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There have been a number of literary creations which talk elaborately about the complex existence of man on earth. However, instead of telling the story directly, various writers have employed diverse literary devises to heighten the emotions in the readers. The twentieth century has witnessed a host of highly talented writers who could portray the multidimensional aspects of human life vividly and effectively. Phenomenal fictional works like Heart of Darkness, Metamorphosis, Tonio Kroeger and The Stranger penetrate deep into the realities of earthly existence. The present paper comprehensively analyses various aspects of these literary texts.
Heart of Darkness can be regarded as a supreme literary creation for its brilliant portrayal of certain characters and places. It is obvious that the author is looking beneath the surface to give an extensive account. Conrad's is a comprehensive approach towards the theme of darkness in the novel. He presents various dimensions of darkness in people. In the context of Africa, it is apt to mention darkness as the land has many parallelisms with darkness. The thick forests in the area prevent sunlight to hit the ground. Consequently, the entire land is covered with darkness. To top it all, the skin of the African people is dark colored. For that reason also, the darkness has relevance in the story. However, the real significance of the darkness can be traced from Conrad's realistic portrayal of the plight of the Black people and the attitude of the White towards them. Through the novel, the author gives an insight into many realities of the African world. They are struggling hard to make both ends meet. Their existence is closely related to the natural resources. Once the nature is wiped out, people have no future at all. Their condition becomes truly pathetic when the colonizers intrude there to exploit the natural resources. In addition to suffering from the deterioration of the Nature, the innocent Black people were abused for many purposes. Forced labor made them weak and sick (Anderson, 2005). Yet there was no end to the tyrannical rule of the white. They are greedy to accumulate more resources and more power. Kurtz is a typical example of this attitude of the white. He is mad after money and later he literally becomes insane. Here, the dark side of imperialism is obviously reflected.
Early in the story Marlow recounts how London, the greatest and wealthiest city in the world at the time was itself a "dark" place in Roman times. Therefore demonstrating how London's new civilized form hides the dark and barbarian history that lurks within its borders and people. He greatly paints the surface of even civilized people throughout the story when he explores the polished characters of Kurtz and Marlow as they come to an understanding of their interior inhumanity and how it demonstrated itself in their treatment of Africans. Throughout the novel Conrad dramatizes a tension in Marlow between the restraint of civilization in the surface and the savagery of barbarism that lies within. The darkness and amorality which Kurtz exemplifies is argued to be the reality of the modern human condition is draped by civilization. Marlow's later confrontation with Kurtz shows him that he has 2 options. The first being to commit himself to the savagery that he discovered lied within him, or to the lie to himself in order to keep the civilized and humane surface intact. The 'heart of darkness" shows the modern man's inhumane and completely uncivilized capacity that is always alive and well just beneath the surface. The imagery used is usually more symbolic than realistic in way. By that I mean that it's not the author's intention to prove that all humans are uncivilized and non human in nature. I think the underlying point is how our "civilized" society is very hypocritical in a sense that there is a variety of socially acceptable evil practices that are polished in the name of civilization and humanity.
Civilization and modernity gives humans a fake sense of humanity, reason, science. This compels us to view what is human or not based on the Ends while the means can be completely forgotten. A phrase like the "ends justify the means" is argued by many to be extremely not humane. Although I agree with that, there are many who will be quick to dismiss such reason as naÃ¯ve. The book in a sense tries to portray that those who appear to be the most civilized in this story are actually the most inhumane and savage. In the story both Marlow and Kurtz regretfully came to realize, that their inhumane practices that were cloaked in the name of civilization had very little to do with true civilization at all, but rather was a "civilization" which only served the egos and policies of politicians, military leaders and the unlimited greed of industrialized nations. The "Heart of Darkness" shows people how to gain the truth, one must not look into the exterior or the outer shape of something because it seems that the brighter something shines the more darkness it conceals. In this novel, Europeans represent the exterior reality that hides the deeper truth present in darkness. The Europeans in the novel represent those who hide from the truth within them and within reality. Societal customs covered in civilization are used to hide the darkness and emptiness present within their souls. Only in the end of the story do Marlow and Kurtz realize their inhumane and ugly interior polished by a shiny and appealing exterior.
The money minded state of affairs of the modern world is excellently represented in Franz Kafka's work, Metamorphosis. He is well aware of the fact that the modern world has become chaotic due to the moral degradation of people. The novella was written during a period when the whole Europe was in the grip of war. Frustration was the dominant emotion in human beings. Each person is convinced that they are not safe even in their own homes. They can be attacked at any time. This made people loss all their positive thinking. They recognized the fact that relationship of any kind is quite irrelevant in the present world. Man has become so cruel that he wants to destroy his own fellow beings. In such a situation, it is better to lead a life of an animal. However, Gregor Samsa's transformation into an insect is far away from being an ordinary one. The novelist tries to convince the readers that, as far as the present world is concerned, his change has a deep significance. The society has changed significantly in the modern times. It is greed that rules each individual. The author presents a character who tries hard to earn money so that he can take care of his family members (Kafka, 2005). However, after becoming an insect, he was intentionally isolated from them. Even his own family members consider him as a burden. Here, Kafka stresses the ways of a society which runs after money and other material benefits. In both of these cases, looking beneath the surface is an undeniable theme of the stories.
In Metamorphosis, Gregor is transformed into a giant beetle overnight. His gruesome and disgusting appearance makes it extremely hard for his family members to recall his humanity. In a sense, all his human past is forgotten overnight and his beastly persona becomes the dominant display of his nature. The emotions feelings, history and character that lie beneath the surface seems to have completely been forgotten by his family members. His transformation into an insect leads him to start playing like one yet he still keeps his joyful human nature that we typically don't see in insects. Gregor is caught up between two worlds in a very literal sense. Although the family's reaction is one of shock at first, his sister keeps an intimate relation with him in the beginning by bringing him food and caring for him. However, that affection begins to wither away after a while and we notice it at an increased rate ever since his family decides to remove his furniture from his room because they don't think he needs it now that he is not human anymore. It is very interesting to notice that he does object to them removing one object from the room. That object is a picture of lady covered in fur. It is very interesting that he objects to that piece in particular and the reason might well be that the picture resonates and appeals to his situation. A women covered in fur perhaps reminds him if his dilemma as a man covered with the body of an insect. We see his Human side resurrected by his reaction to that picture because an ordinary insect couldn't have cared less. This however doesn't serve as reminder to his family that this is their hard-working and family supporting. The inhumanity on their side goes to the extreme of his sister starting to refer to him as an "it". Gregor's sister stops going to his room and stop caring for him as time goes by. Even the new maid calls him by the name "cockroach" without the protest of the family. It is clear that the Family completely forgot about Gregor.
His human side is demonstrated again when he gets angry about the new renters making fun of his sister because of her music playing. If only his family had known what lied within, they would have sensed that they were the animals and not him. For humans are animals physically but hold a soul and brain that differentiates them from the rest of the animals. Their insides and interior selves were dehumanized by their treatment to Gregor, who is after all shares their flesh and blood. Their humanity was depreciated the second they forgot how he was the breadwinner in the family who provided for them for so long after their father. The Humans in this story are losing their humanity and sense of reason. They are transforming gradually into robots and working machines. The story not only demonstrates how humans seem to over look the interior and judges the exterior. It also shows how humans themselves are becoming dehumanized by the modern world which is reducing their lives to routines. Humans are slowly loosing the sense of the greater dimension. Even though Gregor is pushed out of the human world by his new body, he stills manages to be more human than others, He still manages to exhibit his humanity by virtue of his interior motives and not his external appearance.
Tonio Kroger is a novella which has got much critical acclamation for its comprehensive examination on the varied aspects of a person living in the modern society. The real greatness of Thomas Mann, the author, lies in the fact that he could fabricate the stimulating story of Tonio in a convincing way. Being a writer who knows the pulse of the society, he made his work a mirror of the contemporary time. The protagonist exhibits varied characteristics, and each of his action deserves utmost importance as it represents the temperament of the period.
On reading the novella, it becomes clear that Thomas Mann's is an in-depth analysis which covers all features of the person as well as the society (Mann and Frederick, 1999). He wants to present the story of Tonio in each of his stages. For that, the author made the story cover a long period. The boy undergoes varied existence from childhood to adulthood. This time span helped the author to give an insight into the aspects of the life of the protagonist.
In the case of Tonio Kroeger, who grows up as a member of a privileged urban family. He doesn't seem to fit in, however for 2 reasons. The first being his creative bent and the second being his Italian descent from his mother's side. Wherever he goes, Tonio always feels out of place and yearns to belong like everyone else. On the one hand, Tonio is driven to fulfill his destiny as a writer, presumably an inheritance from his Mediterranean mother, and on the other hand, he longs to fit into his North German hometown, like his respectable blond, blue-eyed father. He feels like an outsider in both his skin tone and facial features and also in his creative and artistic thinking. Tonio's story is that of a writer's struggle for meaning and fulfillment in life and art. His artistic pursuits alienate him from the perceived joys of ordinary life. The people he admires the most are commoners who have no interest in his art. He is drawn to their physical beauty and awed by their social confidence. Though he has committed himself to the creative life, and knows his works will be recognized, he doubts the ultimate value or relevance of these accomplishments and regrets being excluded from the bourgeois mainstream scene. During his travels, He meets a writer who ends up mocking his feelings for the commoners who refers to him as a bourgeois and it is then that he finds out that he is not just an outsider from the common people, but also an outsider from the Creative thinkers and writers of the time. It takes this attack from another member of the artistic community and a visit back home for Tonio to reconcile his feelings. He discovers in the end that he needs to have an emotional distance from his subjects whom he describes in this novel. His natural affection for the bourgeois humanity will remain however he understands that he will always be something of an outsider. It is hard to tell whether he is an artist trying to be a commoner, or a commoner longing to be an artist.
Only a few literary texts of the twentieth century have portrayed the theme of existentialism as brilliantly as Albert Camus does in The Stranger. The story emphasizes the lack of any logic in the world. We are living in a world which operates quite antagonistic to the wish of the people. No one can achieve any great things in life. Even if they achieve something, they are short lived. Man, throughout his life, does not know how to lead a life without troubles. Every time in life, he finds a series of challenges. Sometimes, he has to behave quite irrationally. In a world which does not follow any logic, it is quite natural that people do certain things illogically.
Meursault, the protagonist in the story, kills an Arab man and he cannot give a convincing reason for his deed (Bloom, 2008). In life, man has to do a lot of things which have little meaning. No one can control his deeds and thoughts. This is because the world is operating irrationally and mysteriously. By selecting this theme, Albert Camus delves deep into the emotional undercurrents of man.
In the Stranger, the story takes us through the life, personality and beliefs of Mearsult who in the end discovers a lot about himself. It is Safe to say that he reaches that conclusion only when a tragedy happens in his life. Meursault, is a fascinating character in that he has an incredible sense of materialist agenda about him. He is an outsider and that is displayed in the way he absolutely rejects all concepts that regular Citizens of his society hold of importance in their lives. At the same time he lives with such simple pleasure and irresponsibility that it is fascinating. He is completely indifferent to the way he is perceived in society and that leads him to be a very level-headed but unsympathetic towards his family, friends and acquaintances. His reaction to his mom's death is the upmost example but is not the only one. The nature of his character leads him to reject all religious faiths. He is a complete stranger in every way possible. Meursault rejects all the common sentiments that humans live by and yet replaces them with nothing. He doesn't readily assimilate to or accept the conventional morals everyone else seems accustomed to. He's not overly concerned, but he seemingly knows there's some kind of disconnect. He's pretty emotionless, he shows some genuine concern for himself at times, but even those close to him really aren't too significant in his grand picture.
After his slaughter of the Arab man, During Meursault's trial, he is constantly accused of not showing remorse and therefore as being cold and inhuman. He is most definitely human though, just rather detached. This raises the question of whether one should be expected to exhibit certain characteristics in certain situations to be considered human. It is after he is painted as a ruthless coldblooded killer and being sentenced to death that he comes to a realization. That realization is that he is no longer free and he needs this explained to him because life up until then had been about "going with the flow". The prison guard helpfully informs him that he is being punished and the manifestation of that punishment is the removal of his freedom. Interestingly, he didn't notice the difference between his past free life and his current unfree one and he couldn't have cared less if it wasn't for the lack of cigarettes and whatever he needs to be satisfied for the time being.
Mearsault is also addressing the question of whether much of our emotions are created by us or by the expectations of others to exhibit certain emotions in a given situation. The book is also an indictment on people's efforts to dictate other people's lives. We are constantly told what is right as a means to justify our own sense of what it means to be human, civilized or reasonable. We often impose these characteristics upon others, expecting them to fulfill similar traits and characteristics, as they have been already imposed on us. It is in a way, a self-justification of our actions as right. Constantly, Meursault is being told he must live and or act a certain way, whether it be by the judge, his lawyer, or the priest. Once he doesn't conform to these measures, he is marginalized and called inhumane. This is an attempt on the others to rationalize their own ways of life and understandings. This is something that Meursault is supposed to have realized and understood. In the end, He was awakened to find out that the only reason he is being punished is because of other people's discriminations and the absurdity of his life. He realizes that he has been happy all along and that death is promised whether in jail or not. In a way, he accepted responsibility for his own actions during life and he accepts responsibility for the inevitability of his own death as well. As long as he lived life happily and with no regrets then he is in actuality more free than the people persecuting him.
Anderson, J. P. Conrad's Heart of Darkness: Rebirth of Tragedy. Universal-Publishers, 2005
Bloom, H. Albert Camus's The stranger. Infobase Publishing, 2008
Kafka, F. The Metamorphosis: Literary Touchstone. Prestwick House Inc, 2005
Mann, T. & Frederick Alfred Lubich. Death in Venice, Tonio Kröger, and other writings. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999