Joseph Conrad’s The Lagoon is perhaps one of those rare literary pieces that acutely draw frustration of human aspirations. A story in the Malayan setting shows an unbearable aspect of human tragedy.
Yes, The Lagoon is a tale of a courageous man, Arsat, who only wished to live a bold and peaceful life, devoid of fear and death. He was a gallant Malayan who always fought against the foreign invaders to restore his ruler’s authority. The story defines his unmatchable loyalty with bravery, which was his lone pride. Even the author related Arsat’s brother as a valiant fellow and revealed that both of them won the honor for their valor.
However, Arsat’s intense passion for love changed the peaceful journey of his life. The course of this brave man’s life took a new turn. He fell in love with Diamelen, a young woman and the attendant of the ruler’s mistress. Conrad’s hero aimed to live with his true love, and his brother tried to help him fulfill his goal. With the brother’s aid, Arsat and Diamelen attempted to escape from the clutches of his ruler. But his destiny was unable to comply with his desire.
The escape was not an easy task at all. Running away from the ruler’s grip was nearly impossible as the tyrant’s man quickly chased the three. It was a critical situation even though Arsat’s brother made a desperate bid to save the couple. With a single gun, he fought fearlessly against the adamant pursuers. He tried his best to prevent them from advancing. His initiative helped Arsat and his lady-love to run away but at the cost of his own life.
Both Arsat and Diamelen managed to escape using a canoe. But his brother was overpowered by the brutal enemy. Arsat should have rushed to succor him in his struggle against the cruel pursuers, although he didn’t. Even the key character of The Lagoon did not respond to his brother’s call, a genuine cry for help three times. And the lone fighter died by the ruler’s men mercilessly. The bitter truth is Conrad’s main character was not ready to join and assist the brave heart, although the person had been fighting and succumbing to the deadly blows of the chasers for the cause of Arsat’s love.
In a word, Arsat failed to comply with his brother’s last requests. He didn’t return to assist him; instead, he fled with his beloved one to a safe place. In reality, he could not do what he should.
The said progress may represent the cowardly act of a selfish human. But, the story gradually reveals that the hero of Joseph Conrad’s famous tale was not a coward. He was brave enough to fight back and, at the same time, loved his brother. However, he yearned for a peaceful living with his beloved woman more. He craved a peaceful, quiet, and calm life free from chaos, fear, and death.
The said intense longing for a peaceful love life compelled Arsat to let his helpless brother die. But the act unlocked an unending mental agony in him. His painful words unveiled the feeling of a bereaved heart – “Three times he called – but I was not afraid of life. Was she not there in that canoe? And could I not with her find a country where death is forgotten – where death is unknown!”
The torment was so acute that the main character of the story suffered a moral dilemma. It became hard for the person to forget his brother’s dying cry. An unbearable sense of moral failure pierced his conscience constantly. It is, for sure, true that Arsat had a genuine love for his brave brother, although it could not amend his act of selfishness. A sense of everlasting helplessness resided in his heart, and like a broken man, he tried to justify his action but with severe affliction. His words of desperate justification unfold his suffering – “What did I care who died? I wanted peace in my own heart.”
His craving for peace and love ultimately didn’t attain the desired destiny. He failed to achieved what he wanted. As a result, he was haunted with intense remorse. A sense of guilt chased his conscience every moment. His admission to the narrator of the story, the white man, opened out his repentance. He had no choice but to admit that his beloved woman’s demise was his fate.
Conrad’s matchless work, The Lagoon, ends with a sharp note of tragedy. The story unfolds the truth that ‘sin has its retribution.’ The hero, Arsat, failed to have a peaceful love life, far from the world of death. In truth, the nemesis knocked on the door of Arsat’s fate in the form of execution and took his beloved Diamelen away. His disloyalty and faithless act to his brother stalled his effort to have his desired life. It could not ensure a life of love and peace for him. The narrator’s words showed how brutal reality forced The Lagoon’s main character to understand his gloomy illusions- “he looked beyond the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of a world of illusions.” In short, the entire world appeared to him a place of grim illusions only.
It is nearly impossible to deny that the tragic story of Arsat is intensely moving. A profound moral question is lurking in every part of the tale. The entire account suggests an undeniable moral dilemma to choose between duty and love. And Conrad’s hero in The Lagoon had no choice but to confront that dilemma. He either had to rush to help his brother and get killed by the rulers’ men or flee with his love Diamelen to a secure and peaceful place.
His genuine love for his lady love was so strong that he even forsook his duty and left his brother in a helpless situation. He preferred to run away with his love with an aim to find a safe place free from fear and death. However, while doing so, the moral sense remained with his heart and mind, preventing him from getting mental peace. Even the pain increased thousandfold when Arsat could not save his lady-love from the clutches of death after all his efforts. And thus, the moral dilemma appeared as a nemesis in the heartbreaking tragedy of the hero. Yes, the hero, who loved and longed intensely for his lady love but lost all with a sense of guilt that pricked and reminded him of his act of betrayal constantly.