Friday, June 7, 2013

Kill the Void -- An In-Class Timed-Write by Jenny Chieu 
Life is a continual struggle while on the search for meaning and purpose. In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, both authors explore this problem, concluding that in the end the individual must create his own meaning. Value in life that is derived from others will merely leave a person with a “heart of darkness.” The emphasis on individual choice as savior evinces itself in the actions of Kurtz in comparison to Ellsworth Toohey, and Marlow in comparison to Howard Roark.
Kurtz and Toohey demonstrate the essential emptiness of life if one subscribes to the method of gaining meaning from others. Kurtz collects meaning from his possessions and from embracing savagery. He often refers to “my ivory,” “my intended” and “my documents” in an effort to convince himself that he is important and thus has inherent meaning. In addition, Kurtz also derives the feeling of power and life from controlling the natives. When Marlow first sees Kurtz, Marlow has the impression that Kurtz is voraciously trying to swallow the world. Indeed, Kurtz’s goal is to claim the world as his; he is “hollow and echoed on the inside” and therefore requires sustenance from the outside world. Similarly, Toohey gets his purpose, not from himself, but from others around him. Toohey serves as a person that everyone can confide in and gains power over people in that way. He emulates Kurtz, because both use the power of their voice to subjugate the masses, and both rely on others to determine their meaning. Without others, Kurtz and Toohey would be nothing. That realization is the true “heart of darkness,” the knowledge that neither Kurtz nor Toohey has really accomplished anything. They have not bettered themselves as individuals. This has caused them to sink into the depths of an abyss. As they depend on others, their search for purpose is increasingly futile.
Marlow and Howard Roark, however, portray the viewpoint that the strength and individual choice create viable meaning. Marlow witnesses the downfall of Kurtz and hears Kurtz’s last words, yet Marlow still realizes that he (Marlow) has “his choice of nightmares”: siding with the manager or Kurtz. Marlow’s faith to Kurtz is a defining moment, for it represents the strength of an individual in the face of darkness. It is Marlow’s commitment to truth that creates purpose in his life. But then, what of the lie at the end of the story? That again showcases Marlow’s integrity, for rather than ruining Kurtz’s reputation, Marlow preserves it, taking the burden on himself. Like Marlow, Howard Roark is an individual who creates his own meaning and lives an honest life. He does not rely on the meaningless words of others to confirm his purpose, for he makes his own purpose in life. Both of these characters are therefore “full” or “solid” people for they have built their own individual lives.
One difference between Conrad and Rand lies in their interpretation of the “heart of darkness,” or, in this case, the fundamental dearth of meaning in life. Conrad views the darkness as prevalent in every human, but able to be covered up either by the fading veneer of civilization or by the more permanent strength of an individual. Rand sees the darkness as something that the fire of a creative mind can banish completely. Conrad’s darkness speaks more to our immutable past, whereas Rand’s fire looks more toward a future of light.
The characters in Heart of Darkness and The Fountainhead are on a constant search for meaning. In the end, it is not just the individual, but the individual’s quest for truth, that creates a viable life. Anyone trying to build a life on lies stands on a rotten foundation, for lies have the “taste of mortality.” The truth, however, is immortal and the only way to find it is to look within your soul.

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