Narrative Style in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
The Heart of Darkness employs, broadly, a three framed narrative style. Conrad, the author, places an unnamed narrator aboard the Nellie with Marlow, who is the third narrator/frame. The unnamed narrator functions as both a teller of Marlow’s tale to us and a listener to Marlow. The significance of these frames can be analysed by looking at three effects which this arrangement produces. The usage of Marlow as narrator instead of Conrad himself became important due to Conrad’s anxiety to adopt an English point of view which had been denied to him largely. His self-consciousness as a Polish émigré and therefore an outsider reflected in his attempt at anglicising his name. Also well-known was his obsession with “fidelity to the truth of my own sensations” in his writings. The reconciliation of the two – an English point of view and the “truth” of his sensations, however, was impossible, simply because his view of the “civilizing work” in Africa was that it was “the criminality of inefficiency and pure selfishness” 1- a decidedly anti-British point of view. He wrote to his publisher about the bitterness and indignation he had felt during his Congo experience, at what he called was the “masquerading philanthropy”2 of the colonisers. Though English in name, Marlow was not, as Said puts it, “the wholly incorporated and fully acculturated Englishman” 3because of “an extraordinarily persistent, residual sense of his own exilic marginality.” 3 Aware that his ideological thrust would not be welcome to his English readers, Conrad strategically uses the trope that is Charles Marlow, a typical British seaman, to explore his reader’s cultural traits and values as an insider. He deliberately made Marlow stress out on British national character in “Youth” and in this way won the British audience over to his side. This layered narrative allowed Conrad to shows us his complex response to British imperialism. Thus, whereas Marlow...
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