The Superego is the moral conscience of an individual. It is what tells us right from wrong, and it is the voice of our conscience. In Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, the Superego is represented by the character Marlow. Marlow is constantly questioning his own actions and motivations, as well as those of other characters in the novel. He is constantly seeking to find the truth, and he eventually comes to realize that the Superego is the only thing that can lead him to it. Marlow’s journey into darkness is a journey into his own conscience, and it is through this journey that he ultimately finds salvation.
In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the protagonist, Marlow, tells his story about his time in the uncivilized Congo. Through his passage from the coast of Africa into the heart of the Congo by way of the Outer Station, Middle Station, and finally the Inner Station, Conrad explores the Freudian concept of ego, id, and superego. Although the world in Heart of Darkness initially shows two separate cultures that cannot exist harmoniously, through Marlow’s journey into the depths of the Congo, Conrad exposes the inherent sameness of all people regardless of apparent differences.
Marlow’s introduction to the Company’s enterprises in Africa came at the Outer Station, which corresponds to the ego, where the Europeans and natives seem to be completely incompatible. The two cultures cannot exist together. The European machinery is broken, the natives are slaves, and the work is futile. The Company’s attempt to civilize the land is obvious and the land’s refusal to be tamed is also definite. At the Outer Station, the accountant wears very proper European attire that has not been affected by the Congo and he speaks of the amazing Mr. Kurtz who collects more ivory than everyone else combined.
Id, Ego Superego
The novel has been interpreted in many ways, but one common thread is the idea of the Superego.
The Superego is the part of the psyche that represents our moral code. It’s what tells us right from wrong, and it’s what drives us to do good deeds. In Heart of Darkness, the Superego is represented by Kurtz, a man who has gone into the African jungle and become corrupted by its power.
Kurtz represents the dark side of human nature, and his Superego has been taken over by Id. The Id is the primal, instinctual part of the psyche that is driven by pleasure and self-gratification. It’s what drives us to do things that are bad for us, like drugs or alcohol.
Kurtz has been taken over by his Id, and as a result, he has become a monster. He’s lost all sense of right and wrong, and he’s capable of terrible things. The Superego is what keeps us from becoming like Kurtz, and it’s what allows us to see the darkness in ourselves so that we can avoid it.
Even though they are no longer in the civilized world, the Company seems unfazed by the failure of the machinery and the futility of the project to build the road. The Company is acting exactly as they claim by attempting to tame the land, maintaining the European style, and speaking of the collection of ivory. Although the Company has entered the uncivilized world, it continues to separate itself and follow its outlined motive. In the id, experiences, words, thoughts, and actions have established the conscious part of the mind that creates disparity between dissimilar cultures.
At the Middle Station, which correlates to the id, the boundaries between the Company and the Congo become more ambiguous. While the manager is a leader in the Company, Marlow notices that his only true attribute is his ability to stay healthy. So, he is a leader because he can exist in the world they hope to change. The Middle Station embodies the id because the Company and the Congo are still separated by their behaviors but begin to blend. The Europeans at the Middle Station are still detached from the Congo, but not as distinctly as the man at the Outer Station.
The intentions of the Company are also becoming more confused and unlike their pronounced motive. When the Manager talks about Kurtz, his uncle insists that the nature of the Congo may work to their advantage and kill Kurtz. In the Outer Station, the Company tries to tame and transform the Congo, but at the Middle Station, the Company begins to embrace aspects of the Congo. The focus on civilizing the Congo and gaining ivory becomes less central as the Manager accepts the world around him and scorns Kurtz’s potential methods for obtaining ivory.
Subconscious worlds contain similarities regardless of culture, because some of the experiences ingrained at an early age are universal since everyone feels the same emotions. The causes of the emotions may be unique, but the memories contain the same general ideas; therefore, the id of the mind is only partly (unique for each culture, or even individual. When Marlow leaves for the Inner Station, he travels with the Manager, pilgrims, and cannibals. During the voyage, the lines separating the Europeans from the Congo begin to obscure as Marlow notices the civility of the Cannibals.
Psychological analysis of Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is a Superego story. It’s about the struggle between our dark impulses and our better angels. On one level, it’s a tale of colonialism and imperialism, and the darkness that lurks within all of us. But on a deeper level, it’s a psychological allegory about the Superego, the part of our psyche that keeps us from giving in to our darker impulses.
The Superego is often symbolized by an angel or other figure of light. In Heart of Darkness, that figure is Marlow, the protagonist. He’s the one who goes into the heart of darkness (Africa) and confronts the evil there. He represents our better nature, our capacity for good.
But Marlow is also flawed. He’s not perfect. He’s capable of great violence and cruelty. This represents the dark side of our nature, the part of us that is capable of terrible things.
Marlow’s journey into the heart of darkness is a journey into our own psyches. It’s a story about the battle between our Superego and our dark impulses. And it’s a story about how even the best of us can be corrupted by the darkness within.
The Pilgrims, who at the ego level are obviously more civilized than the natives, begin to seem more uncivil than the Cannibals. The Pilgrims throw the Cannibal’s food overboard inconsiderately, but the cannibals refrain from eating any Europeans. Also, under attack, the Cannibals remained calm while the Pilgrims tried to kill the natives with “civil” machines. When the helmsman died, the Pilgrims were upset that he did not receive a formal burial and the Cannibals were upset that their potential meal was wasted, and Marlow understands the cannibals more than the pilgrims ven though he is supposedly more similar to the pilgrims.
This part of the journey exhibits the id as the subconscious similarities become more and more apparent to Marlow. Upon arrival at the Inner Station, which corresponds to the superego, the assumed distinctions between the Europeans and the Congo are absent, because Kurtz is completely integrated into the world of the natives. Kurtz’s life in Europe no longer influences his actions, as with his native lover even though he has an Intended at home. At the superego, all humans possess the same desires.
Both Kurtz and the natives find a god at the Inner Station. Kurtz found ivory and the natives found Kurtz. In the superego, people see nothing beyond their intrinsic motives. While Kurtz was gaining success and power in the Company for his ivory, he had no use for it at the Inner Station and was averse to leaving his new home and claiming any of the riches and power he could receive. His desire was beyond the surface desires of the ego and id and was something so deep into his subconscious mind that it appears to be insanity.
At the Inner Station, Kurtz had come to understand the Natives and the Congo itself. He embraced everything they had to offer for the power, even though it was a power not defined by riches and promotions like in the “civilized” world. Supposed distinctions in civility between the Europeans and natives disintegrate at the Inner Station because it represents the superego which is the same for all beings regardless of circumstance. Becau superego part of our minds is unconscious and not understood, those who learn to live within the superego are considered deranged.
Our innermost motives and drives are complete mysteries, which like the Congo cannot be tamed; therefore, the people of the “civilized” world deem it to be insanity. At the conscious level, or the ego, cultures are extremely separated because we have been impressed upon by every experience. At the subconscious level, or the id, there is a filter that is similar for everyone but contains some differences because emotions are universal but experiences are unique. In the unconscious level, or the superego, everyone is driven by the same incomprehensible forces.
Freudian psychology corresponds directly to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with the Outer Station being the ego, the Middle Station being the id, and the Inner Station being the superego. After venturing into the superego, it is impossible to return without being regarded as insane, because the “civilized” world is made to accommodate only the ego and rejects anything that cannot be understood. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad brings light to the worlds within our minds that we refuse to try to understand for fear of insanity.