UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Quest for identity in Joseph Conrad's fiction Epp, Harold Bernard


Joseph Conrad regarded life as the pursuit of a dream which gives man a sense of purpose in life. The individual's attempt, through action and communication, to make this dream real to himself and to his fellow men constitutes the quest for identity in Conrad's works. Chapter I explores various aspects of the quest. Because life is a "destructive element", the individual must struggle to justify his existence and make his dream come true. To be successful in this struggle, man needs self-knowledge. This, in turn, requires a commitment to the community. The quest is, therefore, ethical rather than metaphysical. Chapter II is a study of the egoistic dream. The sense of superiority over the rest of mankind causes Jim, Heyst, and Kurtz to dissociate themselves from their fellow men. Consequently, they lack a clear sense of their moral responsibility and of the destructive tendencies in their own nature. Rather than help these individuals to find meaning in life, the egoistic dream becomes the cause of their failure. Chapter 111 concentrates upon the "saving illusion", a sense of self involving a moral commitment to the community. Through involvement, the individual becomes concerned with fulfilling his moral obligation, rather than vindicating an ideal of himself. Therefore, he seeks the self-knowledge which will enable him to guard against defeat. Obedience to the claims of love and conscience in Under Western Eyes, the sense of duty towards the ship in "The Secret Sharer", and the sense of solidarity in “The Nigger of the Narcissus” enable the protagonists in these stories to fulfil their obligation to the community. Finally, Chapter IV deals with Conrad's artistic endeavour as his quest for identity. Conrad's aim was to communicate his truth to the reader. The achievement of his artistic goal required self-knowledge which he, like his characters, acquired in the struggle of life. The hard realities of life become the "terms of his appeal". Conrad's vision of life evokes in his readers the sense of solidarity which testifies to the success of his quest for identity.

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