The Human Heart in Conflict With Itself
The goals of literature, therefore, are to encourage the human race to recognize these conflicts of the human heart and to encourage human beings to endure hardships and prevail in moments of conflict and uncertainty. Faulkner concludes his speech by asserting that, "the poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail" (Nobel Prize Speech, np.).
This essay will examine two pieces of literature against the backdrop of Faulkner’s standard for good and meaningful writing. The first is Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad and the second is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
In Lord Jim we become witnesses to the deeply profound struggles of a young British seaman named Jim. He is hired as a lowly ship’s mate aboard a ship crowded with pilgrims. In the beginning, Jim is idealistic about his role on the ship. "He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line. or as a lonely castaway, barefooted and half naked, walking on uncovered reefs in search of shellfish to stave of starvation" (pg. 47). The universal themes mentioned by Faulkner are present. Jim idealizes himself sacrificing, defeating fear, and prevailing in difficult circumstances. Significantly, when disaster does strike, Jim does not perform as he had imagined.
Jim’s ship is verJim’s ship is very soon after these musings caught in a terrible storm. It is his moment of truth. He has imagined his bravery and self-sacrifice in such a situation. The reader, however, is witness to no bravery. Jim succumbs to his fear of the storm and abandons the ship. He saves himself and leaves his fellow shipmates, the pilgrims, and the ship to face the wrath of the storm. Jim is subsequently put on trial for his dereliction of duty. He is stripped of his nautical certificate and left feeling ashamed and worthless. His initial image of himself as a brave seaman has been proven false. He is now a coward and deemed unfit for duty on the sea.
This is a classic example of the struggle of the heart to which Faulkner alludes. Marlowe, the narrator of Lord Jim, observes at the trial that the court "wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!" (pg. 63). Facts, in short, are unable to explain such a profound personal conflict. Jim experienced fear, the threat of death, and he reacted to preserve his own life. The scene on the ship was chaotic. Nonetheless, Jim is now treated as a dishonorable man. He is shamed for fleeing from danger.
What Conrad teaches us is that the universal themes addressed by Faulkner are extraordinarily powerful and dominant. We cannot idealize away the power of fear. We cannot romanticize away the pains and costs associated with sacrifice. Jim learns this first-hand. He isn’t a bad person, though he is judged so by his peers, but a character whom struggles with a deeply confusing conflict and chooses to preserve himself. Jim could have done otherwise, but his failings teach us how difficult it truly is to be brave.
The Metamorphosis: Gregor Samsa’s Uneasy Dreams
We witness Gregor Samsa’s struggles in a strange way. His struggle is presented both comically and tragically. Gregor is a normal human being. He goes to sleep one evening and as he "awakes one morning from a troubled dream, he found himself changed in his bed