As the Heart of Darkness snakes its way into the savage shadows of the African continent, Joseph Conrad exposes a psycho-geography of the collective unconscious in the entangling metaphoric realities of the serpentine Congo. Conrad’s novella descends into the unknowable darkness at the heart of Africa, taking its narrator, Marlow, on an underworld journey of individuation, a modern odyssey toward the center of the Self and the center of the Earth. Ego dissolves into soul as, in the interior, Marlow encounters his double in the powerful image of ivory-obsessed Kurtz, the dark shadow of European imperialism. The dark meditation is graced by personifications of anima in Kurtz’ black goddess, the savagely magnificent consort of the underworld, and in his porcelain -skinned Persephone, innocent intended of the upperworld. Though “Dr. Jung’s discoveries were not known to Conrad, “ (Hayes, 43) who wrote this master work between 1898 and 1899, Heart of Darkness presents a literary metaphor of Jungian psychology.
This paper explores the dark territory of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as metaphor for the Jungian concepts of the personal and the collective unconscious, as a journey of individuation, a meeting with the anima, an encounter with the shadow, and a descent into the mythic underworld. Like Conrad’s Marlow, who is propelled toward his African destiny despite ample warning and foreboding, I have been drawn beyond the classic analysis of the Heart of Darkness, embarking down an uncharted tributary, scouting parallels between Marlow’s tale and Jung’s own journeys to Africa, and seeking murky insight into the physical and the metaphorical impact of the dark continent on the language and the landscape of depth psychology.
“Africa,” wrote Graham Greene, “will always be the Africa in the Victorian atlas, the blank unexplored continent in the shape of the human heart.” The African heart described by Greene “acquired a new layer of meaning when Conrad portrayed the Congo under King Leopold as the Heart of Darkness, a place where barbarism triumphs over humanity, nature over technology, biology over culture, id over super ego." (McLynn, ix).
The unknown and uncharted topography of the African continent first beckoned Conrad’s narrator, Marlow, into its depths in his boyhood: “Now, when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration” (Conrad, 5). When Marlow was grown and Africa was no longer a blank space on the map, but rather “a place of darkness,” there was still one river there that drew him especially, “a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land” (Conrad, 5-6). This same deep place that had seduced Conrad’s ivory hunting Kurtz into the horrors of its savage embrace...