This essay will compare the theme of hope in the writings of Hemingway, Conrad, and Kafka in the novels, The Sun Also Rises, Heart of Darkness and The Trial. The characters in the novels will be presented as hoping against the odds of love and either fulfilling their desire or running away from them, thus either gaining hope or the lack of hope. The different avenues of hope will also be examined in that hope may turn into acts of desperation from a different point of view, and the narrator of some of the novels will be given consideration in presenting facts to the reader in their own point of view.
Finally, this essay will discuss the nature of hope, and how the characters throughout the novels may either accept a hopeless state and be transformed from it, or accept hope as a gift despite the fact that reality and circumstances may deny them their desires. The theme of each novel will ultimately coincide with transformations or realizations through hope.
In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises the narrator Jake travels through a myriad of landscapes from Paris, to Madrid and even San Sebastian. It is through these landscapes that the reader may witness the rising hope that Jake has, or the desperation, and even at times, of the peace he has or longs for in such scenery. The cast of characters suggests a spectrum of different avenues of hope: with Jake, his hope is to be with Brett, despite the consequences and the treatment he receives from her, uttering in the novel’s last line, “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so” after Brett states that she and Jake would have had a wonderful time together.
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In this statement Jake reveals to Brett, and to the audience that although he and Brett do not manage to come together as a couple, that in Jake’s view of events they are joined together through consequences and circumstances. This is not a fulfillment by the measure of typical novels involving relationships but for Hemingway, the stunted acceptance of fate in the character Jake allows for imagination and realism to coexist. This means that hope cannot come to fruition but that to still think, and in Jake’s mind to know, that to have been with Brett would have been his greatest adventure expresses not his lament that it never happened but that it could have happened and it would have been wonderful. This un-fulfillment is Jake’s hope realized.
With the character Cohn however, hope is a desperate emotion. His hope is overpowering; it lies with being madly in love, or infatuation with Brett and the unrequited love of Brett drives Cohn into a furious temper for any man who is with her, or desires her. Cohn repeated follows Brett around, which conjures up images of puppy love, and blind obedience, and when Brett’s fiancé Mike tells Cohn again and again to lay off, Cohn refuses and tensions rise during the fiesta in Madrid.
Cohn ignores rationality and knocks out Jake, Mike, and Brett’s new lover, the bullfighter Romero. Recognizing his actions, Cohn insists on having Jake forgive him, which Jake does with reluctance and even wants Romero to shake his hand, which Romero refuses. Here, then is Cohn’s ultimate slight; that hope, at least the kind that is desperate is unforgiving.
Brett rebukes her fiancé Mike for her new lover Romero. An interesting scene in the book is when Brett receives Romero’s gift of a bull’s ear he had slain, a bull which had earlier slaughtered another man. This ear signifies that Brett had to cut off a piece of herself in order to live the life she does, traveling and falling in love over and over and changing her mind and following a different lover around until regret or a new love shows up. This ear resembles Brett’s hope – her hope of love in constant fury.
She must not leave too much of herself with one man leastwise she become completely attached and dependent, thus, the vivisected ear is Brett’s heart, torn off from its owner, and kept in a distant spot. Brett does not hope with commitment, but with transitory lust for new things, places, and men. Although Jake tells these words to Cohn about traveling to South America this following quote may be applicable to each character in the novel and the theme of hope, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” (Hemingway 11).
Hemingway’s characters in the novel suggest constant movement in order to escape something; to escape constancy in setting and environment, it is as though the characters feel that if they move enough their desires and regrets won’t be able to catch up. This is true especially for Brett and is true for Jake as well. For Cohn, it is his outdated lifestyle which is anachronistic in the lifestyle of the age in which he is living that he is trying to escape but for Brett and perhaps Jake as well, it is regret that they do want to overcome them, "I thought I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays and pays.
No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values. You gave something up and got something else. Or you worked for something. You paid some way for everything that was any good." (Hemingway 148). In final scene in the car when the two are alone together and Jake says it’s pretty to think so, this is the only acknowledgement of truth the reader receives from Jake concerning his desire for Brett. Beyond the tomfoolery, bullfighting and fishing, when he is quite within himself, the mantra which pulses through him is regret. He may hope beyond it, but it is all-consuming as it would have been for Brett if she had not hidden her heart away from such devices as feeling too much as Jake does, as it best exemplified with Jake stating, “Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together?” [Brett:] “I don’t think so. I’d just tromper you with everybody.”
In Jake’s final line to Brett, hope is dashed and cynicism is revealed. Jake has no illusions as to how his and Brett’s relationship would have been since Brett has no heart to give, or it is kept at such a distance, even Jake’s love could not call it into being. This is the lack of hope of them, realism, cynicism, and love dashed.
In Kafka’s novel The Trial, the main character Joseph K, or simply K lives through a series of unfortunate events of which the first he is accused of some ambiguous crime on his 30th birthday. One year later he is killed in the name of the law and K, for his part does not object to the killing. The absurd as a theme in this event is very overtly portrayed. The ambiguous nature of the actions of the other characters in the novel prove to be ridiculous and a definite parody of real life trial situations.
The trial itself is a charade because everyone in the courtroom including K already know the outcome; they are merely going through the actions because it is something of a tradition to do so. Thus, the characters are focused, not on the truth of the matter, did K commit a crime, but merely on the trial itself and their part in the façade.
K’s looming fate is indistinguishable during the trial but when he is killed in the name of the law at the end of the novel he gives no protest. The absurd as a theme is best translated in this action by Kafka’s character K. K does not protect his own interest but does blindly what he is told to do because it is the law. K does not question the intent of the actions, him being killed or at times even during the trial. During the novel, K is increasingly not in control of his own fate. This is shown when he kisses his neighbor after his landlady told him indirectly that he was perhaps having an affair with her. It seems that the absurd grows into its own identity in Kafka’s The Trial through the way in which K is a definite pawn, adhering to other people’s wishes instead of examining his own wants.
The absurd takes further shape in Kafka’s novel through the inability of the other defendant’s awaiting news of their fate when K is given a tour of the offices by Law-Court Attendant. Almost everyone in the book is ignorant about their surroundings, their own actions, their fate. Kafka deals well with disguising characters or scenes (when K goes into the Law-Court Attendant’s office he glances at law books that are in fact pornography) and leading the reader to believe one thing before he switches and tells the reader the truth behind the scene.
Kafka was a master at leading the audience down one path only to change course right when the reader has a glimmer of understanding about the plot or the character’s intentions. To emphasize this point K’s last words before he dies are “Like a dog” which describe how he dies. In essence these words state that K was expecting to die, perhaps wanted it after the previous misleading year of his life during the trial and the ridiculous events in his life while the trial was persisting. His words describe his death, but also his life. He lived obediently, and as the cliché goes, he licked the master’s hand that beat him.
In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the audience is presented with the character Marlow whose hope overwhelms his morality in the search for Mr. Kurtz. Marlow appears to be a Buddha type image (at least the early Buddha, Siddhartha) in that he is searching for hope through Mr. Kurtz. Thus, Marlow is a character whose hope is tied up with a sense of adventure and courage mixed with either ignorance or just unawareness. Marlow seems to have created an acceptance of people and in return expects them to show the same regard of acceptance in silence.
The company seems to think Marlow’s stories are elusive to a point because, “…to hear about one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.” (pg 10). The company appears to discourage his story telling because of his disregard to the audiences wants. At the beginning of his journey into Africa, Marlow appears to be the whimsical sailor. An insightful sailor with thought patterns which reveal his character, “Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma” (pg 19). Marlow presents himself to be a truth teller. Being always ‘appalled’ by a lie. Marlow becomes obsessed with the idea of Mr. Kurtz. Only the want of a conversation with him led Marlow on hi journey.
Marlow associated himself with Kurtz by becoming an outcaste in the eyes of the managers and the dark of his mindset comes out, “…but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares.” (pg 105). Then coming to base with reality when meeting Kurtz’s Intended, Marlow says that, “His end … was in every way worthy of his life” (pg 130).
Following into Mr. Kurtz’s character, it is discovered that he is not fully developed, especially in regards to hope. He is described as a misfit showing everybody up. The ivory king so to speak. An elusive devil with a charmed life. Referred to as ‘that man’. A genius of a man not forgotten only because of outrageous speeches and stunts, not for any significant contribution to humanity, nor for his character development or change towards hope. Kurtz is a hard man to please and only a friend when he was in the whim of being a friends.
Perhaps the darkness drove Kurtz crazy and thus the audience is forces to recognize how his lack of hope twisted his character development, “…it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with his great solitude-…(whisper) echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core” (pg 98). Kurtz then was the abyss through which hope was lost. He sucked away ideas, morality, self-preservation of an idea and the act of being a taking of hope filled Kurtz because he had no other thoughts of his own. Solitude does strange things to a man as is witnessed by Kurtz’s character.
Kurtz left behind him a ‘last disciple.’ A short but well formed character in the way of his obsession with Mr. Kurtz. In the concept of hope, and the loss or lack of hope, Kurtz epitomizes this concept through is treatment of his lady. She was in constant mourning and tears. However, despite his treatment of her, she adored him. Her life was with him.
Conrad’s treatment of the novel, in his setting of the scene also suggests the lack of hope which prevails as a theme in Heart of Darkness. Conrad creates the setting of the sea in the beginning of the book as a painting with souls included; lost souls. He sets the mood by the setting by calming words and eloquent simplicity. After this imagery the reader is taken into the journey of Marlow.
The city is the first step in the path of discovering lack of hope in Conrad’s work. The city is the first step in this and right away the reader is filled with the complexity and confusion of Marlow’s story as the setting of the company’s offices harbors a feeling of conspiracy. A setting of foreboding, or darkness with two black barbed guardians is presented in the text, which further allude to the lack of hope in the novel.
In the first introduction of the idea of Mr. Kurtz, the person taking praises him but eh scene leads the reader to conclude that the man brings a feeling of wickedness, and a lack of morality. Perhaps Mr. Kurtz is the sea personified. In fact the feeling of hope, or lack of hope can very simply be seen in the treatment of the females in the novel. Just as in the character of Jake in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Mr. Kurtz’s character finds a reflection of himself in his female counterpart and how he treats that counterpart.
There are only three somewhat minor female characters in Heart of Darkness: Marlow’s aunt, Kurtz’s mistress, and Kurtz’s "Intended." Marlow mentions these female characters in order to give the literal aspect of his tale more substance. Towards the beginning of Marlow’s story he tells how he, "Charlie Marlow, set the women to work--to get a job."
He tells this in the context that he desperately wanted to travel in the trade industry that he did what the unthinkable (in those times). He asked a woman for financial assistance! The woman, his aunt, also surpassed the traditional role of women in those times by telling Marlow that she would be delighted to help him and to ask her for help whenever he needed it. This incident did not have much to do with the symbolic theme of the story; it simply served to tell the reader how Marlow managed to be able to travel to the Congo (with a little help). On another note, Conrad intended to illustrate Marlow’s opinion of women’s inferior role in society, which embodied traditional 19th century society.
The two remaining female characters were acknowledged later in the story. When Marlow reaches the Inner Station, he jumps ahead and tells a little about The Intended, Kurtz’s fiancée (to say “I do” when he returned). The Intended woman does not appear until the very end of the story, in which Marlow visits her and lies to her about Kurtz’s dying words. The last female character, Kurtz’s African mistress, was presented near the end of the novel. Her first appearance took place in the scene with Marlow talking to the Russian.
She appears later when Marlow and Kurtz depart on the steamboat. After Marlow blows the whistle, she stretches her arms out towards the steamer, and that was the last time she appears. The limited depiction of female characters in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the way in which the three female characters are referred to by Marlow reflect Marlow’s view of women as inferior. Marlow’s opinion of women manifests the typical 19th century views of women.
Perhaps his choice to lie to the Intended was because of a similar female influence on his life...his Aunt. In a way Marlow compares the Intended to his Aunt in which both women are weaker than him. For a man in the early 19th century, he believes that they are delicate and “something” that needs to be tenderly cared for. He says, "It is queer how out of touch with the truth women are.
They live in a world of their own, and there had never been anything like it, and can never be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset." This he says before ever meeting Kurtz or hearing of the Intended. Upon lying to her (the Intended) he says, "But I couldn't. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark too dark altogether..." Marlow protected her, he allowed her to remain innocent of Kurtz and his actions and in so doing enabled her sun to remain high rather than setting and forever engulfing her in darkness.
Through the characters of each of these three novels different aspects of hope and different ways in which hope is revealed, lost, gained, or ignored the truth is that each character in one way had the chance to hope. Marlow’s hope and Kurtz’s hope was desperation out of the thing they could not own, a woman’s love. K’s hope and Jake’s hope both began with cynicism, and K’s hope does not change at the end of Kafka’s novel, with the phrase pertaining to ‘like a dog’ while Jake also remains in the state of cynicism knowing that Brett could never love anyone because she was prepared to hope so high.
Each novel had a point of revelation for the characters in which they must make a choice to continue to hope, to change, or to ignore hope and falter in the evolution of their own character. Thus, when a character lost hope, they were doomed just as Marlow and Kurtz lost hope, or lost the illusion of their life and realized they never had hope for themselves, and just as Jake realizes that perhaps he never had hope for himself and Brett after all.
Conrad, J. Heart of Darkness. Bentley Pub, New York. 2002.
Hemingway, E. The Sun Also Rises. Scribner, New York, 1996.
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. Trans. Willa & Edwin Muir. Shocken. New York. 1995.
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