The Idea Of A Person’s Transformation In Life Of Pi By Yann Martel And Heart Of Darkness By Joseph Conrad

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi and Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, transformations are conveyed through symbolism and a complex characterization of the protagonist, as well as distinct narrative and stylistic choices. In Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, animal allegory and religious symbolism reflect the emotional and spiritual evolution of Pi’s identity. In Heart of Darkness, the symbolic setting and characterization of the enigmatic Mr. Kurtz, serve as a backdrop for Charles Marlow’s philosophical understanding of his society’s corruption and the potential for evil within himself. Both authors expertly demonstrate how their respective protagonists develop as a result of the defining trials and tribulations they’ve been thrust into.

Within both texts, both authors deftly create the necessary narrative framework and initial characterization in order to prepare the protagonists and set the stage for their inevitable transformations. The title of a novel is arguably the utmost crucial aspect of capturing an audience’s attention, as well as to convey a message present throughout the text. Martel and Conrad utilize an incredibly subtle nuance, before the audience even opens the hardcover and dives into their compelling narratives. Both authors omit the definite article “the” within their titles, each for their own reasons, where it could just as easily be included. It is imperative to note, however, the definite article has an effect of defining or setting boundaries to whatever it may be associated with. What Martel hopes to convey within the title is the notion that Pi’s Life, cannot be confined, it is infinite, in all meanings of the word. Pi himself might not be immortal, but his story remains so. In the title, Martel reminds us both of the continuity of life and the openness of Pi’s story. Meaning, the story doesn’t limit itself to Pi as an individual. Ideas, people, religion, anything with the spark of life, all follow, to some degree, the pattern of depravity and hope discussed in Martel’s novel. Similarly, although on a much darker note, Conrad hopes to communicate ruminations on the nature of evil and the leering fact that “darkness” and “horror” is omnipresent within all individuals. The “Heart of Darkness” symbolizes not only the physical location within the heart of Africa, but also to a state of mind and the grim consequences of imperialism, both of which Marlow thoroughly gained exposure to within his travels. The notion of darkness begs the question “Why is the jungle dark?”. The complicated answer, and the crux of Conrad’s message according to the novel, is that the wilderness renders men metaphorically blind to their situation and surroundings, an obvious example being Mr. Kurtz. In the “Heart of Darkness”, you can’t do good; you can only choose to be less evil. It is almost unimaginable that three seemingly simple words, before even the introductory chapters of a novel, can have such deep and brutal meaning and convey a message intrinsic to their respective texts.

The intriguing presentation of both texts has a similarity in the way the author presented it Both Martel and Conrad utilize a similar narrative perspective within their writing, evident by the use of a story within a story, in either texts. Martel achieves this effect through a prospective author, intrigued by a story that will “make him believe in god”, who travels to meet Pi. Similarly, Charles Marlow is a captain, and tells his story to his crew. He narrates the beginning and end of the novel, and a few small points where there are breaks in Marlow’s story. Just as the “narrator” joins in every now and again, to comment on Pi’s story. The majority of Life of Pi is narrated by Pi himself in the first person, synonymous with how Conrad chose to present Heart of Darkness. Having a separate narrator allows Martel and Conrad to describe their protagonists in detail for the reader, and give an outsider’s impression of them, as opposed to the characters’ impression of themselves. This opens up a broader perspective for the audience to gain a detailed insight into the respective character’s thoughts. Another stylistic similarity is the use of a Three Act Plot. In Life of Pi, Martel utilizes the technique in order to allude to certain events in the upcoming acts without explicitly stating them, essentially referencing itself, alluring the audience to the rest of the book before actually presenting it. Conrad, on the other hand, uses the Three Acts for a more technical reason. It allows Conrad to present the story in varying tones and registers between each act. For example, within the first act the word choice can only be described as plain and uninteresting, with nothing of value to note. However, within the third act descriptions such as “desolation” and “unspeakable pain”, convey the tone regarding Marlow’s development. This allows him to confine and define a stage of Marlow’s character progression within each act, and performs the role of a subconscious bookmark for the audience to follow along with to understand the varying contrast between Marlow in the respective acts. Thus, both authors utilize various stylistic techniques within their novels to set a metaphorical “backbone” which will support the character’s development throughout the narrative.

Both authors utilize complex symbols and metaphors in their respective works to illustrate the transformations their protagonists experience as a result of the challenges they face. Heart of Darkness is based upon Marlow’s journey through the Congo, where he witnesses extreme greed, natives being enslaved and an overall lack of purpose in the colony’s actions. Conrad emphasizes the fallacious beliefs of imperialism using the symbolic image of the enterprise which, “makes me think of a whited sepulchre,” a powerful biblical allusion used to represent how the fascinating external appearance, of imperialism and also in human nature, conceal a more ominous “lurking death and hidden evil.” By being exposed to these conflicting values, Marlow discovers the underlying corruption and hypocrisy of imperialistic endeavors, invoking the audience to recognize the potent grasp greed and avarice has on one’s body and mind, just as Marlow did. However, Marlow’s intellectual observations of the visible evil in his surroundings and in Mr. Kurtz, also reflects a more disturbing, emotional “darkness” that exists within himself. Conrad explains metaphorically that, “We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but here you could look at a thing monstrous and free.” The shackled monster is representative of the depraved, primitive side of humanity that is only unleashed, in the individual; when we are surrounded by the silent whisper of the exposing wilderness, we lose ourselves to the dark. Both authors, Conrad and Martel, use the notion of the exposing wild, as a means for transformative change, in the cases of Pi and Kurtz. However, the key difference between the outcomes of the two characters is that Pi, through the sheer willpower bestowed upon him through his unwavering faith in God, is successful in his survival and avoidance of psychological depravity. “Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen.” Pi’s daily routine of survival takes on the qualities of spiritual practices like prayer or fasting, a lasting testament to the value of religious faith in Pi’s miraculous recovery from the jaws of despair. A clear contrast from the fate of Kurtz. Being left to his own devices, without any rules or codes to abide by, he is enveloped by the beastly evils within his corrupt heart. Conrad vividly describes the horrific atrocities committed to the people of The Congo, with mention of “enslavement” and “heads on pikes”. Marlow soon discovers his own emotional gravitation towards evil, through the character of Mr. Kurtz, who acts mentor to Marlow and is said to have “enlarged his mind” by becoming absorbed in the primeval darkness. Much like the alluring “carnivorous island” in Life of Pi, Kurtz tries to persuade Marlow with “the deceitful flow of words that came from an impenetrable heart of darkness” but unlike Kurtz, Marlow recognizes the consequences of identifying too closely with this uninhibited facet of his identity. In this way, Marlow not only discovers the horrific product of his society’s tacitly accepted norms, but also experiences a catharsis for the potential of evil in himself. Conrad thus conveys the necessity of unexpected, confronting, discoveries as catalysts for powerful individual transformation. At the climax of his journey, Pi encounters a destructive sea storm; a lamentable fallacy which symbolizes the difficulty and turbulence in his own mind as the physical exhaustion begins to take its toll. As a result of this unexpected challenge Pi turns to spirituality, faith and religion for hope. This concept is illustrated by the magical realism, of the “carnivorous island” which appears to Pi in the glowing shape of Vishnu, “floating on the shoreless cosmic ocean”. Martel uses this religious allusion to convey Pi’s encounter with spirituality as an enchanting source of hope, in order to exemplify the value of spiritual experiences in the transformation of an individual, introducing to the audience, the idea that hope and willpower can be found in anything, and does not need to conform to individual beliefs and ideas. Furthermore, the transformation in Pi’s emotional state is materialized by Martel’s portrayal of the tiger as a metaphorical extension, a symbol of sorts, of Pi’s identity, illustrating how Pi must harness this animalistic side of himself to survive, “Without Richard Parker I would have died by now.” Nevertheless, just as Marlow must abandon his primitive side in Heart of Darkness, when returning to Britain, Pi must inevitably let go of the “tiger within” when he reaches civilization. Hence, both Conrad and Martel illustrate through the use of complex symbols and metaphors, that moments of unexpected discovery and hardship can be immensely transformative for an individual’s emotional propensity.

Often times, being presented with experiences that stand to test one’s beliefs and moral aptitude, can indeed prove challenging, and may present itself as a prime opportunity for an individual to reflect on the lessons they have learned. Both Conrad and Martel, allow such an opportunity to arise amidst the settling dust of the respective climaxes of both narratives, through plot devices. These opportunities act as final summaries of the intense transformative changes and developments that each of the respective protagonists underwent. Martel utilizes Pi’s newfound respect for the value of both faith and logical reasoning in order to confront two officers, who question Pi’s integrity in recounting his journey. Instead of remaining faithful to his experience, Pi instead decides to create an alternative, more believable, narrative to explain his journey. A crucial stylistic decision Martel makes, is to remain ambiguous regarding the true nature of events which transpired and allows the audience to decide for themselves what they consider the truth. Synonymous with how Pi allowed the officers to decide what they considered a suitable story. Conrad on the other hand, utilizes a completely different conclusion order to explore Marlow’s culminating trials. From the initial introduction of Marlow, the audience is led to believe that Marlow values truth above all else, perfectly summarizing his disdain for falsehoods. “There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies …. which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world.”. Yet when confronted by Kurtz’s betrothed, asking for his last words, questioning the facet of life for a man she was never exposed to, Marlow fails to deliver the truth. Conrad instead instantiates Marlow’s apprehension of the barbaric and monstrous deeds of Mr Kurtz, replying with “Your name”. Was Marlow attempting to protect the woman from the scary world of reality? Maybe by pretending the tenebrosity and horror that followed in Kurtz’s every stride, they may somehow vanish into non-existence. Conrad begs the question, whether or not Marlow has indeed developed as a character after having a dark epiphany of sorts. One could argue both ways, however, the choice falls ultimately upon the reader. Both authors leave a vague and ambiguous conclusion to both characters” journeys. They intend to leave the final message up to the reader, inviting the audience to re-evaluate themselves and the world around them through different perspectives, just as they achieved with their protagonists within their narratives.

Yann Martel’s novel portrays the emotional and spiritual change in identity and cognitive realization which arise from physical challenges. Similarly, Joseph Conrad explores the challenging truths about society and human nature discovered by Marlow when the boundaries of civilization are stripped away. Both texts, however, illustrate the how being in an unexpected and challenging and strenuous situation can lead to a transformation in one’s intellectual and emotional perceptions to uncover hidden aspects of their own fundamental dispositions, through the adept utilization of stylistic techniques, symbols and structure.


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