Coursework 1: Textual and Theoretical Analysis How does the writing of Joseph Conrad in 'Heart of Darkness' express the experience of living a displaced life?
Conrad can be described as a truly displaced writer and his experience is closely mirrored by the journey which Marlow, the chief protagonist in Heart of Darkness, undertakes. In 'Youth', Marlow's first words are, “there are those voyages that seem ordered for the illustration of life” 1, and 'Heart of Darkness' takes the reader on such a voyage, alluding not only to the human condition but also, more personally, to the displaced life which Marlow experiences. This essay will explore the literary techniques Conrad employes throughout the novella to convey the experience of displacement through the structure of the tale, rather than through the tale itself. The world which Conrad presents to the reader is, “nihilistic, nightmarish, arbitrary”, 2 a fitting, if somewhat damning, modernist impression. Conrad, originally drawn to Britain “by the civilisation and stability of english life”, was “always aware of the darkness underlying its imperial and urban light, as 'Heart of Darkness' makes quite clear”.3 Whilst Conrad can be seen as a precursor to modernism it has been said that his “literary output emerges as a paradigm of modernist sensibility and aspiration”,4 a method perhaps employed as it opened new techniques to Conrad which would better allow him to convey his chosen meaning. Modernist techniques allowed Conrad the freedom to explore the world from a different viewpoint than was typical of other authors writing in the same period, arguably widening “the scope of fiction”5 by presenting his actors in “grandiose nature”6 instead of within society. His subsequent preoccupation with displacement, not only physically, but also within ones self on separation from
1 Conrad Joseph, Youth, Doubleday, Doran & Company Inc, 1903 p. 3-4 2 Bradbury Malcolm & McFarlane James, Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930, UK: Penguin Books Ltd, 1991, p.616 3 Bradbury & McFarlane p.173 4 Bradbury & McFarlane p.393 5 Maes-Jelinek Hena, York Notes Advanced: Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, Longman: York Press, 2004, p. 74 6 Maes-Jelinek p. 74
civilisation “seems to have been the cause of Conrad's pessimism, even despair”, 7 and this is a tone which prevails throughout 'Heart of Darkness', emphasising the experience of displacement which Marlow endures. This sense of displacement is present from the beginning of the novella, noticeable initially through Conrad's use of a frame narrative. The story is related by the first narrator (Marlow himself being the second), who is listening to Marlow tell his tale – a story within a story. As a result, Conrad is doubly displaced from the views expressed by Marlow, a technique which leaves the reader in doubt as to Conrad's true views on imperialism and colonialism. Edward Said comments that “Conrad uses a retrospective method which allows him to interpret what he could not reflect on at the time of the experience”,8 and this would support the effect which the use of a frame narrative provides. As a reflection, Conrad initially shows confusion, with the two narrators offering opposing opinions on colonialism through their use of imagery when describing London. The first narrator describes the Thames as spreading “out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth”,9 viewing it as symbolising light, travel, creation, all good things. But, this image is tested moments later when Marlow comments that “this also, has been one of the dark places of the earth”.10 The effect of this opposing imagery serves both to set the tone for the remainder of the novella and to emphasise the separation, or displacement that Conrad perhaps still felt on reflection of his own experience and his struggle to make sense of, or find meaning in it. A notion, suggested by the idea that 'Heart of Darkness' can be...
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