The Limits of Narrative in in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

The Limits of Narrative in in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

Length: 1769 words (5.1 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Powerful Essays

Open Document

Essay Preview

The Limits of Narrative in Heart of Darkness


Early English novelists depicted a very general reality; that is, what many observed to be "real" is what found its way into the narratives. For example, several novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries emphasize, or entirely revolve around, the idea of social status. Samuel Richardson's Pamela addresses a servant's dilemma between her morals and low social position; the hero of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones must also confront his "low birth." Jane Austen famously portrayed class struggles in nearly every one of her novels. These texts all represented the world at its face; the actions of the characters spoke for their "reality," and the narrator was simply the descriptor of these events. The novels conformed to a very narrow world-view, limited by popular thought. True, there was much to explore within this confinement, as shown by the range of commentary in the texts. Still, as stories they could only offer what society observed: a kind of reality by consensus. As Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness demonstrates, modernism rejected the aims and methods of realism, and claimed the inner self represented the real more closely than the public world. Furthermore, realism appeared to represent the world wholly and concisely. Conrad's novel rejects this, and instead exposes the failure of language to describe a complete reality. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow himself is incomplete, and so is his narrative. He is forced into imprecise language, resigned to using negative modifiers and repeating inexact words. He struggles to tell his story satisfactorily, and by his own admission, his telling is deficient. The limitation of language, then, becomes the focus of t...

... middle of paper ...

...e rejection of nineteenth century realism. Since Marlow the storyteller is flawed, his story falters as a result. The novel effectively reduces each to their flaws, but does not attempt to hide its limitations behind a manufactured authority. It is this absence, or seeming absence, of controlled writing that brings Heart of Darkness closer to "the real" than any authoritative work of realism.


Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1902. New York: Dover, 1990.

Erdinast-Vulcan, Daphna. The Strange Short Fiction of Joseph Conrad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 78-108.

Greaney, Michael. Conrad, Language, and Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 57-76.

Hawthorn, Jeremy. Studying the Novel. 4th ed. London: Arnold, 2001. 60-61

Leavis, F.R. The Great Tradition. New York: Stewart, 1950. 173-82.




Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay on Fate Or Free Will In Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

- Fate or Free Will In a complex society, people are forced to make many hard choices. For thousands of years, people have theorized if these choices were truly made by themselves, or predetermined by an omnipotent being. In the late 19th century, Modernist writers became fed up with the Romanticized view of self-determination and the perfection of society in previous works of literature. One such author was Joseph Conrad, who tackled this issue in his novella Heart of Darkness. From the perspective of Marlow, the reader learns about a mythical figure stationed in the center of the Congo whom Marlow is destined to meet....   [tags: Destiny, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad]

Powerful Essays
914 words (2.6 pages)

Essay on The Heart Of Darkness By John Conrad

- The Heart of Darkness is seen as a classic that many say shouldn’t be taught and many of those who think it should thinks the reader need to be very critical of it. The debate of it being taught stems from the debate of whether Conrad and his narrative are racist. Many have addressed the idea of racism, and furthermore how he depicts Africans. In my opinion, it is clearly a racist story, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it has racist tones especially when read by a modern day reader. On the other hand his view of Africans is also interesting to analysis, as it is questioned, just with the racism, if his views of them are just mirroring the popular opinion of the time....   [tags: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Africa]

Powerful Essays
1035 words (3 pages)

Light and Dark in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad Essay

-      In the book, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, all the characters are pulled into a well of black despair. Conrad uses the darkness of the situation contrasted to the light of society to show man’s dependence on western morals, and how when these morals are challenged by the darkness, the light crumbles under its newly weakened foundation. The contrast between light and dark is most stark in the themes of setting, the changes in Europeans as they drive farther into the Congo, and the white man’s collapse under the ultimate darkness of the Innermost Congo....   [tags: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness]

Powerful Essays
1932 words (5.5 pages)

The Portrayal of Women in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

- Women have gained equality with men over the many centuries of the evolution of the modern western civilization. Hence, it cannot be overlooked that there still exist many literary examples of social disregard for woman potential. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" exemplifies the Western patriarchal gender roles in which women are given the inferior status.<p> Not only are women portrayed as being inferior to men, but Marlow's (the protagonist's) seldom mentioning of them in his Congo adventure narrative symbolizes his view of their insignificance....   [tags: Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness]

Powerful Essays
1190 words (3.4 pages)

Essay on Analysis Of Conrad 's Heart Of Darkness

- Few pieces of literature have received as much acclaim and criticism as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In his essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’”, Chinua Achebe attacks Conrad and brands him a racist for his dehumanizing descriptions of Africans. When responding to the argument that it is the protagonist Marlow, rather than Conrad, from which the novel’s racism stems, Achebe argues that Conrad’s failure to provide “an alternative frame of reference by which [to] judge the actions and opinions of his characters” is an indication that Conrad shares the same bigotry as Marlow (Achebe)....   [tags: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Chinua Achebe]

Powerful Essays
973 words (2.8 pages)

Essay On Joseph Conrad

- The Life of Joseph Conrad Throughout time, influential writers have produced many great works of literature. These works of literature impact the stylistic aspect of writing for years to come. Joseph Conrad, one of these influential writers, used his own personal experiences to write harrowing novels, such as Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s impact on literature is his distinctive writing style. Described as a “winding, indirect, tautological, and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous narrative structure” (Davies), Conrad has cemented himself as one of literature’s greatest authors....   [tags: Joseph Conrad, Literature, Ford Madox Ford]

Powerful Essays
1215 words (3.5 pages)

journeyhod Spiritual Journey in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

- Spiritual Journey in Heart of Darkness   Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad may be a narrative about colonisation, revealing its drawbacks and corruption, but it may also be understood as a journey into the depths of one’s psyche, if taken at a symbolic level. At the beginning of the novel the reader is informed that Marlow is “not typical”, that he, contrary to stay-at-home-minded seamen, is a “wanderer”. He has no home, in a psychological sense of the word. He simply “follows the sea”. This may evoke an interpretation that the man is disturbed, that he attempts to find out about the secrets of his soul, to get to know himself....   [tags: Heart Darkness essays]

Powerful Essays
528 words (1.5 pages)

The Light-dark Metaphor in Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad Essay

- Throughout his narrative in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow characterizes events, ideas, and locations that he encounters in terms of light or darkness. Embedded in Marlow's parlance is an ongoing metaphor equating light with knowledge and civility and darkness with mystery and savagery. When he begins his narrative, Marlow equates light and, therefore, civility, with reality, believing it to be a tangible expression of man's natural state. Similarly, Marlow uses darkness to depict savagery as a vice having absconded with nature....   [tags: Heart of Darkness Essays]

Powerful Essays
1946 words (5.6 pages)

Essay on Analysis of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

- Analysis of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad When Joseph Conrad composed Heart of Darkness he created a literary masterpiece which embodied the essence of light contrasting with darkness. Throughout the novel Conrad constantly utilizes the images of light and dark and uses them to mold a vision, which the reader is then able to use to decipher the literal and metaphorical meanings of the novel. As Conrad said, “ my task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel- it is, before all, to make you see.” (Crankshaw 34) In Heart of Darkness Conrad makes the reader “see” by absorbing into every aspect possible of the book images of lightn...   [tags: Joseph Conrad Novels Literature Essays]

Powerful Essays
4388 words (12.5 pages)

Symbols and Symbolism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

- Use of Symbolism in Heart of Darkness     Joseph Conrad played a major role in the development of the twentieth-century novel.  Many devices that Conrad applied for the first time to his novels gained wide usage in the literary period he helped to create.  Perhaps the most effective of his pioneering techniques was his application of symbolism in his novels.  In Heart of Darkness, Conrad's symbolism plays a dominant role in the advancement of themes in the novel.  These themes are revealed not through plot, but instead through the symbolic characters and elements present in the narrative.  Joseph Conrad's use of symbolism in his portrayal of the Africans, the Company, and Kurtz in Heart o...   [tags: Heart Darkness essays]

Powerful Essays
1483 words (4.2 pages)