Diasporic Identities In Othello and Heart of Essay

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Diasporic Identities: In Othello and Heart of Darkness

The issue of Diaspora is often associated with only a single culture, that of the Jews who were challenged by the secular and Islamic leaders of their "homeland" to flee for their lives and believe that they are in constant wandering upon the earth. Yet the concept of Diaspora is much broader than that, as individuals and groups often feel disconnected from their homeland both figuratively and really in literature and life. In the two works, Shakespeare's Othello and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness one can clearly see the literary expression of diasporic identities. This work will argue that each of these works, Othello and Heart of Darkness demonstrates the reality of the challenges one faces when one uproots him or herself from the origin culture and begins to wander the earth without a home and the feeling of security that the thought of that home brings.

In Othello the acceptance of Othello into the dominant white culture of Venice and Cyprus is clearly conditional. He is a Christian Moor and a mercenary soldier, valued only for his wisdom and valor in battle and openly berated for trying to cross the line and assimilate into the culture by taking the hand of Desdemona in marriage (Shakespeare 1:3). The early juxtaposition of the diasporic role that Othello plays is both significant and telling of just how far one might go if he were clearly an outsider being accepted only conditionally. Concurrently he is being sought by the local leaders to head off in a military campaign to Cyprus and by the father of a woman who the father assumes has been bewitched and hidden by Othello because he has just learned of her marriage to him (1.2-3).

In Othello's role as a soldier he is important, he is sought in earnest in the middle of the night by men who admire his skill and knowledge as a soldier and even he wraps himself fully in this identity. Othello utilizes his stories of soldiering to woo his Desdemona and when he says goodbye to his love for her and his sanity, after being tricked into believing she has been an adulterer. He does not say goodbye to her or to his love for her he instead says goodbye to his role as a soldier a leader of men, i.e. his sanity (3.3.345-357).

Othello says goodbye to his own identity the identity that has won him the valor and honor he sought when leaving home and the respect and honor of these foreigners. There is even some sense that the earnest need for him by the Duke of Venice and others dictates the acceptance they have of his unconventional marriage that is in all accounts completely unacceptable, a complete social and moral taboo in the society that would under different circumstances (i.e. that he were not a valued soldier) might have ended with him being put to death. For instance had he not been a valued and needed soldier and leader of men but a common household slave his "marriage" to Desdemona might have been seen as an utter catastrophic and unforgivable deed (1.2-3).

Though within the work there are no servants or slaves of color to compare Othello's treatment to and indeed the condition of slavery was not based on race at this time (the setting of the work). There is still a clear sense that the Shakespearian era in England would have demonstrated a clear disdain for the type of union that Desdemona and Othello create, a secret wedding without the consent of her father and the community to a man thought of only for his role as a soldier. The visible external separation of him from the other was evident and openly disdained in the work. As the father challenges Othello and stresses that his daughter would not have; "Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom/Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight" (Shakespeare 1.2.70-72) Later in the work Iago, the agent of Othello's undoing says this of Desdemona, speaking about Othello, "Her eye must be fed; and what delight shall she have to look on the devil?" (2.1.225-227) To Iago, Othello is the devil, because he is black and of course because he has more authority and power than Iago and has appointed another in the position that he himself has longed for and believes he deserves. Othello's otherness serves as a tool for his enemies to disdain and defame him.

In Heart of Darkness Marlow, Conrad's supposed literary identity, is following a different path as he is of the colonial or "superior" race, stepping into a culture altogether foreign to him, not in a position of inferiority as Othello is but one of superiority. Yet, the disconnect he expresses in the initial stages of the novel stress how difficult it is for him to connect with the "phantoms" he sees around him and how inhuman they seem to him (Conrad 20-21). How could one feel at home in a place so dangerously deadly (with disease and horrific conditions everywhere) completely unwelcoming to his dispositions as a European born white man?

There is nothing about his position that is welcoming, he has taken the job in desperation, seeking to gain a fortune, that seems elusive to him, at all costs and he is in a land so foreign among people so ghastly that he does not even recognize them as people. Yet, as the work goes on he meets up with his parallel (at least in description), Kurtz whose psychological state deteriorates and he ends up "going native." First Marlow tries his hand at the sickening superiority and cruelty that others before him have shown to be the answer to feeling so disjointed in a diasporic stupor and finding that distasteful he develops his own type of superiority among the natives deeper into the Congo and in visible and total contrast to Kurtz.

Kurtz builds a home, decorates it with things that have no meaning to him, but seem to have value and what he sees as badges of superiority to the natives and even takes up company with a woman that he, Marlow, might have just a few weeks before continued to think of as a dark shadow of inhumanity. Though Marlow himself does not have the unfortunate experience of stepping off the precipice of sanity and following the path of Kurtz, his wandering and searching leads him to believe that he very easily could do just that, if he does not keep his wits about him. Kurtz, to Marlow and the reader, is the ultimate example of a man without a home.

Even when Marlow finally begins to realize that the colonizers of the Congo are likely inferior, mentally and even physically to the "phantoms" of the Congo (20-21) he does not "go native" in the manner that Kurtz does, which is described by his fellow agents as "an unfortunate accident" (28) he simply longs for extrication from his unfortunate position and deeply longs for home, even though it offers him so little. He has nothing to go home to, except an older female benefactor who he to some degree has left his home to avoid for the shame of having to "use" her to get an appointment (9-10). Yet, he still longs for the climate and the views offered him at home, even after his initial fascination with the Congo environment and his change of heart about the natives, given his later description of a native woman of incomparable beauty and intrigue. (72) "I did not betray Mr. Kurtz -- it was ordered I should never betray him -- it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone, -- " (80)

The works Othello and Heart of Darkness are both clearly examples of colonial literature, even though they are written during completely different times. Colonial literature itself is often fraught with the types of fears and challenges felt by those experiencing diasporic identities. Though some are more akin to calling The Tempest a work of colonial themes and concerns Othello, his identity and characteristics demonstrate ideas that serve to help illustrate the troubles and challenges associated with the mixing of people of varied cultures and specifically of different races.

The diasporic identity, when accepted within the confines of what is and what is morally and socially acceptable to the dominant culture in the case of Othello the white Romans and in the case of The Heart of Darkness the white Englishman the situation certainly leaves the interloper with the feelings of being disjointed and diasporic. Othello demonstrates no description of anything that he comes from, not his mother or his father, not his homeland, nothing, and while Marlow longs for home what he describes is absent of anything he sees of value other than simply not being in the…[continue]

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