Archive for October, 2012

Conrad and Eastern Mysticism

In reading Heart of Darkness for the second time, I was struck by the two instances in which Conrad likens Marlow to the image of the Buddha. This prompted me to look for other elements in the text that might be interpreted at having an esoteric quality. The polar binary that Marlow draws between the nature of light and darkness seems to be key. As the narrative begins, Marlow seems to be more or less innocent; his journey to Africa is motivated by the desire to travel and discover new parts of the world for himself. However, by the end of his journey, he ceases to see the world in terms of binaries. This is where the symbol of the Buddha comes into play. Conrad subtly draws a parallel between the Buddha’s enlightenment and Marlow’s experience. Enlightenment in many Buddhist traditions is considered to be a new understanding of the world, one in which perceptions of boundaries and separation are left behind in favor of a unified perspective. In this way, Marlow’s journey could be read as being an allegorical tale of enlightenment. When Marlow begins his journey, he sees the concepts of light and dark as being polar opposites. However, by the end of his journey, he views light and darkness and two intertwined and interdependent concepts. This is evidenced by the change in his attitude towards lying. At the beginning of the narrative, Marlow claims to hate lying, but at the end, Marlow finds himself telling a white lie about a very dark truth. His expectation that the walls should come crashing down around him, and the fact that they do not, could be seen as an awakening to the true nature of the world, or perhaps, an enlightenment.

Ibsen’s Dolls

In Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, readers are presented with an odd form of feminism. Ibsen’s representation of women is more or less typical of the time period; he paints Nora as a housewife who is struggling to keep her family together, despite society’s mandate that women have no place in financial dealings. Nora seems to lack tact; she openly brags about her family and new found status in the face of a woman (supposedly her friend) who has just admitted to losing everything. Upon learning that Krogstad plans to blackmail her family, she immediately romanticizes the situation, casting herself in the role of damsel in distress, who her loving husband/knight in shining armor will undoubtedly sacrifice himself rescue. This image of Nora as the typical woman of the time caused me to question the feminist value of Ibsen’s work. Why would an author who seeks to validate the role of an independent woman create a female character who is so unable to navigate the society in which she is placed? The answer, I feel, lies in Ibsen’s use of realism. He is portraying the societal role of women as it is, not as it should be, and uses this role to illustrate the fact that anyone is capable of self-actualization, regardless of their upbringing or position in society. Nora is undoubtedly a product of her upbringing; like a doll, she has played her part in the world into which she was born, until she finally reaches the limits of her acting ability and claims her independence.