Following an irregularity or turbulence of one’s environment and lifestyle, basic human motivations and behavioral patterns undergo many significant changes. The psychological development of the characters in July’s People and Heart of Darkness is comparable to each other, as the characters in both novels experience a change from living a life of comfort and luxuries to being reduced to a lifestyle dependent upon nature and few material privileges. This also causes the characters to feel a severe threat to their sense of mastery as a European.
The characters in both novels are driven into the less explored regions of Africa, which Graham Greene describes as a great continent in the shape of a human heart, “a place where barbarism triumphs over humanity, nature over technology, biology over culture, id over superego. ” (McLynn, ix) It appears that Africa has become a topology of the mind, all beckoning part of the chaotic unconsciousness within the while European, waiting to be discovered and explored.
It is easy to scout parallels between Marlow’s tale and the Smales’ stay in Africa, seeking insight into the language of depth psychology. In July’s People, revolution forces the Smales to escape to their former servant’s dearth black village where they are alienated and deprived of their material luxuries, an emergence of the Smales’ class identity. Their being shoved into an environment of filth and insects and mud walls from a previous lifestyle of shiny white bathrooms and hired services diminishes their level of superiority in the village.
Maureen in particular expresses a strong fear of degeneration, which is shown in the way she clings to the anomalous bourgeois conventionality of “two cups of tea and a small tin of condensed milk, jaggedly-opened, specially for them, with a spoon in it. ” Another evidence of a sense of possession for their European identities is the way Bam and Maureen defines their identities as a series of hollow middle class titles that demonstrate an economic advantage: “Maureen and Bam Smales. Bamford Smales, Smales, Caprano & Partners, Architects. Maureen Hetherington from Western Area Gold Mines.
Under 10s Silver Cup for Classical and Mime at the Johannesburg Eisteddfod” (2). Marlow’s reaction to primitive conditions is different because, rather than being forced into his journey, his was one chosen for himself to escape from the standards of city life in Europe, and he has been given time to prepare himself psychologically. However, he also feels his sense of mastery as a European is severely threatened, particularly because Marlow bases his perceptions of the Africans on a kind of thinking that was current during the time that Conrad wrote the novel.
Scientists during the time theorized that various human populations existed in different levels on an evolutionary scale from savage to civilized, and Europeans were placed on the farthest end of the continuum, which indicated that they were the “fully civilized. ” Scientists claimed that although Europeans had reached the height of civilization, far from their savage past, the memory of savagery still remains within them. Hence Marlow is fearful about his own quality compared to the Africans, whom his civilization has taught him to believe are savages.
Maureen shares a similar situation. She is extremely sensitive in her relationship with July because she fears the recognition of her subconscious racist views, which are made much more obvious in the village, and tries to defend herself when she expresses a liberal guilty conscience for fear of having treated him poorly: -I’ve never made you do anything you didn’t think it was your job to do. Have I? Have I? I make mistakes, too. Tell me. When did we treat you inconsiderately-badly? I’d like to know, I really want to know- (Gordimer, 71).
Also, because she is unwilling to relinquish her status as a European, she does not adapt to her new surroundings as well as her other family members. Maureen grieves over the loss of possessions, while her children, not so concerned with a life of luxury, easily adjust to their new environment. Unlike her husband Bam, who attempts to become a part of the community as a way of coping with the situation, Maureen feels trapped and alienated within the village, which causes her to go mad. Her loss of civility is revealed when she drowns a litter of kittens, which she justifies as her “obssess[ion] with the reduction of suffering” (90).
The characters in both novels experience disequilibrium of their setting, which first destroys their sense of time. Without a watch, Maureen quickly loses her internal clock and continues her existence “not knowing where she was, in time, in the order of a day as she had always known it” (17). This seems to be immensely discouraging for her, as the track of time is an organizing principle offering the semblance of order. All the stable, secure regularity of privileged existence such as appointment books, tiny rolled bits of paper money and what class the Smales had represented back in Johannesberg mean nothing in the death black village.