Amy Foster and The Mythology of Love


In "Amy Foster", Joseph Conrad has written a great story
that shows the different types of love felt between Amy and
Yanko as described by Joseph Campbell in his essay on "The
Mythology of Love". The relationship of Yanko and Amy is
dynamic and changes as the story progresses. At first, Amy
feels compassion for Yanko; she does not see the
differences between him and the English people as the
others of Brenzett do. However, later in the story,
compassion turns to passion. Amy's son is then born;
distinctions appear and she is either no longer able to
love Yanko or she loves Yanko to such an extent that she
finds she is incapable of joining Yanko on an earthly plane
as Joseph Campbell describes (page 159). Whatever the
reasons may be, Amy refuses to aid Yanko in his time of
need, resulting in Yanko's death. There is a great change
of heart from Amy's first compassion for Yanko to her
nonchalance of his death. However, the results may have
only been a product of the different levels of love felt by
Amy for Yanko. The general population of Brenzett treats
Yanko an escaped lunatic when he is first spotted in the
seaside town. He is whipped, stoned and beaten by many of
the residents. In addition, he was captured and caged like
a wild animal. He is described as a "drunk", "tramp", and
"creature". He is very different from the usual Englishman
and is treated as such. He is segregated and is forced to
work for Mr. Swaffer. However, one person sees through the
differences. Amy, perhaps because of her stupidity or an
ability to feel for Yanko, does not see a wild foreigner
that screams at night and dances strangely. She saw only
the similarities, the oneness of two human beings, and not
the separateness. This is the basis of compassion, as
Campbell shows. Thus, Amy is able to be "selfless,
boundless, without ego". This compassion shown for Yanko
expresses the affection felt by Amy for the foreigner and
is received by him as love. The love is returned by Yanko
in his actions, when he buys Amy a green ribbon and
eventually proposes marriage. This is one of the levels of
love described by Joseph Campbell, compassion. It
transcends differences and differences. The nature of the
relationship changes after the two marry. It degrades from
a "higher, spiritual order of love" to an "animal passion".
It is no longer a oneness for which Amy loves Yanko.
Rather, it is the sex drive, the physical want of a male
for a female and vice versa. This type of relationship, as
Campbell states, still "transcends differences and even
loyalties". Conrad writes, "Her infatuation endured. People
saw her going out to meet him in the evening. She stared
with unblinking, fascinated eyes up the road where he was
expected to appear..." This clearly shows that Amy no
longer feels compassion; instead, she feels passion for
Yanko. Socially, it is more powerful to feel passion rather
than compassion. However, Campbell asserts that compassion
reveals a deeper understanding of oneness and connection
rather than a lower form of love such as passion, the mere
sexual longing for a member of the opposite sex. Therefore,
what may seem to be a development of greater love for one
another may in essence be the degradation of true love.
Soon after, the passion evolves yet again. There is some
ambiguity to what type of love it has been transformed
into; there are two possibilities because of which Amy
refuses to help Yanko. It could be that Amy's love for
Yanko has developed into the third love described by Joseph
Campbell, a love for one specific person. "For let us note
well (and here is the high point of Mann's thinking on the
subject): what is lovable about any human being is
precisely his imperfections," says Campbell (page 167). Amy
begins to love Yanko for the individual that he is, not the
person that is connected to her or the member of the
opposite sex. Amy sees how he sings to their new son in a
strange language, he teaches the boy how to pray; she sees
his differences, and realizes that she could never really
be one with him on "this earth". Could this be why Amy
allows Yanko to die? Perhaps she love's him so much she
finds the only way to be one with him is to allow him to
die. Perhaps the "agony of love" is too much for her to
bear and thus she ends the pain. There also lies a faint
possibility that Amy recognizes the difference between
Yanko and the common man and that she loses the most
important aspect of love, similarity. Without the
compassion or passion, she is unable to love or care for
Yanko, even in his time of need. Therefore, when Yanko
calls for her help, she looks at him as if he is an alien
and does not aid him, while she has lost all love for him.
It is unclear to the reader whether it is great love that
Amy experiences - so great, she cannot bear the pain - or
it is an inability to love Yanko anymore that causes her
stay motionless as Yanko calls for her help as he dies in
front of her. The story of "Amy Foster" presents an
incredible mystery about the love between a dull woman and
a foreign man. Even with the aid of an extremely helpful
analysis of love by Joseph Campbell, it remains unclear why
Amy acts the way she does as Yanko lies on his deathbed.
Does Amy feel an immense love for Yanko or does she fail to
love him at all? Whatever the reason may be, it is clear
that she expresses throughout the story many of the
differing types of love along with their implications
discussed in Campbell's essay, "The Mythology of Love".


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