King 1 Marina King Mrs. Edwards English 12 April 12, 2013 Path to Self-Knowledge Through three novels of the 19th and 20th century, the main protagonists struggle with personal conflict, accompanied by the environment they found themselves surrounded by. The environment affects their views, their morals, their motives, as it can be malicious and threatening, which can ultimately change the person themselves. This relationship is found through novels like Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, and Madame Bovary. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is an egoist who has committed two murders and contemplates whether he should tell or not throughout the whole novel. The environment that he is in also plays a key role in his decisions and morals, as it slowly makes him crazy. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow is affected by what he perceived to see and the horror that he actually witness, as the meaning of the trip has completely changed for Marlow. Lastly, this theme persists in the novel, Madame Bovary, as Emma is never satisfied with what she is given and is always wanting more. Whatever she has does not make her standards and only more materialistic things please her. Throughout these novels, the three main protagonists all struggle in the atmosphere they feel mentally and physically consumed by. They experience self-deterioration or become conscious of their environment which results in a transformation for each character. In the first novel, Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is a poor, impatient, and arrogant man. He resides in the slums of St. Petersburg, but thinks of himself to be held at a higher standard then everyone else, as if he has a moral greatness to him. He is very
King 2 aware of intellectual theories like the “master race” and has altruistic and charitable impulses. Showing his thoughts, Raskolnikov also has an article published, where he states, “I simply intimate that the ‘extraordinary’ man has the right…I don’t mean a formal, official right, but he has the right in himself, to permit his conscience to overstep…certain obstacles, but only in the even that his ideas (which may sometimes be salutary for all mankind) require it for their fulfillment,” (220.) Raskolnikov experiences his struggle through separation between him and society (if there already is not a gap) after he murders the two women. “Not that he understood it, but he sensed clearly, with all the power of sensation, that it was no longer possible for him to address these people in the police station, not only with heartfelt effusions, as he had just done, but in any way at all…” This is Raskolnikov’s realization of his dissatisfaction with society and feels if there is no way to connect with i. This leads to irrational thoughts and motives, as he tries to find ways to justify his reason for the killings. He ultimately distinguishes himself from morality, and it is questionable where the divide is. This, itself, is a threat to the environment, as it does not lead to a delightful outcome. Marlow is another character who experiences struggles with his environment as he travels by steamboat through the African Congo. Marlow realizes that what he has expected is far from the truth. The horror prevails, as the natives are exploited for their ivory and rubber and are treated like savages. Yet Marlow seems to find a connection with the natives, as it shows his fading connection and identification with the imperial, Belgium power. “It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman.” Marlow understands that these men are not inhuman- they were just like them. Marlow feels as if
King 3 he can put himself in the shoes of the Africans, and understand their vulnerability, unlike the Europeans who take advantage of it. He saw the truth and for everything that it was, and with Kurtz’s motives as well, as it could not be cloaked by the Europeans. As Marlow begins to comprehend the true European nature unmasked, he begins to compare what he sees and experiences to the devil. “I’ve seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but by all the stars these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils that swayed and drove men—men, I tell you,” (16). Marlow describes how the white man is the devil, and how the enslavement of the Africans is an action of greed and “hot desire.” This sentiment becomes stronger and stronger towards the end of the novella, as Marlow comes to terms that there is no place for the Europeans or Kurtz himself, as they abuse the natives in whom they think are savages, but yet the savages are the Europeans themselves. In Madame Bovary, Emma struggles to adapt to her environment in each stage of life, as nothing can ever meet her high standards. She is always looking for the materialistic things in life and has nothing of real value. Emma constantly struggles with her illusion versus the reality of her situation. She is stuck in between the medium of what she wants her life to be and what it actually is. For example, her relationship with Charles Bovary is two-sided. Charles is madly in love with Emma, and willing to give up his savings for her pleasure—Emma feels otherwise. “But she was eaten up with desires, with rage, with hate. The rigid folds of her dress covered a tormented heart of which her chaste lips never spoke. She was in love with Léon, and sought solitude that she might more easily delight in his image. His physical presence troubled the voluptuousness of this meditation. Emma thrilled at the sound of his step; then in his presence the emotion
King 4 subsided, and afterwards there remained in her only an immense astonishment that ended in sorrow,” (pg. 90). Emma is idolized by others for having the appearance of a strong and well dressed woman in public, yet she is really miserable and in love with Léon. Charles is too clueless to understand how Emma can only want more, explaining her romance with Léon, as she always needs something constantly better. At one point in the novel, Charles is very ecstatic to expand the family with Emma. Emma has wandering thoughts about having the child, as it could force her to stay with Charles and dissolve all her other hopes having a more luxurious life. But at the same time, she hopes for a boy. “She hoped for a son; he would be strong and dark; she would call him George; and this idea of having a male child was like an expected revenge for all her impotence in the past. A man, at least, is free; he can explore all passions and all countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most distant pleasures. But a woman is always hampered. Being inert as well as pliable, she has against her the weakness of the flesh and the inequity of the law.” Emma had this idea that she would have the son she dreamed of. The narrator explains how females do not have the same rights as men, in terms of their power. The child turns out to be a girl, which brings out Emma’s materialistic self, as she is genuinely uninterested and not concerning herself with newborn because of its gender. She is not satisfied and behaves impudently, as this is somehow, in her eyes, someone else’s fault. Emma’s truly egotistical personality is brought out multiple times with her illusion versus reality and in each setting that she is immersed in. Overall, each individual character struggles in their environment in a different way, which leads to different self-realizations. For Raskolnikov, he is able to, finally,
King 5 with the help of Sonya and other characters supporting him, understand his wrong doing, and how he has been ignorant and blind. He is not this super human he believed himself once to be. He rediscovers himself and withdraws the pride that made him hold such a higher standard and experiences a spiritual redemption. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow discovers who he does not want to be, as he despises everything that the Europeans have done to exploit the natives. He does not want to play a part in this ignorant society that he once associated himself with. As Marlow describes at the end of the novella, â€œI found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders to whose knowledge of life was to m e an irritating pretence because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew,â€? (70). Marlow does not want to live the way the Europeans do and does not want to represent their ideals. In this quote, Marlow mistook the European culture for something different then it actually was. Lastly, in Madame Bovary, Emma has brought herself, by self indulgence, to a tragic end. As she lies on her death bed, she has a little epiphany of how she has wronged and taken advantage of Charles, someone who had loved her unconditionally, but it is ultimately too late. Yet even at the end, Emma still has an illusion of what her death would be like: graceful and calm; yet it is the opposite. She is punished miserably and her actions and fate represent morality tales. Each novel takes place in a different time set and has a different affect on each character individually, as they struggle to comprehend and adapt to the position they are in, as the people and environment ultimately shift their ideals and morals.