Nerve Essay

This essay has a total of 1978 words and 10 pages.

nerve




Inherent inside every human soul is a savage evil side that remains repressed by society.
Often this evil side breaks out during times of isolation from our culture, and whenever
one culture confronts another. History is loaded with examples of atrocities that have
occurred when one culture comes into contact with another. Whenever fundamentally
different cultures meet, there is often a fear of contamination and loss of self that
leads us to discover more about our true selves, often causing perceived madness by those
who have yet to discover.


The Puritans left Europe in hopes of finding a new world to welcome them and their
beliefs. What they found was a vast new world, loaded with Indian cultures new to them.
This overwhelming cultural interaction caused some Puritans to go mad and try to purge
themselves of a perceived evil. This came to be known as the Salem witch trials.


During World War II, Germany made an attempt to overrun Europe. What happened when the
Nazis came into power and persecuted the Jews in Germany, Austria and Poland is well known
as the Holocaust. Here, human’s evil side provides one of the scariest occurrences of this
century. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi counterparts conducted raids of the ghettos to locate
and often exterminate any Jews they found. Although Jews are the most widely known victims
of the Holocaust, they were not the only targets. When the war ended, 6 million Jews,
Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists, and others targeted by the
Nazis, had died in the Holocaust. Most of these deaths occurred in gas chambers and mass
shootings. This gruesome attack was motivated mainly by the fear of cultural intermixing
which would impurify the "Master Race."


Joseph Conrad’s book, The Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now
are both stories about Man’s journey into his self, and the discoveries to be made there.
They are also about Man confronting his fears of failure, insanity, death, and cultural
contamination.


During Marlow’s mission to find Kurtz, he is also trying to find himself. He, like Kurtz
had good intentions upon entering the Congo. Conrad tries to show us that Marlow is what
Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could become. Every human has a little of Marlow
and Kurtz in them. Marlow says about himself, "I was getting savage (Conrad)," meaning
that he was becoming more like Kurtz. Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover
their true selves through contact with savage natives.


As Marlow ventures further up the Congo, he feels like he is traveling back through time.
He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness of it’s solitude. Marlow comes
across simpler cannibalistic cultures along the banks. The deeper into the jungle he goes,
the more regressive the inhabitants seem.


Kurtz had lived in the Congo, and was separated from his own culture for quite some time.
He had once been considered an honorable man, but the jungle changed him greatly. Here,
secluded from the rest of his own society, he discovered his evil side and became
corrupted by his power and solitude. Marlow tells us about the Ivory that Kurtz kept as
his own, and that he had no restraint, and was " a tree swayed by the wind (Conrad,
209)." Marlow mentions the human heads displayed on posts that "showed that Mr. Kurtz
lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts (Conrad, 220)." Conrad also
tells us "his... nerves went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances
ending with unspeakable rights, which... were offered up to him (Conrad, 208)," meaning
that Kurtz went insane and allowed himself to be worshipped as a god. It appears that
while Kurtz had been isolated from his culture, he had become corrupted by this violent
native culture, and allowed his evil side to control him.


Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a person grasp the big
picture. He describes Kurtz’s last moments "as though a veil had been rent (Conrad, 239)."
Kurtz’s last "supreme moment of complete knowledge (Conrad, 239)," showed him how horrible
the human soul really can be. Marlow can only speculate as to what Kurtz saw that caused
him to exclaim "The horror! The horror," but later adds that "Since I peeped over the edge
myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare... it was wide enough to embrace the
whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness...
he had summed up, he had judged (Conrad, 241)." Marlow guesses that Kurtz suddenly knew
everything and discovered how horrible the duplicity of man can be. Marlow learned through
Kurtz’s death, and he now knows that inside every human is this horrible, evil side.


Francis Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now, is based loosely upon Conrad’s book. Captain
Willard is a Marlow who is on a mission into Cambodia during the Vietnam war to find and
kill an insane Colonel Kurtz. Coppola's Kurtz, as he experienced his epiphany of horror,
was an officer and a sane, successful, brilliant leader. Like Conrad’s Kurtz, Coppola
shows us a man who was once very well respected, but was corrupted by the horror of war
and the cultures he met.


Coppola tells us in Hearts of Darkness that Kurtz’s major fear is "being white in a non
white jungle (Bahr)." The story Kurtz tells Willard about the Special Forces going into a
village, inoculating the children for polio and going away, and the communists coming into
the village and cutting off all the children's inoculated arms, is the main evidence for
this implication in that film. This is when Kurtz begins to go mad, he "wept like some
grandmother" when, called back by a villager, he saw the pile of little arms, a
sophisticated version of the "escalating horrors." What Kurtz meant by "escalating
horrors" is the Vietnamese army’s senseless decapitation, torture, and the like. Kurtz is
facing a new culture and has a terrible time dealing with it. This was the beginning of
his insanity.


"All America contributed to the making of Colonel Kurtz, just as all Europe produced Mr.
Kurtz. Both Kurtzes are idealized in their function as eyewitnesses to the atrocities.
What is reflected is the threat of loss of self, loss of centrality, and the displacement
of Western culture from the perceived center of history by those whom it has enslaved and
oppressed (Worthy 24)." This tells us that the evil side and the madness in both Kurtzes
was brought out by the fear of new cultures different from their own, and their inability
to deal with this fear. The disconnection between the opening words of Kurtz's report "By
the simple exercise of our will, we can exert a power for good practically unbounded" and
the note on the last page, "Exterminate all the brutes!" illustrates the progressive
externalization of Kurtz's fear of "contamination," the personal fear of loss of self
which colonialist whites saw in the "uncivilized," seemingly regressive lifestyle of the
natives. Gradually, the duplicity of man and reality merged for the two Kurtzes, one in
the Congo, and one in Vietnam. As this happened, the well defined cultural values
Continues for 5 more pages >>




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