Understanding of Human Nature in The Man Who Made History and Heart Of Darkness
Discoveries are transformative experiences as they often entail a journey which offers a renewed understanding or perspective on the human experience and the nature of society. Discoveries which challenge assumptions of the world develop in us new ways of thinking as we acquire new knowledge. Both the documentary, ‘Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History’, directed by Simon Nasht, and ‘Heart of Darkness’ written by Joseph Conrad, provide prolific insight into the nature and essence of the life of a human being, as well as insight into the nature of truth and of the construction of history. Thus both texts elucidate that through delving into an aspect of human nature, and the nature of truth and history with hitherto neglected depths evokes a person’s unique and personal conceptions of the reality of their world.
Understanding of human nature is born directly from the individual’s throwing one’s self into the world. One significant consequence of Frank Hurley’s experiences in both his Antarctic expeditions and his experiences in World War One forcibly alter his perceptions on the nature of the human condition. Through the experiences in Shackleton, Hurley comes to be ‘flung’ into the total strength of the natural world. This is made explicit in the use of an indirect interview with the Polar Historian Steve Martin, who likens Hurley’s experiences to “an epic story in just about every sense. Almost a literary epic where the place of the gods is taken by nature and the men are at the whim of these incredible forces of nature.” In this indirect interview, Martin evokes the sense that Hurley’s experiences established within him an appreciation and understanding of man’s role within nature, and the strength of nature in sublating the attempts of men to conquer it. The archival footage of the Endurance breaking through the ice becomes symbolic and evokes the connotation of man attempting to control and conquer nature, further complementing the notion of the epic story. Yet, ironically, Hurley comes to discover (and imparts to us) that this inversion between an eternal natural world and the fragility and weakness of mankind in comparison, and this is relayed through the use of both the zooming out into a longshot of the Endurance trapped in the ice and the musical score, which portrays the sense of man being doomed by nature, effectively heightening the grand scale that divides man and nature. Thus, threw Hurley’s experiences in Shackleton, he comes to discover a hidden reality that he had neglected. He – as part of this discovery – comes to develop a new perception of the world, and his role as an individual in the enormous world.
As Hurley throws himself into the world and uncovers a new world of meaning for the individual, so to does Marlow, the protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Thus, in the fashion of Hurley, Marlow travels to the unknown continent of Africa, and sees it as an opportunity to further his understanding of the world and reality and comes to make discoveries about the interplay between man and nature – as Hurley does also, but more specifically, about mankind’s moral nature and their natural drive towards both goodness and evil. Marlow conveys his discovery through the use of anthropomorphic imagery to describe the descent of Mr. Kurtz, a man who has fallen prey to the power of the wilderness in the quote, “But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude”. It is discovered retains an essence of life and being within itself, which is able to bring out the darkest of our human nature through the use of the anthropomorphic language, and this discovery is made by Marlow also, and through Marlow, is conveyed to us; the reader. The effect of the jungle on Mr. Kurtz is quite prevalent metaphor of the ‘heart of an impenetrable darkness’. The aforementioned wilderness, has seeped into the living essence of Mr. Kurtz, and has corrupted him. Thus Marlow also comes to alter his perceptions and understandings of the world around him, as he comes to realize that even though mankind may delude itself into believing in its own superiority over nature, nature has the strength to revert mankind back into its primitive self and overpower man.
In his various experiences, Hurley also comes to reflect upon his own understandings of the synthesis between truth and history. Hurly begins to struggle to encapsulate his own experiences through the medium of photography, which Nasht reveals through the use of a quote from Frank Hurley’s Diaries, which states, “It is impossible to secure the full effects of this bloody war without composite pictures.” The use of this diary quote, in unison with the voice-over used by Nasht to interpret Hurley’s saying this quote with an angry voice, conveys the struggles that Hurley faced as he desperately attempted to reveal his new perceptions and discoveries of the death and horror of the First World War. He looked to photography to capture the death and tragedy that is established through the archival footage of dead soldiers on the front, as well as the overlapping voice overs from his diary saying, “It’s impossible to realize that men are just murdering each other around you.” It is this horror and forced metaphysical reflection on the value of human life that Hurley could not manage to secure through the means of ordinary photography. He is forced to manipulate his photographs in order to encapsulate the truth and significance of the nature of the First World War, and thus comes to new understandings about the nature of truth and history in the representation of his world as an individual, to the individual viewers of the photographs. This process of the manipulation of the photographs is shown through the use of parallel and montage editing, which reveal the exact process of the creation of Hurley’s composite photographs. This parallel editing and montage effect displays Hurley’s new understanding of trying to represent the newly discovered world of horror around him.
As Conrad is forced to confront the provocative nature of being removed from one’s social context, which for some results in the descent to madness, and for others provides the opportunity to reassess contextual ideologies regarding the Belgian imperialism of Africa. The effects of imperialism were apathetically seen by the protagonist Marlow, evident in the portrayal of Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity into which wandering Europeans entered at their peril: “It was unearthly, and the men were… but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.” The use of animalistic imagery along with the third person pronoun reveals contextual race relations, highlighting the distance between the natives and Marlow. The biblical allusion – “The word ‘ivory’ rang the air… You would think they were praying to it” – and the characterization of ivory as an object of worship, depicts the imminent forces of imperialism which became as methodical as religious practice. The direct comparison eludes to the mistreatment suffered by the natives as a result of Kurtz’s greed. Kurtz is a potent dramatization of the degradation attached to European colonial ambition evident in his descent into madness: “The horror, the horror!” Hence, Conrad reveals the insidious nature in which a new environment challenges an individual’s perspective through which they discover an interior truth.
It can be concluded, therefore, that only through encountering new experiences as part of a process of discovery, can one challenge, affirm and develop their own unique perceptions of the world around them. In the documentary, “Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History” directed by Simon Nasht and the novel, “Heart of Darkness”, written by Joseph Conrad, both the Australian photography, Frank Hurley, and the fictional character of Charlie Marlow, go through various experiences involving discovering and rediscovering. They re-evaluate their understanding of various elements of mankind’s interplay with the natural world, mankind’s essential evil nature and the nature of truth and history. These texts reveal that as one delves into these issues pertaining to their perceptions of the reality of the existence for the individual, they come to develop a new and refreshed understanding the world around them, as well as their roles as individuals in the world.
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