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Attribution of Transitivity Roles and Characterization in Heart of Darkness

Attribution of Transitivity Roles and Characterization in

Heart of Darkness

Surinder Kaur1

1PhD Candidate, Department of English, Regional Institute of Management and Technology (RIMT) University, Gobindgarh, Punjab, India (147301)

1Correspondence: sandhu.surinder85@gmail.com

Abstract

The objective of this paper is to study the characters of Marlow and Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ and their roles in the action and why they are called counterfoil to each other. Therefore, the focus is not on what is done (action) but who is doing what (character). I propose to use systemic functional grammar to explore these characters and their roles in the novel. Especially, I will make use of character’s transitivity profile following Simpson’s (2004, p.119) statement that, ‘the transitivity profile embodied by a text is generally a useful indicator of character in prose fiction’. This paper also aims to show how an investigation of process types can function as a rewarding analytical tool for character analysis. Following this, it has been observed that Marlow is a sensor while Kurtz turns out to be in an actor’s role which means that Marlow reflects while Kurtz acts. Marlow observes everything but does not participate in action while Kurtz’s role is in clear contrast to him as he is more of an action guy and his dominant process types are material processes.

Keywords: action; character; material; role; transitivity; process

1. Introduction

Characters serve as ‘the major totalizing force in fiction’ (Culler, 1975 cited in Montgomery, 1993). In fact, characters are the persons represented in a dramatic or narrative work, and are interpreted by the reader as being endowed with particular moral, intellectual, and emotional qualities by inferences from what the person says i.e. the dialogue and from what they do-the action (Abrams, 1999). These literary creations permit artists to play deity i.e. to populate fictional universe with people, and creatures of their own making. The great fictional characters of the world’s literature transcend the elusiveness of fiction to achieve a sort of artistic permanence and reality unavailable to mere mortals. Who can forget King Lear’s sorrows and loss, Hamlet’s inner conflict and anger, and Tess’ tragedy and struggle?

Characters can be primary or secondary, flat or round.  Primary characters are the principle figures, and are the centre of action (protagonist, antagonist, foil). They exhibit a depth or complexity that allows the readers to see changes or realizations in them as a result of the events of the fiction. Primary characters are generally dynamic whereas, secondary characters are static. Though essential to the development of fiction, secondary characters do not exist to experience transformation but to help the main characters with information, services or material goods (See Bohlin, 2005; Galef, 1989, 1990; Lynch, 1998; Nikolajeva, 1998; Stape, 1994; Woloch, 2009).

Characterization is the use of literary techniques to reveal the nature of characters. The methods of characterization may be broadly classified as ‘showing and telling’. In showing, also called the ‘dramatic method’, the author simply presents the characters talking and acting, and leaves the reader to infer the motives and dispositions that lie behind what they say and do. The author may not only present the external speech and actions, but also a character’s inner thoughts, feelings, and responsiveness to events. In telling, the author intervenes authoritatively in order to describe, and often to evaluate the motives and dispositional qualities of the characters (Abrams, 1999).

Characters are the most important tools in the hands of a writer to execute his ideas about individuals, society or anything else. Characters are representative of beliefs, notions, and ideals. They are the driving force that propels a work forward, and captures the imagination and the attention of the reader. For Henry James, a character is the focus of fiction and all the other elements of the text, such as plot, setting, subject and style are subordinate to a character. He assesses, ‘what is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?’ (James, 1884, p.37). Hence characters are indispensable to a work because without characters action is not possible. Now the question arises ‘if character is the major totalizing force in fiction, then it is important to discover how characters are constructed and on what basis of what kinds of linguistic choices’ (Montgomery, 1993, p.141).

The objective of this paper is to study the characters of Marlow and Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s novel i.e., ‘Heart of Darkness’ and their roles in the action and why they are called counterfoil to each other. Therefore, the focus is not on what is done (action), but who is doing what (character). The study of characterization in ‘Heart of Darkness’ is not new. Several critics (Achebe, 2016; Hawthorn 1999; McIntire, 2002; Watts, 1983, 2012) have already studied characters from different point of views such as psychological, racial, thematic, feministic, and archetypal. However, I propose to use Systemic Functional Grammar to explore these characters, and their roles in the novel. Especially, I will make use of character’s transitivity profile following Simpson’s statement that, ‘the transitivity profile embodied by a text is generally a useful indicator of character in prose fiction’ (Simpson, 2004, p.119).

1.1 Transitivity

Before we proceed to analysis, it is imperative to acquaint ourselves with transitivity. Transitivity, as conceived by Halliday (1971), is one of the systems available within the ideational component of the language which is concerned with the transmission of ideas. Its function is that of ‘representing processes or experiences: actions, events, processes of consciousness and relations’ (Halliday, 1985, p.53). The term ‘process’ is used in an extended sense, ‘to cover all phenomenon... and anything that can be expressed by a verb: event, whether physical or not, state or relation’ (Halliday, 1971, p.159). Halliday further notes that the ‘processes’ expressed through languages are the product of our conception of the world or point of view. He notes:

Our most powerful conception of reality is that it consists of ‘goings-on’: of doing, happening, feeling, being. These goings-on are sorted out in the semantic system of the language and expressed through the grammar of the clause... the clause evolved simultaneously in another grammatical function expressing the reflective, experiential aspect of meaning. This is the system of transitivity. Transitivity specifies the different types of processes that are recognized in the language and the structures by which they are expressed (Halliday, 1985, p.101).

An analysis of the transitivity provides answers to the general question ‘who does what to whom, where, how, when’ etc. (Burton, 1982, p.200). The semantic processes, expressed by clauses, have potentially three components. Such as: (1) The process itself, which is expressed by the verb phrase in a clause; (2) The participants in the clause, which refer to the roles of entities that are directly involved in the process: the one that does, behaves or says, together with the passive one that is done to, said to etc. The participants are not necessarily humans or even animate; the term ‘participant entities’ would be more accurate (Halliday, 1971, p.160). The participant entities are normally realized by noun phrases in the clause; and (3) The circumstances associated with the process, which are typically expressed by adverbial and prepositional phrases (Halliday, 1985, p.101-102). Similarly, there are six processes in the transitivity system (Halliday, 1985, p.131). These processes are given below:

 

1.1.1 Material Processes

These are the processes of doing in the physical world. Every material process has an obligatory ACTOR, who is the doer of the process, and an optional GOAL which represents the person or entity affected by the process. In addition to these two inherent participant roles, there is an extra element called CIRCUMSTANCE, which provides additional information about ‘when, where, how and why’ of the process. The circumstantial meaning is realized, not in noun phrases but either in adverbial phrases or in prepositional phrases. Circumstance expresses supplementary information, such as place, time, extent, matter, manner, duration, condition, means etc. (also see Butt, Fahey, Feez & Spinks, 2012; Gerot & Wignell, 1994). Examples of the study are given below.

Harry

Caught

a fly

Actor

Material process

Goal

Harry

Caught

a fly

In the yard

Actor

Material process

Goal

Circumstance: place

 

1.1.2 Mental Processes

These processes account for processes of sensing and encode inner world of thinking. Mental processes are ‘internalized’ processes in contrast to the ‘externalized’ processes of doing and speaking (Simpson, 2004, p.91). In mental processes SENSOR and PHENOMENON are potential participants. SENSOR is the doer of the process and PHENOMENON is the entity, person or idea which is sensed, thought or seen (also see Derewianka, 2011; Eggins, 1994; Emilia, 2014). Examples of the study are given below.

Larry

Can understand

nothing

Sensor

Mental process

Phenomenon

Larry

heard

cries

Sensor

Mental process

Phenomenon

 

1.1.3 Relational Processes

These are the processes of ‘being’ that signal the existence of a relationship between two participants. However, these processes do not suggest that one participant affects the other in any way. The participant roles are called CARRIER and ATTRIBUTE. Relational identifying processes set up an identity, role or meaning. Identifying processes are mostly used in questions and answers and participant roles are called IDENTIFIER and IDENTIFIED (see also Eggins, 1994; Emilia, 2014; Halliday, 1985; Shah & Mubarak, 2018). Examples from the study are given below.

Maya

Is

beautiful

Carrier

Relational process

Attribute

The chairperson

is

Keo

Identified

Relational process

Identifier

 

1.1.4 Verbal Processes

Verbal processes include the verbs of saying. These are intermediate between material and mental processes as saying something is a physical action that reflects mental operations. According to Halliday, ‘the verbal process expresses the relationship between ideas constructed in human consciousness and the ideas enacted in the form of language’ (1985). (See also Emilia, 2014; Martin, Matthiessen & Painter, 1997). The participant roles are SAYER, RECEIVER and VERBIAGE. Such as:

Tim

Asked

Riya

Her address

Sayer

Verbal process

Receiver  

Verbiage

Joe

Said

“I’m leaving”

Sayer

Verbal process

Verbiage

 

1.1.5 Behavioural Processes

Behavioural processes are the processes of physiological and psychological behaviour which stands on the borderline between material and mental processes. Behavioural processes ‘represent outer manifestations of inner workings, the acting out of processes of consciousness and physiological states’ (Halliday, 1985). The typical participant is BEHAVER. (See also Eggins, 1994; Emilia, 2014). Examples from the study are given below.

Larry

danced

Behaver

Behavioural process

Larry

is crying

Bitterly

Behaver

Behavioural process

Circumstance: manner

 

1.1.6 Existential Processes

Last process type is called existential. This process expresses the mere existence of an entity without producing anything else of it. These processes are introduced by the subject THERE. The only participant is EXISTENT (see Bloor & Bloor, 2013; Eggins, 1994; Emilia, 2014; Halliday, 1985). Examples from the study are given below.

There is

a cat

On the roof.

Existential process

Existent

Circumstance: place

There was

a shop

In the street

Existential process

Existent

Circumstance: place

 

With respect to methodology followed for the exploration of characters, a selection of the most relevant passages (8 in total) is made: introduction of the characters, key events in the development of the story and characters’ final performance. The passages have been analysed by focusing on the process types performed by the characters. The following part of the paper discusses the main points of this analysis to find out how certain types of processes may function to cast the characters in different roles. Finally, it is concluded that transitivity is a handy tool to analyse the characters in a text.

2. Results and Discussion

This section is devoted to the discussion of results I got after analyzing eight passages from the novel which included passages like the introduction of the both characters i.e. Marlow and Kurtz, their involvement in different events and development of their characters to find out which participant roles are played by these characters as participant roles are of prime relevance in our response to the fictional characters. In the words of Hasan (1988, p.65), ‘…part of the basis of our perception of what a person is like derives from knowing what sort of participant roles are ascribed to that person’.

Charlie Marlow, the protagonist of the novel, is a complex, deep, thoughtful human being. He is, indeed, a man who stands apart from the crowd. Table 1 represents the process types Marlow is involved in.

Table 1 Frequency of Processes Performed by Marlow

PROCESS TYPES

SUB-TYPES

FREQUENCY

Material

Goal-oriented

19

Goal-less

22

Mental

Perception

24

Cognition

27

Emotive

9

Inclination

1

Relational

Attributive

10

Identifying

4

Behavioural

 

6

Verbal

 

19

Total

 

141

 

As we can see from the table 1 out of total 141 processes, the dominant process type is mental with 61 processes. Thus, the configuration of Marlow’s transitivity profile portrays him mainly as the SENSOR of the events that occur around him. The majority of processes, performed by Marlow, are mental processes and of these processes most processes correspond to the category of perception and cognition. Among the perception processes, ‘saw’ and ‘hear’ are the most common. When Marlow is in the role of a perceiver, his surroundings and most of the times, persons around him are his perception phenomenon. For example,

I

Saw

a face

Sensor

Mental-perception-visual

Phenomenon

I

Heard

Him

Sensor

Mental-perception-auditory

Phenomenon

 

In cognition processes, know and think are the most frequently used verbs. For example,

Hang Kurtz

I

thought

Phenomenon

Sensor

Mental-cognition

I

Knew

that it was impossible

Sensor

Mental-cognition

Phenomenon

 

Mental processes provide us with two facts about Marlow’s character. First is that his thinking brings forth his inner reactions to the outward things including the persons he meets. On seeing, neat and clean Chief Accountant in the dirty surroundings, he is filled with respect for him. The manager sounds him as a ‘chattering idiot’ and he thinks Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man. Likewise, another aspect of the use of mental processes is that this suggests Marlow’s role in the novel as an observer. He observes situations but remains aloof. Though he possesses complete understanding yet is unable to act within them. He is fully aware of the fact that the manager is hatching a conspiracy against Kurtz and wants him dead. Moreover, the delay in the supply of rivets to repair the steamboat is a means to achieve this end. But neither has he taken any action to prevent this nor does he openly charge the manager of this guilt. Instead, he remains quiet.

With regard to his actions, it must be remarked that the material processes performed by Marlow are almost equally distributed between goal-oriented (19) and goal-less (22) material processes. All of these material processes are intentional. However, his 19 goal-oriented processes have 13 inanimate, object goals and only five processes have animate goals while in one process his own body part, head, receives the impact of his actions. Some examples of Marlow’s material processes are given below.

Actor

Process: Material

Goal

Range

I

Blew

The candle out

 

I

Climbed

 

The hill

I

Met

A white man

 

I

Rose

 

 

 

However, the most dynamic and effective deed is seen as the one that directly affects the animate and especially human participant. So, a large number of concrete goals suggest that Marlow exercises almost negligible influence on other human entities in his surroundings. Verbal processes are third in terms of frequency of occurrence after mental and material processes being ‘said’ and ‘ask’ i.e. the most repeated verbs. Marlow establishes contact with all the other characters in the novel. Thus, he is more talkative than others. When he uses the verb ‘ask’, his main motive is to get information from others and most of the times, he wants to know about Kurtz. For example the following sentence:

‘Don’t you talk with Mr Kurtz’

I

Asked

Verbiage

Sayer

Process: Verbal

 

At other times, he just murmurs which expresses his unwillingness to voice his thoughts. Like:

‘No method at all’

I

Murmured

After a while

Verbiage

Sayer

Process: Verbal

Circumstance

 

And sometimes, he himself becomes the receiver of his own verbal acts as in the examples below.

Muttering

To myself

My opinion

Verbal

Receiver

Verbiage

 

Minor process types performed by Marlow are behavioural processes. These are 13 in number. An example of these is given below.

I

Was lying flat

On the deck of my steamboat

Behaver

Process: Behavioural

circumstance

 

Marlow emerges as the type of a person who reflects on everything he comes in contact with but refrains from action and when he does an act, his actions do not affect other persons leaving him as an initiator of ineffective deeds. On the other hand, his participation in mental processes shows that he has a sharp brain which registers everything that happens around him. His verbal processes show his inquisitive nature.

Kurtz is the chief of the inner station of the Belgian company. A first-class agent and an exceptional man, he is ‘hollow at the core’ (Conrad, 1986, p.186). The summary of Kurtz’s involvement in different processes is presented in table 2.

Table 2: Frequency of Processes Performed by Kurtz

PROCESS TYPE

SUB-TYPE

FREQUENCY

Material

Goal-oriented

24

Goal-less

14

Mental

Perception

1

Cognition

3

Emotive

4

Inclination

3

Relational

Attributive

14

Identifying

3

Verbal

 

10

Behavioural

 

--

Total

 

76

 

Kurtz’s transitivity profile constructs him as an ACTOR of transitivity clauses. Total 85 processes performed by Kurtz include 38 material processes and only 10 mental processes. His material processes are intentional processes and large number of material processes is goal-directed processes. His goals can be further subdivided into animate (4), concrete (17) and abstract (3). He is an active initiator of action but the impact of his action is limited to concrete things. He is rarely able to influence the other characters and when he does affect others, it is the Russian trader who is under the influence of Kurtz who views him as a great person and leader. Out of total four animate goals, Russian is at the receiver end of Kurtz’s actions three times. Some of the examples of material processes performed by Kurtz are given below.

Actor

Process: Material

Goal

Circumstance

He

would shoot

me

 

He

raided

the country

 

He

wondered

 

alone

 

Transitivity is ‘a fruitful device to uncover the underlying meanings, motives, beliefs and ideologies. Transitivity helps to promote a deep and clear understanding of a text’ and of a character (Kaur, 2015, p.77). Though Kurtz is more of an actor and less of a thinker, his mental processes give us peep into the conflict which is going on in his mind. This peep shows a contrast between his thinking and doing. On one hand, he hates his surroundings but on the other he forgets himself among natives and establishes himself as their tribal leader. Hence, he thinks something:

He

Hates

His surroundings

Sensor

Mental-emotive

Phenomenon

 

But does something else;

(Kurtz)

Goes

On another hunt

Actor

Material process

Goal

 

Berthoud (1978, p.27) has rightly remarked that, ‘incapable as Kurtz is of seeing any contradiction between his words and deeds, between his professed values and his actual practices, he remains a creature in conflict, torn between his European ambitions and his African lusts’.  Above analysis of his mental and material processes clearly indicates this conflict. Kurtz travels to Africa to complete great acts of ‘humanizing, improving, instructing’ (Conrad cited in Dilworth, 2013, p.326) but once he tastes the power that could be his in the jungle, he abandons his philanthropic ideals and sets himself up as a god to the natives and shows no restrain in the gratification of his various lusts. Hence, he presents a person of unfettered actions regardless of the result these actions might have on others and regardless how contrary these actions stand in relation to his thinking. Furthermore, his actions like hanging of the dead heads of the locals on the poles at the entrance to his hut mock and stand in stark contrast to the attributes used to describe him like prodigy and an exceptional person. He is a soul torn between his civilized upbringing and evil human instincts and he lets himself to be claimed by African darkness by freely acting out his desires as his material processes indicate (see Cobley, 2009; Hawkins, 1982; Hoeller, 2004; Levenson, 1985; Meisel, 1978; Pinsker, 1981; Ross, 2004; Stark, 1974). 

The transitivity frameworks, derived from the analysis, unveil differences between the two characters i.e. Kurtz and Marlow. While Marlow’s transitivity processes show him as a sensor, Kurtz’s processes show him to be an actor. However, Kurtz’s actions are the dehumanized acts of a corrupted civilisation while Marlow’s actions present the moral and ethical side of a civilisation. Marlow is able to keep his instincts under control by not taking rash actions even when he sense the abuses of power and unjust treatment of natives  but Kurtz fails to do so. Marlow thinks more and acts less while Kurtz acts more and thinks less.

According to Toolan (1998), we can analyse participation and intention by looking at how the participant functions in a process, whether it is the actor or goal, initiator or target. In some transitive material process verbs, the participant filling the subject position has a tendency of being more active and intending than that of the participant in an intransitive clause. Therefore, the study of the transitivity profiles of Marlow and Kurtz reveals that the characters are involved in action which reflects their roles in the novel. We can label Marlow in the participant role of a Sensor and Kurtz as an Agent. Hence, as both of these terms stand in opposition to each other both of the characters are opposite to each other in their behaviour, actions and roles in the novel. Thus, by choosing a particular way of expressing the character’s thoughts and ability to act, Conrad represents their experience through ‘the syntactic recourses of transitivity’ (Halliday, 1985). We can safely say that though transitivity analysis is not the whole literary analysis but it does serve a deeper purpose than mere studying foregrounding and style patterns (Kaur, 2015).

3. Conclusion

To sum up, the main goal of this paper has been to show how an investigation of the process types can function as a rewarding analytical tool for character analysis. By exploring Heart of Darkness through transitivity functions, I wanted to examine the character’s participation in different process types and saw how their actions reflected their roles in the novel. As a result, it has been observed that though both Marlow and Kurtz act and behave differently but underlying this contrast is Kurtz’s inability to maintain his civilized ways which Marlow successfully keeps. Hence Marlow, a sensitive soul, represents the positive aspects of civilisation. He is an uncorrupted man and is able to see through the materialistic ideals that has plagued Kurtz. His role as an observer in the novel helps put forward the message he has learned from his experience in Congo that there is a heart of darkness in everyman: many (like him) suppress these evil urges while others (like Kurtz) succumb to them. Kurtz’s role as an agent in the novel shows him as an epitome of the negative effects of the institution of imperialism. He is dedicated to his selfish aims and is unable to realize that he is not bringer of technology or knowledge or civilization but distributor of immoral corruption and savagery.

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Appendix-1

Transitivity analysis

Passage 1:“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark palaces of the earth.”……………….. “I was thinking of very old times.” (Page no. 100-101)

This passage is taken from the opening of the novel.  Marlow’s processes: mental (3), relational (7) and verbal (2).

Passage 2: “Instead of going up I turned and descended to the left…..his wooly head fall on his breastbone. (page no. 109-110)

The clauses of the passage contain 87 processes. Marlow is participant in24 processes with material (13), relational (1) and mental (10).

Passage 3: “My first interview with the manager was curious…….he had estimated the time requisite for the affair. (113-114)

This passage contains 87 processes. Marlow participates in 21 processes: material (6), mental (7), relational (2), verbal (6). Kurtz is participant in 3 relational processes.

Passage 4:“One evening as I was lying flat on the deck of my steamboat……strolled back and forth at some little distance. (121-22)

This passage contains total 63 process verbs. Marlow is participant in 15: material (2), mental (8), behavioural (5). Kurtz is participant in 14 processes: material (5), mental (2), relational (4), behavioural (2) and verbal (1).

Passage 5: ‘It is very serious,’ said the manager’s voice……….. ‘I don’t think they would attack.’ (130)

Total 34 processes. Marlow participates in 12: material (3), mental (7), relational (1) and verbal (1).

Passage 6: he had, as he informed me proudly………forest at each side and at the back of the house. (141)

Kurtz is participant in 36 processes: material (22), mental (6), relational (4) and verbal (3), existential (1).

Passage 7: “At this moment I heard Mr. Kurtz’s deep voice behind the curtain…………I am a simple man. (145-46)

This passage contains 110 processes. Marlow is participant in 29 processes: material (6), mental (11), relational (2), behavioural (1) and verbal (9). Kurtz processes are: material (6), mental (2), relational (5).

Passage 8: ‘Close the shutter,’ said Kurtz suddenly one day; ………… ‘Mistah Kurtz –he died.’ (151-52)

The clauses of this passage contain 54 processes. Marlow is actor in 25 processes: material (11), mental (12), relational (1) and verbal (1). Kurtz is participant in 16 processes: material (9), mental (1), relational (1) and verbal (5).