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“The Lagoon” by Joseph Conrad

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Prompt: 1

“The Lagoon” by Joseph Conrad reflects the themes of isolation, disillusion and death representing his real life experiences. The description of the lagoon and the life on the seas clearly reflects Conrad’s real life experiences as a sailor and his passion for an adventurous life.

The isolation he experienced in his childhood when he lost both of his parents at the age of eleven is a recurring theme in many of his works. The disillusionment that experienced when he left his mother land, Poland, and the inner conflict that has plagued him most throughout his life find their reflection in the story ‘The Lagoon’. The illusion that death can not touch true love lies totally broken and the inescapability of death gets firmly established in the story.

Isolation is one of the most dominant themes in the story ‘The Lagoon’. The title itself clearly reveals that it is an isolated world. The story is set in the isolated world of lagoon where Arsat reaches after having escaped from his place. He says, “I longed to be with her in a safe place beyond the reach of men’s anger and of women’s spite (Conrad, p.7). Thus he escapes from his enemies with his beloved and enters the island. It can not be said that Arsat lived a happy life there though he is in the company of his beloved all the time. In fact, there they “lived together hidden by the forests – alone and feared” (Conrad, p.4). He is haunted by fears as a result of isolation and his self deception. It seems that Conrad implies that love and the company of the beloved are not solutions to the feelings of fear and isolation.

The central theme of the story is the vain human attempt to escape from death which is inevitable. The illusion that death can not touch true love as it is often believed by many has been put to test in the story of Arsat. He plans to escape with his beloved Diamelen to a secluded place where he can live happily forever. Thus, he declares, “My love was so great, that I thought it could guide me to a country where death was unknown” (Conrad, p.8). The innocent dreams of Arsat get shattered when he faces the reality of fever and fear, and disease and death in the real world. He finds himself quite helpless when Diamelen falls sick and when she goes unconscious he gets disillusioned. He feels he is thoroughly beaten in his life. He confides his anguish and pain in the white man. He says, ‘ I shall speak to you of love. Speak in the night. Speak before both night and love are gone – and the eye of day looks upon my sorrow and my shame; upon my blackened face; upon my burnt-up heart.’ (Conrad, p.6)

Thus, Conrad presents the invincibility of death in the story of Arsat. The disillusionment that haunted the author when he was young gets a vivid representation in the character of Arsat. Finally, after the death of his beloved Arsat announces “Now I can see nothing – see nothing! There is no light and no peace in the world; but there is death – death for many”. (Conrad, p.11) The response of the white man to Arsat’s words is quite suggestive of author’s view. The white man said, “There is nothing”. (Conrad, p.11) Thus, the author has firmly established what he had believed in.

Prompt: 2 The Lagoon` echoes the archetypal patterns of Biblical stories.

Joseph Conrad’s story “The Lagoon” echoes the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the very setting of the story and the creation of characters, and in the fall of Arsat, the protagonist of the story. Though the story line is not exactly in tune with the original story of Adam and Eve, it certainly has many similarities with the story of Adam and Eve.  “The Lagoon”, the story of two brothers, also has much in common with the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

Conrad has set his story in an exotic island that is strikingly distinct and distant from the life of people in the main islands. As the title of the story clearly reveals, the lagoon offers a rich scope for the writer to paint a perfect picture of the two lovers amid the lush green plains and trees on the island. The lagoon is like the garden of Eden created by God exclusively for Adam and Eve. Similarly, Conrad has chosen one of the Malay Islands for the narration of his story.

Diamelen, the choicest girl of Arsat, has wielded enormous influence on Arsat. He feels his love for her is stronger than any other power in this world. He can not think of himself without her in his life. Expressing his love for her he says, “I could see nothing but one face, hear nothing but one voice”. (Conrad, p.7) He is ready to take any risk and face any challenge in fulfilling his love. He wants to run away with her to a place where he is secure and free and far away from his enemies. He says, “My love was so great, that I thought it could guide me to a country where death was unknown”. (Conrad, p.8)  His love for Diamelen resembles Adam’s love for Eve especially when Eve has fallen after eating the fruit of knowledge. Adam can not foresee his life without Eve by his side as he rightly thinks that she is created from his own body by God. The words of Arsat’s brother suggest the same idea when he says, “there is half a man in you now – the other half is in that woman.” (Conrad, p.8)

Arsat’s feelings of grief and isolation at the approaching death of Diamelen of echo the feelings of loss and despair that Adam feels at the fall of Eve. The helpless and pitiable condition of Arsat reflects the helplessness that Adam feels without Eve on his side. Arsat and Adam also have in common in their feeling of guilt though it is not for the same reason in both the cases. Arsat feels guilty when he realizes that he is the main reason for the death of his brother as Adam feels guilty after disobeying God.

The story of Arsat and his brother has rich connotations of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Though in the story of Lagoon, Arsat did not directly kill his brother, evidently he is responsible for the death of his brother. In the escape for love and life, Arsat neither waits for his brother until he arrives nor cares the death cries of his brother who has saved his life. He later confesses that before the white man saying, “I heard him calling my name again with a great shriek, as when life is going out together with the voice – and I never turned my head” (Conrad, p.8) Just like Cain in the Biblical story, Arsat feels guilty for his action and suffers the anguish of pain in his repentance.

 Thus, the story ‘The Lagoon’ echoes the archetypal pattern of the two Biblical stories of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel.

Prompt: 3 Conrad’s views on moral issues that you discover in the story

Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Lagoon’ presents the story of Arsat and his elopement with his beloved Diamelen at the cost of his brother’s life. It raises questions on morality and brotherhood in the light of events that take place in the life of Arsat. The lagoon not only offers the best scope for the two lovers to enjoy their life but also provides a repenting brother an ideal environment for contemplating questions of morality and the true meaning of life. Narrating the story of Arsat, Conrad has indirectly voiced his views on morality bringing out the repercussions of thoughtless actions.

Conrad’s views on the right actions of man when he is love are very clear in this story. When a man is in love he should be prepared to face any challenge and get ready to lose any thing. It is evident in the story of Arsat who falls in love with a girl and who runs away with her to a place to a distant island. It seems Conrad holds the view that it is a mark of respect for man to get what he desires. Arsat declares to the white man “We are of a people who take what they want – like you whites” (Conrad, p.7). Justifying his elopement with Diamelen, Arsat says, “There is a time when a man should forget loyalty and respect. Might and authority are given to rulers, but to all men is given love and strength and courage.” (Conrad, p.7) It is evident from this statement that Conrad holds the view that it is right for a man to fall in love and to have strength and courage in fulfilling his love even when it matters the questions of loyalty and respect. The author has successfully shown how a sincere lover and loyal husband should be through the character of Arsat,

Arsat’s story reminds the Biblical story of two brothers Cain and Abel raising questions on the meaning of true brotherhood.  Arsat who is encouraged and ably supported by his brother proves a villain to his brother. “Patience is wisdom” (Conrad, p.7).  This is what Arsat’s brother has told him which unfortunately Arsat has lacked most. He proves selfish. He neither waits for his brother nor goes to his rescue when his brother is attacked by the enemies. He was quite thoughtless in that moment as he was shamelessly infatuated with his beloved. This is the tragic flaw in the character of Arsat which troubles him most pricking his conscience all the time.

Conrad makes a distinction in his story of Arsat. Unlike Cain in the Biblical story, Arsat is not jealous of his brother. On the other hand, he is very fond of his brother’s qualities and capabilities.  The following words of Arsat not only declare his love and admiration towards for his brother but also reveal his profound grief at his loss. He says, “There was no better paddlers, no better steersman than my brother… There was no braver or stronger man in our country than my brother.” (Conrad, p.8)  When Arsat says “I loved my brother”, the white man responds saying that “We all love our brothers.” (Conrad, p.10)  The white man’s statement is an obvious fact. However, the statement of Arsat is filled with his repentance for leaving his brother among the enemies. Arsat can not find peace in his heart. He remains shattered at the death of his brother and his beloved. He fails to see any meaning in his life. He says, “There is no light and no peace in the world; but there is death – death for many. We were sons of the same mother – and I left him in the midst of enemies;” (Conrad, p.10)

            It is evident from the portrayal of Arsat’s character that Conrad can not agree with what Arsat has done to his brother. Arsat’s fateful story is an emphatic statement on the true meaning of brotherhood. A true brother never deceives, nor leaves his brother in the midst of enemies.

Works Cited

Conrad Joseph, The Lagoon


Biography of Conrad



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