Amy Foster & 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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