An Archetypal Analysis of Initiation Theme in the Shadow-Line

Abstract: Since F. R. Leavis commented in The Great Tradition (1948):“[…] Conrad is among the very greatest novelists in the language– or any language”(257), this Polish-born English writer has received constant attention from the critical world, and has become the hot issue in Chinese academe in recent years.The Shadow-Line, Conrad’s last sea story, is one of his autobiographical novels. It is a first-person retrospective account of a young captain’s coming of age through his first command. The young protagonist receives his first command as captain and directs a course independently. During the voyage, the ship is surrounded by mysterious atmosphere as if being cursed by the late captain who dies on sea. Finally, the protagonist successfully directs the ship across“the shadow-line”, where the late captain is buried. In this process, he grows up to be a mature, sedate and responsible man. Therefore, The Shadow-Line is generally acknowledged as a typical initiation story in English literature. There are many studies on the initiation theme in The Shadow-Line in literary criticism abroad. Most of them make analysis, simple or complex, on the protagonist’s initiation experience, but seem to neglect some commonness in human beings’initiation embodied in the story.Archetypal criticism, a powerful movement in the history of recent literary theory, flourished especially during the 1950s and 1960s. It is a type of critical theory that interprets a text by focusing on recurring myths and archetypes in the narratives, symbols, images, and character types in a literary work. The critics emphasize the type of myths and rites rather than the specific works, reckon the former to be more basic archetypes and apply a series of archetypes to analyze, interpret and evaluate the literary works. As an initiation story, The Shadow-Line is rich in archetypes. The thesis holds that The Shadow-Line not only displays the protagonist’s gradual maturity during the voyage, but also embodies the common experience of human beings’initiation. The protagonist’s personal taste in initiation and other characters’influence on him reflect many experiential archetypes in human beings’initiation.In the light of archetypal criticism, this thesis focuses on analyzing the narrative structure of the protagonist’s initiation and major characters influencing his initiation. After introducing the theoretical background and significance, Chapter One of this thesis gives a detailed analysis of the narrative structure of the protagonist’s initiation and shows how the narrative structure embodies the archetype of initiation rite and how it imitates the common experience of human beings’initiation. Chapter Two deals with the archetypal analysis of the protagonist’s three initiation guides. They play different roles in the protagonist’s initiation, reflecting various archetypes. In order to interpret initiation theme from moral perspective, a larger context, Chapter Three analyses the moral concerns behind the archetypal initiation. In Conclusion, the thesis makes a brief summary, pointing out that The Shadow-Line not only embodies rich archetypes and reflects the common experience of human beings’initiation, but also bears its peculiarity: the initiation is endowed with profound moral significance…
Key words: Joseph Conrad; The Shadow-Line; archetypal criticism; initiation; moral concerns

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