Mr. Hyde’s house is Dr. Jekyll’s, which is neat and organized. The characters also have certain times where they are active. Dr. Jekyll is active during the day but, at night Mr. Hyde is active. Mr. Hyde also roams in the bad part of London while Dr. Jekyll roams in the sophisticated part of London. Through specific details, the morality of the character is clearly defined and determined as good or bad. Stevenson supports this idea even more with the fact that Dr. Jekyll must kill Mr. Hyde in order for his good character to survive. “The powers of Hyde seemed to have grown with the sickliness of Jekyll” (Stevenson 91). The two sides cannot coexist because a character could only be either good or bad.
On the other hand, in The Heart of Darkness, man can have two sides. There is much more ambiguity of the characters, perhaps due to the fact that there is a lot more detail in The Heart of Darkness than there is in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is more depth of how the characters feel and the amount revealed about the two moralities inside themselves. In The Heart of Darkness, Marlow goes on a journey to the jungle to transport ivory and ultimately to meet Kurtz. His mission on his journey is to bring Kurtz back. Marlowe begins the journey as an idealist. He known more about corruption than his aunt or the women in the “white sepulcher” do, but he does not know what could keep Kurtz in the inner station. Throughout his journey Marlow discovers different, darker sides of his character. The book refers to Europe being civilized and rational and the jungle being savage and irrational. However, it is proven in The Heart of Darkness that the two sides of man are mixed; Europeans can also be negative and the jungle natives could be positive. London and Brussels, European cities, are described with mixed negative and positive imagery. “Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute as if angered by the approach of the sun” (Conrad 46).
Kurtz’s last words were “the horror” (Conrad 139). This refers to the horror of the cannibals, the horror of the difference between Europe and the jungle, but mostly the horror in the change that has taken place within himself. He has become savage and treated the natives cruelly to gain power over them. He has become what he had initially detested. In The Heart of Darkness good and evil is mixed within the same person. The same person who is cruel and irrational can still feel love and affection. Kurtz has a good reputation in the outer stations and Europe but, inside the jungle Kurtz is cruel to the natives. Marlow shows two sides. He is savage in the jungle and civilized in Europe. The cannibals also, are civilized while in the company of white men by eating hippo meat but, while they are in the jungle, they will eat other humans.
“They were big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences, with courage, with strength, even yet, though their skins were no longer glossy and their muscles no longer hard. And I saw that something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play there.” (Conrad 99)
Within every person there is a heart of darkness as well has the good natured being. A human can also be inhuman at the same time. As Marlow is in a fight with the natives, before he reaches Kurtz, he feels the inhuman call out of himself. Marlow has also come to love and admire what he hates and detests.
It is expressed in both works that everyone has two sides. However, in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the two sides must live separately, or not at all. In The Heart of Darkness, many characters will have a good or bad side. The Russian Traitor was a traitor in his own contry, but loyal to Kurtz. Kurtz was cruel to the natives, but loved one of them. However, the difference between the two novels becomes clear when Marlowe decides to hide Kurtz’s last phrase “kill the savages” (142). He displays an understanding of the mixed morality and his acceptance of the duality of man reminds the reader that maybe he/she too should accept the duality of man as a fact of life.