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.

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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 thedifferences. 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 allowsYanko 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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