Marlow’s journey is at one point described as a “weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares” (p. 31). This all seems to help create the common modernist image of a desolate world. Throughout Heart of Darkness the theme of alienation is very important. The question of what the alienation and loneliness in a remote and hostile environment for extended periods of time can do to a man’s minds is a central theme of the book.
The doctor who measures Marlow’s head prior to his departure for Africa warns him of changes to his personality that may be produced by a long stay in country. Prolonged silence and solitude are seen to have damaging effects on many characters in the book. Among these are the late Captain Fresleven, Marlow’s predecessor, who was transformed from a gentle soul into a man of violence, and the Russian, who has been alone on the River for two years and dresses bizarrely and chatters constantly.
But loneliness and alienation have taken their greatest toll on Kurtz, who, cut off from all humanizing influence, has given up the restraints of reason and conscience and given way to his most basic and brutal instincts. The chaotic style Conrad uses in the book and Marlow’s monologue is imprecise, confusing and slightly awkward, and this creates an inconsistent stream of consciousness, combined with fragmented images.
By using this technique Conrad wants to show the confusion and isolation as experienced by the main characters, and he challenges the reader to interpret what he actually means. The stream of consciousness is a technique introduced in modernist literature, whereby the writer tries to capture a character’s unbroken flow of internal thoughts, to create the illusion that the reader is experiencing the unstructured flow of observations, ideas, memories, and associations that occur in the mind of the fictional character.
Through this the writer can describe the unspoken thoughts and feelings of a character without the devices of objective narration or dialogue as used in realism, for they could not portray the psychological dimension of characters that was imperative to modernist literature. The stream is often illogical and puzzling and tries to portray the elemental, emotional life, and the hidden psychological life of the character. In To the lighthouse Virginia Woolf makes constant use of this technique.
In this novel, the action occurs not in the outside world but in the thoughts and feelings of the characters as exhibited by the ongoing narrative. The novel lacks an omniscient narrator (except in the second section: Time Passes) instead the plot unfolds through shifting perspectives of each character’s stream of consciousness. This lack of an omniscient narrator means that, throughout the novel, no clear guide exists for the reader and that only through character development can we formulate our own opinions and views because much is morally ambiguous.
The use of interior monologue is used by Woolf to portray the unspoken thoughts of the guests at the Ramsay’s dinner party thus emphasising their inability to openly express themselves and their concealed personal torment, be that intellectual, maternal or artistic. By showing us Mrs. Ramsay’s stream of consciousness Woolf makes her amazingly alive, and she supplements this from the outside by giving us, intermittently, the streams of consciousness of her husband, of her friend Lily Brisco, and of her children.
Woolf successfully transitions the point of view and the character in focus with each swing of emotion and mood, and the reader must always be alert to the change of focus for each character. Virginia Woolf never assumes the role of narrator. In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf develops the “stream of consciousness” technique as a means of exploring the inner lives of her characters, and she displays life as an aspect and function of the mind. Conrad also uses this technique to emphasise the feelings of confusion and isolation Marlow experiences.
In conclusion, in my opinion the two most important characteristics of modernist literature are the theme of modern doubt conveyed through fragmentation and alienation, and the use of stream of consciousness. However, I think it is quite difficult to pinpoint just two, because I feel that the central themes and techniques used in modernism are all interrelated and complement each other.
Word count 1541 Works used Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness with The Congo Diary, London: Penguin Classics, 1995. Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock”. Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2, 8th ed. , New York and London: W. W. Norton ; Company, 2006: 2289-2292. Stein, Gertrude. “Picasso” Literary Portraits, 1911. Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, 1974. Merel Hamann Literature C 5643619 Midterm 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Miscellaneous section.