English literature hosts many great novelists who created valuable works built upon different themes with connections to the social concepts and crucial events of their times. One of them; Joseph Conrad, is the first competent novelist in the English tradition to take up the “European Imperialism” issue as the subject in his works and focuses in depth on the European “scramble” for the control of Africa at a time when colonialism and the greed for power were at its intense.
In “Heart of Darkness” which was written in the later period of the Victorian age (1899) when England confronted with growing threats to its military and economic pre-eminence, Conrad makes a critique of the Victorian hypocrisy and pretense by creating tension or conflict between the social conditions/ values and the aspirations/actions of his heroes in the novella form that provides the way to interpret those social traits and links from the extended descriptions of the characters’ personal and emotional development.
Conrad breaks the stable rules of the traditional narrative form and follows Henry James in exploring the moral complications of storytelling by experimenting a new format: frame narrative. Radical breaks with traditional modes of thought of the age, highly developed elaborated themes, complicated and compelling characters, use of alternative viewpoints ensures the “Heart of Darkness” to be accepted as one of the early precious modernist novels. In this article I will deal with these important traits and other components of this narrative in detail with a short analysis of the first opening paragraphs.
The novella is based on the experiences of Joseph Conrad in the Congo as we learn from him: “a wild story of a journalist who becomes manager of a station in the (African) interior and makes himself worshipped by a tribe of savages.” ( Karl & Davies 1986, p. 407). Thus the place the story is set on can be identified as the Thames from the first two paragraphs, and the time is probably in some time between 1890-1891. The narrative starts with a description sentence of ‘The Nellie’, the yawl they are aboard and continues with the ones of the Thames river on which they are sailing, and the narrator tells the appearances and background information about the characters, expresses his thoughts about their appearances and relationships with each other. The adjective and adverb selections such as “still, dark air, mournful gloom, motionless, pacifically, without a speck, unruffled, serenity..” and the diction of the narrator; for example, his using metaphors and similes, vivid nouns to foster his drawing the scene (“The Nellie..was at rest” (pr 1), “A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness.” (pr2) “the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding..” (pr 5) creates a calm, dull and still, most notably a gloomy atmosphere. Almost all the levels of imagery operate throughout the representations of the river, the sinking sun, the actions of the characters, the appearance of the town and the environment..etc. The long-winded poetry-like language of the narrator help the reader feel the rhythm throughout the lines thereby penetrating into the narration’s sensory and psychological space.
Karl, Frederick R.; Davies, Laurence, eds. (1986). The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad – Volume 2: 1898 – 1902. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-25748-4
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