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A Modernist Look on the “Heart of Darkness” and Exploring the Alienation

The modernist movement of the early twentieth century drastically changed the way that art and literature were perceived in western culture. The themes expressed in modernism are perhaps some of the most diverse, disturbing and difficult to recognize. A single of the principal themes expressed in modernist literature is alienation this motif can be identified in James Joyce’s story “The Dead”, T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, and Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness. Each piece evokes the concept or feeling of alienation in a distinctive way.

James Joyce’s “The Dead” is a brief story which presents the theme of alienation mainly by means of the central character: Gabriel Conroy. Gabriel’s attendance at a Christmas party hosted by his aunts is coupled with a feeling of isolation and revulsion for social activities. Gabriel longs to escape the business of the individuals at the celebration he yearns to go outdoors in the cold and stroll beside the river alternatively of socializing with those inside (Joyce 2355). Gabriel is socially alienated simply because of his “paralysis of will, energy and imagination” (Stevenson 49). This is particularly evident in his failed attempts to connect meaningfully with Lily, Miss Ivors, and his wife, Gretta. Each Lily and Miss Ivors say factors which make Gabriel feel anxious and uncomfortable since he is unable to communicate effectively with them Gabriel does not make an effort to overcome disagreements and as a outcome he consistently seeks escape and isolation. Gabriel’s physical longing for his wife is not reciprocated by her Gretta’s introspection and her lack of awareness of Gabriel’s feelings isolate Gabriel to the point that he is lastly forced to examine his personal feelings and his past. At this point, Gabriel understands that as he is estranged from other human beings, he is also estranged from himself.

It is the ending of “The Dead” which epitomizes the modernist theme of alienation. Like numerous other characters produced by James Joyce, Gabriel experiences an epiphany at the end of “The Dead”. Gabriel’s awakening is not a really constructive 1 the epiphany is his true realization of isolation. Gabriel experiences his epiphany by means of his wife: it is her memories and realizations that prompt him to examine his own past (Gillies 138). Gretta’s nostalgia for the past and what may have been with Michael Furey lead to Gabriel to reflect on his personal previous Gabriel realizes that “He had by no means felt like that himself towards any lady but he knew that such a feeling should be love” (Joyce 2373). This epiphany is rendered hollow simply because in it there is no redemption: Gabriel realizes how alienated he is from his own wife, from love, and from life itself. This moment of utter loneliness and isolation is compounded by Gabriel’s consciousness of death and its physical manifestation in the snow that is covering Ireland at that moment. The bleak observation made by Gabriel that “One by a single they were all becoming shades” (Joyce 2373) is a one particular that clearly defines Gabriel’s view of life. Even though death is inevitable, it is created out to be far more tragic due to the fact so several individuals have never ever actually lived. This alienation from life is symbolized in Gabriel’s reaction to the snowfall: “His soul swooned gradually as he heard the snow falling faintly by way of the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their final end, upon all the living and the dead”(Joyce 2373). This poignant ending to the story illustrates Gabriel’s feelings of isolation and alienation perfectly.

T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland is typically lauded by critics to be 1 of the pillars of modernism. The theme of alienation is as prevalent in this poem as are the poem’s literary references. The fragmentation of the poem is the essential alienating issue of the piece the poem “suggests a way of experiencing material, historical, time-bound existence, everyday life, as never actually wholly real” (Underhill 150). The fragmentation of the poem exists on a multitude of levels every one serves to alienate the poem’s ‘voices’ from a single an additional or to alienate the reader from the work itself.

To begin with, the technical language of the poem is extremely fragmented and confusing: “The sections proceed, disjunctively, like some fearful dream, while the fractured syntax and collage of ‘found-sounds’ articulate the contemporary Babel as Bedlam” (Brown 92). These components can be interpreted as reflecting a wasteland of language: within the structure of the poem, grammar is barren and meaningless, sentences are dead husks and the occasional tattered bit of coherent which means waves aimlessly about in a dry wind of purpose. As a result, the reader of The Waste Land cannot claim familiarity with the fundamental mechanics of the English language. In a poem with so many difficult and a number of meanings, the fragmentation of language alienates the reader additional.

The individual ‘characters’ of The Waste Land are fragmented as nicely these alienate the reader due to the fact of the vast quantity of associations which have to be drawn with each character. The characters range in social status: gods, beggars, sailors, kings, queens, madwomen, and fortune tellers compete for prominence with eunuchs, hat-sellers, single mothers, lords, and faceless youngsters. As opposed to a lot of mythological or biblically-inspired texts, “the continuous disruption of quotations and allusions expresses much less the mythic manage sought for by two generations of scholars than the chronic unraveling, beneath tension, of a broad-based Harvard education” (Brown 92). The plethora of historical, mythical, religious, and literary references contained within The Waste Land are employed in the Imagist and Symbolist tradition: references breed allusion which then allude to far more references. The amount of references and allusions becomes even more overwhelming and as a result alienating when a single requires into consideration the worldwide context of the poem. Although most basic western cultural archetypes are present in the poem, the inclusion of eastern and far more obscure references make the which means of the poem even far more difficult to grasp. The Hindu and Egyptian references as well as these made in languages other than English are not meant to be understood they are only accessible to a learned scholar. The Waste Land is a poem which depicts alienation and isolation on an epic scale the profound desolation and confusion that the poem presents to the reader is balanced precariously by the sheer wealth of knowledge and history behind the piece.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a novella which influenced many later modernist writers, like Eliot and Joyce. Heart of Darkness is, in numerous ways, an impressionist story of alienation amongst other things. The central characters of the story, Charlie Marlow and Jim Kurtz, are the only characters who are provided human names. All of the other characters are given purely functional names these usually are just their job or their relation to the principal characters. This denial of human individuality serves as an alienating force in the story. By assigning names such as ‘manager’ or ‘the Intended’ to characters, Conrad renders them as symbols and thus they are strictly functional to the outcome of the story (Stape 46).

The struggle for one’s soul and individual humanity is one particular of the themes which straight relates to the theme of alienation in Heart of Darkness. Conrad presents Marlow as a character who senses his inevitable isolation from humanity. It is Marlow who states:

…No, it is impossible it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any provided epoch of one’s existence – that which tends to make its truth, its which means – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is not possible. We reside as we dream – alone (Conrad 2224)

It is this statement which epitomizes the theme of alienation in Heart of Darkness. Marlow cannot reconcile memory and life in the present time he is alienated by those about him due to the fact he feels that they cannot actually recognize his message.

Some of the most important elements which present a sense of alienation in Heart of Darkness are the paradoxes. The paradoxes presented incorporate the juxtaposition of a ‘barbaric’ culture against a ‘civilized’ 1. In Heart of Darkness, civilization embodies barbaric principles: “Society saves us from corruption, however society is corrupt” (Stape 47). This paradox is by no means openly stated, but it is evident throughout the story that Marlow’s opinions and experiences of what he considers ‘civilized society’ alter. This alter is not a newly gained respect for the ‘civilized’ aspect of Africa, it is a cynical criticism of the barbaric nature of humanity in basic. Marlow, as nicely as the reader, is ultimately left with a feeling of utter fatigue and estrangement from humanity. Heart of Darkness in the end presents a story of utter isolation and alienation from humanity and from the self.

In conclusion, the theme of alienation has been clearly presented and examined in all three functions. The modernist movement towards intellectual and emotional exploration of the self often presents isolation and alienation as the inevitable conclusion. While this theme in literature may possibly not be the most comforting, it is one particular of excellent truth. Usually it is by means of alienation that we experience our quintessential nature. To journey into a Heart of Darkness, to see “The Dead”, to live in The Waste Land: these are works which present an crucial truth as well as a commentary on what it means to be human in a modernist age. The alienated human spirit is each profound and revealed.

Performs Cited

Abrams et al., The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Firm, 1996.

Brown, Dennis., The Modernist Self in Twentieth Century English Literature. Hampshire: Macmillan, 1989.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Abrams et al. 2205-2263

Gillies, Mary Ann., Henri Bergson and British Modernism. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996.

Joyce, James. “The Dead”. Abrams et al. 2345-2373

Stape, J.H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Stevenson, Randall., Modernist Fiction: An Introduction. Revised Edition. London: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Underhill, Hugh., The Problem of Consciousness in Contemporary Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
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