22 Years Old No College Degree No Friends Site Www.Reddit.Com How Power Corrupts in Heart of Darkness, the Crucible, and the Great Gatsby

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How Power Corrupts in Heart of Darkness, the Crucible, and the Great Gatsby

Given the brutal nature of human history, it’s no surprise that we have the saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Just ask Nine Fingers Frodo Baggins. This theme comes up as often in literature as it does in the news, daring us to imagine whether we would have acted differently in the same situation.

A classic example can be found in Joseph Conrad’s novel heart of darkness, tells the story of Charlie Marlow’s journey across the Congo colonies in search of Mr. Kurtz, a rebellious ivory trader. Although once a respected businessman, Kurtz reveled in what he saw as a savage wilderness full of ignorant and impressionable locals. Kurtz took full advantage of his status as a white European outsider to reinvent himself as a Congolese god.

While their results aren’t pretty at all (unless you’ve always dreamed of having an entire jungle fort with a pierced head), Marlowe finds herself intrigued, even impressed, by Kurtz’s animal charm and wild indulgence. Marlowe finally fulfills his mission and returns to unpretentious England, but his ambiguous feelings for psychopaths make us wonder if he’d fare better in Kurtz’s shoes.

A complicating factor in “Heart of Darkness” is that both Kurtz and Marlowe are wealthy white European males who consider themselves the best of humanity. In this sense, they both already had enormous power in terms of nineteenth-century politics. To get a fuller perspective, let’s take a look at some corrupt characters who lived in less rosy positions.

Being a young unmarried woman in 16th-century Puritan New England is unlikely to be a big laugh, but as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible shows us, women can play certain cards. After being caught dancing in the woods at night, several young girls in Salem find themselves accused of dealing with the devil. Due to the absurdity of their criminal justice system, they have no choice but to admit to witchcraft to get away with it.

Not content with simply protecting their fur, however, the girls make the most of their moment in the spotlight by lashing out at the community that implicates them; Those who brought the stench on them filed charges. The accusations spiraled out of control until dozens of citizens were killed, imprisoned, or permanently humiliated. The needlessness of such attacks suggests that lower-status individuals in society are no more resistant to the lure of power than higher-status individuals.

However, at the risk of complicating the whole argument, we must remember that not everyone in Salem succumbed to hysteria. Some people sacrifice their lives for integrity by refusing to participate in power struggles. In fact, it is misleading to think that power as a corrupting force is some sort of literary constant. Take F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for example.

Lovesick for his upper class tough ex-lover, Jay Gatz made a fortune over the years from illegal smuggling so he could buy a lavish mansion, throw wild parties and play a hipster an alter ego just to impress her. However, unlike his wealthy associates, his behavior was never corrupted by his large income and high status. In fact, Gatsby is one of the most admirable characters in fiction precisely because of the utter purity of his motives—a fact tragically underscored by the vicious behavior of his entitled so-called friends.

On the one hand, the idea that not everyone is vulnerable to corruption is comforting—especially given that hierarchies exist at every possible level of society. At the same time, however, the idea that power doesn’t necessarily corrupt is much more complicated than the idea that it does; after all, if absolute power corrupts absolutely, then personal responsibility hardly exists. The old adage second becomes “power corrupts some and not others” and society loses one of its oldest scapegoats.

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