Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Battle Between Light and Dark

Here it is, as promised, the essay I wrote last year about the book The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and how it compares to the television show LOST. On Saturday, I will be sharing the first part of a short children's fairy tale I wrote, and I will be posting the second part next Saturday, so after that I will do two regular posts in a row on the Saturdays, since this is a lot of my writing all at once. I'm writing this little introduction very quickly, so pardon me if it is not phrased very, um, coherently. So yeah. Here is that essay. I hope it makes you want to, if you have not already, read the book and watch the show, and I also hope that you understand my insights about corruption of power, the strength of love, and privilege of choice.


The Battle Between Light and Dark


In Joseph Conrad's novella, The Heart of Darkness, a man, Charles Marlow, embarks on a journey to a company's Inner Station in Congo. As he travels down the Congo River, he meets many of his shipmates — natives, savages, cannibals, pilgrims alike — who all admire the ambiguous Mr. Kurtz, leader of the Inner Station. Marlow's sole mission is to reach this mysterious man. All the while he must interpret rumors, avoid arrow attacks, and discover the truth of light and dark, good and evil. This story appears to have influenced the television series LOST, which follows the exploits of a group of survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. There, they — including a man, John Locke, who has been healed from paralysis by the island’s extraordinary powers — meet strange people who are keeping dangerous secrets, especially the truth behind the omniscient leader and protector of the island, Jacob, and the Smoke Monster, which shreds people who it deems useless in the game of fate. In LOST, Locke desires to discern the significance of fate versus free will, which is akin to good versus evil and light versus dark. The omnipresent battle between light and dark is symbolic in both LOST and The Heart of Darkness, taking precedence over the many other uncanny similarities.

Both Marlow and Locke have a different world view than their accompaniments. The pilgrims, as Marlow calls them, only have one motivation: to collect ivory for money in their own self-interest, whereas the plane crash survivors just want to live. However, Locke and Marlow are wise and understand that there is more to their situation than it seems. Since he is healed after the crash, Locke concludes that it is their fate to be stranded on the mysterious place. He is driven to understand how he was healed. When the natives of the island, which the survivors call the Others — akin to the restrained cannibals and savage natives in The Heart of Darkness — reveal that Locke is meant to be the new leader, he seeks out Jacob with the sole purpose of discovering the truth. Locke's search is quite similar to Marlow's search for the truth from Kurtz. As the pilgrims around him continue to hoard ivory, Marlow discerns that he must speak to Kurtz. When he finally reaches the man, after the boat sinks and native attack him with arrows — events which also occurred on LOST — he learns that Kurtz is dying of a terrible illness and that the natives blindly follow him. Eventually his illness, both of his disease and of his corruption, consumes him. He dies repeating the words: “The horror! The horror!” His last words signify that he realized his corruption of power as he looked into his heart of darkness. Jacob too is faced with an immense darkness. After Locke reaches his hideout, Jacob is brutally murdered by the Smoke Monster’s influence, leaving no one there to protect the light at the heart of the island from its wrath. In both of the leaders’ deaths, though caused by dark forces, a light is shed on the truth. However, the truth is only revealed to Marlow and Locke who fully understand and appreciate its importance.

Not only are Marlow and Locke similar, but many other characters from LOST resemble those from The Heart of Darkness as well. The Smoke Monster only becomes a monster once he attains power. Before he was corrupted, he was only a man, known as the Man in Black. He, both as the monster and the man, has a similar demeanor to Kurtz. They both desire the powerful light and both suffer a horrifying fate. The Man in Black is dehumanized, transforming into the Smoke Monster. Kurtz dies in vain, realizing that his efforts had destroyed the lives of dozens of people. The "advisor" Richard Alpert bears a striking resemblance to the Russian, who respects and follows Kurtz's orders. The Russian states, “I am not so young as I look,” and Richard does not age, which is a gift from the powerful Jacob. Both men, loyal to their leaders, after making certain Marlow and Locke meet them, escape the dangers of the treacherous jungle: Richard from the Man in Black and the Russian from the manager. This selfish, intimidating man, the manager of the Central Station, and the bug-eyed manipulative leader of the Others, Benjamin Linus, both have control over their subjects and resent those above them. Just as the manager plots against Kurtz, Ben, under the influence of the Man in Black, stabs and kills Jacob, unaware that he is the evil Smoke Monster. Their devilish and sly yet pitiful character, not solely their actions, defines their similarities. Yet another striking pair is the fireman and Desmond Hume. Underground, Desmond pushes a button every 108 minutes for three years because he is told and he believes that it prevents the end of the world — actually it prevents the light from being released into the world — just as the fireman is instructed to watch “should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance” (Conrad 61). These characters, in addition to Marlow and Locke, tie the television series and Conrad’s novella together all the more clearly and contribute greatly to the theme which resonates throughout both: good versus evil.

At the heart of the island, there is a bright, warm light, which Jacob explains is inside every person. He and the Man In Black have conflicting views about peoples' reaction to it, just as Marlow and Kurtz disagree about the corruption of power. Furthermore, the seventeenth century philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke argued about human nature in the same way. The LOST character's namesake, John Locke believed that people are naturally good and will fight for the good of all people, whereas his opponent Thomas Hobbes argued that that people are selfish. Joseph Conrad took this age-old argument and materialized it into Marlow's story. Kurtz attains this power, this "light," and becomes corrupt, greedily attempting to gain more control. In his death, he realizes this "horror" of how people selfishly scavenge for power, just as Hobbes asserted. However, when Marlow is enlightened, he is humbled, taking Locke's approach and protecting people from the truth. The Locke of LOST looks into "the heart of the island" and sees that "it is beautiful," believing that he and the other survivors are there for a reason: to protect this beautiful and powerful light. And he is right. Guarding it is Jacob's job. He and the Man in Black had argued for decades over whether the truth really needed protecting. Furious at the Man in Black's attempts to free this light from the island, Jacob throws him into the heart of darkness, where he suffers "a fate worse than death." This fate is the same as Kurtz's. Once he obtains this light from the heart of the island, the Man in Black becomes the Smoke Monster, destroying all those who come between him and his desire to leave the island. LOST, The Heart of Darkness, and the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are all connected by their symbolism of darkness as the desire to control one's own fate and the fate of others, and light as the truth that this obsession, which ironically makes people out of control, must be prevented. The battle between fate and free will, which is omnipresent in the television series, does not necessarily have a winner. Each person has a little bit of free will, a little bit of control inside of them, and they always want more. Jacob, Marlow, and Locke understand this, while Kurtz and the Man in Black spiral out of control once they obtain this power.

Jacob loses his battle with the Man in Black just as Kurtz loses his battle to his illness of corruption. John Locke and Charles Marlow both find the light that shines somewhere in the heart of darkness, and they try to protect it. Their companions aid them and hinder them, even those who appear for only a few pages or episodes. The coincidences are overwhelming, but one thing is for certain; the self-knowledge that Marlow and Locke receive at the end of their long journey is exactly what they need in order to fight the evil forces that appear to have overridden the good ones.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Sea to Shining Sea

The ocean, or really any large body of water, is usually a symbol for freedom. I'm not an expert on this or anything, but in The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Edna Pontellier committed suicide by drowning herself in the ocean, therefore being freed from her ennui in her gender role as a woman in the 19th century. In the television show LOST (shut up) the characters were trapped on an island, the ocean being the main thing separating them from the rest of the world. In my novel (which I am editing) Nighttime in an Unfamiliar Place, the Trinity River in Texas symbolizes the characters letting go of the things that have held them back; for example, one character dumps his dead father's ashes into the river. In my other novel (a work in progress) Fate's Advocate, the main character is a lifeguard, who tries to commit suicide in the ocean. I'm sure there are dozens and dozens of other examples I could give, but I think that's enough.

The vastness of the ocean, and the currents that just drag you along, gives it a don't-worry-be-happy type of feel to it. You can't see the end of the ocean, nor the bottom of it. Floating out to sea, you are in isolation, so you are forced to let go of all your problems and just go along for the ride. Suicide by drowning, while probably extremely painful, is symbolic in that the person is being freed from their world and their body, letting nature do its thing, and floating out alone into the largest, most unexplored part of the earth.

I chose the title "From Sea to Shining Sea" because the United States was founded upon the idea of freedom, and this phrase, a lyric in a patriotic song, reveals the symbolism.

Can you guys think of any other examples of the symbolism of the ocean as freedom or any other reasons why this may be so? Or do you think it represents something else?

Peace, Aimee

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Poem: Redemption

I kind of lied to you, and to myself, when I said in my LOST post that I was getting all of my obsession out there and would try not to post about LOST again, to avoid boring you (even though it's not boring) or making you think I'm a crazy obsessed fan in denial that the show is no longer on the air (even though I am). I also said on Wednesday that I was going to talk about The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad eventually, and I wrote a really great essay about it for an English class, comparing it to LOST, and I am planning on sharing that with you probably next Saturday and somewhat of a transition between stories and posts (more for me than for you) as it is something I've written before; so that proves to you even more that I lied about never posting about LOST again. Sorry. And to sum up this tangent and to tell you what the heck it was all about, the poem I am sharing with you today, titled Redemption (formerly Jack's Redemption) is, again, about LOST. But it makes complete sense to those who have not seen the show, which is the reason why I shortened the title. The allusion to Jack was kind of confusing to people who read it.

Okay. Sorry about that little tangent there. Here it is. Enjoy.

P.S. I love the rhyme scheme of this. Just wanted to point it out to you, just in case you didn't notice how cool it is. But I'm not going to bore you with an explanation of syntax and why I chose it (it's all about cycles and light vs. dark and okay I'll shut up now). Once again, enjoy.

Peace, Aimee


Redemption


He spread his wings though it wasn't his intent
The ground below looked ominous and dark
He held his breath and began his descent

Those who came before him had left their mark
And it was hard for him to see that he was not there alone
Their whispers from the trees gave him a quest to embark

He was given a chance his mistakes to atone
He fought through it all, avoiding their lament
He found the light in the darkness and he uncovered the unknown

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yesterday Was Voting Day

I am going to talk about politics today. When someone talks about politics, most people just stop listening because they either a) refuse to sway from their own opinions or b) don't care. I sort of fit into both categories. In other words, I refuse to sway from not caring. No, that's not right. I care. I care a lot. It's just that I happen to be an anarchist.

Please don't freak out on me. I will try to explain myself as intelligently and as humbly as I can.

When John Lennon's song Imagine came out, everyone thought it was a communist song, but it's not; it's an anarchist song. Communism means that the government owns everything and has control of everything, but in anarchism, the people own everything, or share everything for that matter, and there is no government whatsoever. For some reason, there is this big stigma that anarchy is violent. But that's not what I believe. In fact, I think it is the opposite. The more laws there are, the more criminals there are. I know, I know; they have no laws to break, but it's more than that. America was founded upon freedom, though back then they had a different definition of it. It was more of a religious thing. The freedom I believe in encompasses more than that. It's freedom to do whatever you want.

We already have so much we can't control (genetics, laws of nature, other people... unless you're a politician or a parent but let's not get into that today) and let's be honest here: each person has this one life to live and we never know when it's going to end, so we should be able to enjoy while we can because once we're dead will it really ever matter what political party we were or what religion or race? I don't mean to be a cynic here, because I am definitely not. I have so much faith in the human race, it's ridiculous. If I were a cynic, I wouldn't think anarchy would work. I would think that everyone would just kill everyone and that would be the end of it.

But no. If there was no government, there would be no borders, no countries. Obviously this wouldn't work if only one country adopted it; it would have to be a worldwide thing. Love and peace and all that jazz. It's really that simple. Just respect that everyone has different opinions, religions, then we wouldn't need laws or a government at all.

I know there are people that say that there will always be someone who gets angry or is slightly racist or something like that, and it drives me insane knowing that that is true. There is a part of us, in our brain, I guess, that is violent. It's an animal thing: defend what is ours. And there are too many people in this world to teach them about equality in order for them to understand that they can control that (except in mental illness, but I can't talk about that now). So obviously peace cannot be achieved in this decade or this generation, but if we keep it up, maybe it can in this century.

Read some Ayn Rand and some Henry David Thoreau and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. My two favorite books, by the way. Side note: I'm planning on posting something about one or both of those books soon. I wrote this great essay about... Okay, no tangents...

I hope all of this made sense. And I did vote, by the way, but that does not make me a hypocrite, going against what I believe. If I didn't vote, then most people would vote for more regulations and stuff, while I voted against all that stuff. I know I'm only one person and it probably doesn't make a difference, but let's not go on another tangent here.

All differences aside, we're really all the same. You may argue that this is all a Catch-22, but I think it more of a yin and yang thing. But that's a discussion for another day.

Peace, Aimee