Phrenology Essay

730 words - 3 pages


Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is primarily a novel about a man’s trip to the African Congo and the horrors he encounters while there. However Conrad’s novel is also a story of its time and therefore makes mention of the theories held when it was written. Included in these ideas is that of phrenology and its relatives, mentioned clearly when the doctor examining Marlow asks, “[may I] measure your head?” and the doctor then produces “a thing like calipers and [gets] the dimensions back and front and every way...” (p. 13). The following will provide a description of Phrenology and its implications.

A pseudo-science developed by Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall in the early 1800s, Phrenology is in its most basic form the study of the morphology of the human skull and its relation to human character. Gall’s “doctrine of Phrenology” (www. is based upon five key principles, which were first presented in his work The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular. First, it is understood that man’s “moral and intellectual faculties” are innate” (Sabattini, R) and that their expression depends on how the brain is organized. Secondly, he proposed that the brain is the organ responsible for all inclinations, emotions and abilities. Thirdly he stated that the brain is composed of many different “organs” (Sabattini, R.) with each one being responsible for a certain human function. He also proposed that the size of these “organs” is directly related to the amount of their presence and use in specific pers! ons. And finally, he suggested that the external morphology of the skull directly expresses the internal structure of the brain and that the “relative development of its organs causes changes in the form of the skull” ( These changes can then be used to determine the different “mental faculties” ( of an individual, using “proper analysis.” ( These principles formed Galls theory of Phrenology.

Gall developed these principles through years of careful observation of friends, family and relatives. He studied what he considered persons with “different personality characteristics” (Sabattini, R) and took measurements which he then used to “correlate certain mental faculties to bumps and depressions” on the external side of the skull. In...

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