With Reference to the designated extract from Heart of Darkness write a detailed analysis. Pay particular attention to the narrative devices used and examine these features in relation to realism and/ or modernism. Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is an early modernist novella. Peter Brooks has described it as ‘A detective story gone modernist’. He chose this description because although ‘Heart of Darkness’ is an adventure story, it is not a typical detective tale as the inner narrator, Marlow, talks and philosophises far too much, and there is simply not enough action.
‘Heart of Darkness’ has often been described as an autobiographical work. Conrad himself made a journey, to the Congo in 1889 and captained a river steamboat. Peter Ackroyd claims the novel ‘seems to reach into the heart of Conrad himself’ and capture the effects of his expedition. Conrad became haunted by trauma and illness after his journey into the Congo and much of this is evident in his novella. It is however not true to say that Conrad and Marlow are the same person. Marlow is simply a projected personae created by Conrad from his own experiences.
Conrad creates distance between himself and Marlow by incorporating an anonymous narrator. It is likely that Conrad chose this narrative technique to try and disassociate himself with the racist connotations throughout the novel, particularly Marlow’s reaction to and treatment of the African natives. This technique creates a challenge for the reader, as it only makes suggestions and never explains what either Conrad or Marlow truly thought. Although Conrad first wrote ‘Heart of Darkness’ in 1899 it was not published until 1902.
It therefore has one foot in the nineteenth century, and one in the twentieth, although it gestures towards modernism. This is most evident when studying the narrative. The plot is obscured a number of times throughout, and it is unclear exactly where the climax occurs. This is somewhat common in modernistic literature as it makes the focus of the text fall upon a search for meaning. Similarly, the narrative is fragmented throughout; ‘It was sombre enough too – and pitiful – not extraordinary in any way… ‘ (p21). Conrad’s use of caesuras and run on sentences, tend to blur the distinction between one section and another.
The endings of Conrad’s sentences also break from literary conventions as they are often disjointed and unclear; ‘with a capital – you know’ (p. 28). This presents “Heart of Darkness” as a multi-layered, ambiguous and inconclusive text. The plot seems to be structured by a flow of consciousness and memory, almost presenting Marlow’s narrative as an interior monologue. Marlow’s first person narrative is somewhat limited consisting of a series of irrational connections. He refers to “blank spaces” on a map and speaks of his will to visit them.
Similarly, he recalls from his childhood his desire to lose himself in “all the glories of exploration” (p. 21). This is an example of Conrad’s experimental narrative, and how it often seems to represent the unreliable, multiple realities of uncertainty. “Heart of Darkness” is something that had never been seen before. So short a text had never rendered so many different interpretations resulting from its intentionally de-clarified narration. Throughout ‘Heart of Darkness’ there is much evidence of the search for knowledge so many modernists embarked upon. Marlow claims he is ‘about to set off for the centre of the earth’ (p.
29), which is seen by many as a quest for intellectual excellence and heroism, as well as a journey into the unknown; a common theme in modernist literature. It has often been said that modernists were concerned with exploring the inner life, often at the expense of the social world. Marlow’s journey can be seen in this way as he ventures into the unfamiliar ‘God-forsaken wilderness’ (p. 29). The state of ‘isolation’ (p. 30) described by Conrad depicts perfectly the social sacrifices made by Marlow in his quest for knowledge as well as the futility and meaningless of Marlow’s mission.