Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Carolyn Betensky


Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent contain two broad themes: on the one hand, they critically portray the dominant influence of society or societal ideologies on the individual from a socio-political standpoint; on the other hand, they focus on the (dis)illusion of the protagonists regarding their own “ideal” identities from a personal standpoint. Rather than addressing one or the other, as many previous studies of Conrad’s novels have done, this dissertation argues for the intimate continuity between socio-political ideologies and personal identity by finding the point of contact between these two seemingly disparate issues. To this end, with reference to Theodor Adorno’s “identity thinking,” Slavoj Žižek’s “commodity fetishism,” Jacques Lacan’s “mirror stage,” and Louis Althusser’s “interpellation,” this study first examines how Conrad’s novels represent the mechanism of dominant ideologies—ideologies operate on an unconscious level—whereby they always already determine the individual’s thoughts as well as actions. Such an infiltration of ideologies into the individual also plays a crucial role in Conrad’s configuration of subjectivity/identity, whereby a certain, “ideal” concept of human subjectivity is already given by socially dominant discourses, and the identities of his protagonists are constituted through the recognition of community members or their social roles/positions. In other words, for Conrad, there is no “real” or “authentic” identity that represents the self; instead, identity is constructed within/by society or its ideologies.

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