Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper
Emma Lothian Heart of Darkness- Long Essay
What all novels have in common is narrative structure. This essay will discuss the relationship between narrative structure, thematic concerns and employment of imagery in Heart of Darkness. With the assistance of textual references, this essay will demonstrate why Joseph Conrad enlists specific textual features to create the foundations of his allegory, upon which he constructs the rest of the plot. Through thorough examination of the stylistic conventions he employs, this essay will depict the purpose Joseph Conrad intended the narrative to convey through its structure and the mechanisms he employed to deliver it.
In traditional English literature, narrative structure was considered one of the most conventional mechanisms for story telling. Stereotypically this format was employed to recount the subject matter of a historical, romantic or ancient epic. Particular thematic elements of Heart of Darkness can be foregrounded to support this reading of the technique: For example, Kurtz’s love for the intended and Marlow’s epic journey of self-discovery.
Though the book contains these basic themes, Conrad allows the thematic concerns to digress, exploring a broader spectrum of linguistic recollection. Free from the conventions of traditional literature, Conrad is able to write retrospectively without restriction; developing a text that can be considered groundbreaking for its time. Because of the experimental nature of Heart of Darkness it has been said by many critics that Joseph Conrad set precedence for the standards, against which the modern perceptions and expectations of narrative structure have been developed and conceived.
In modern times, the methodical device of narrative structure is often appropriated to imaginative literature, for the primary objective of telling a story. It assists the writer in conveying the main themes of the plot by providing the crucial nexus between the reader and the author. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad employs narrative structure for the intended purpose of creating specific affects for the reader. He utilizes the technique for the expression of a complex fictional network of thematic concerns, depicted in Heart of Darkness.
One possible reason that Joseph Conrad has selected narrative style, as the means for informing the reader of particular issues through his story, can be correlated with the reader involvement it creates. By employing this technique, Conrad is pursuing a cathartic response from his audience. He does not only want to attract the reader’s attention, but he also wants to stimulate his reader emotionally. He employs narrative structure in Heart of Darkness to allow the reader to observe the thematic content through the eyes of his characters. By this, it is meant that Conrad constructs his characters in such a manner so as to provoke emotional purgation in the text; forcing readers to identify with, or reject individual values, attitudes and beliefs withheld by different characters.
Through the nexus established between the reader and Heart of Darkness, Conrad is able to exploit the narrative framework with the intention of expressing the thematic concerns of the plot. He manipulates the chosen narrative structure, to communicate the dense subject matter of the book. He achieves this by employing a variety of technical conventions and a vast entanglement of interlocking imagery. The complexity of the imagery and the depth of meaning it creates is what sets Heart of Darkness aside from other novels. It is without a doubt an intellectual masterpiece because of the articulate fashion in which the images come together to define the thematic concerns.
Heart of Darkness adopts the thematic concern of self-discovery through the images presented to the reader. The epic journey under taken by Marlow as he travels through the Congo operates allegorically within the narrative, to inform the reader that the circumstances Marlow must face run far deeper than a physical challenge. The imagery directives that indicate such depths of meaning are incorporated as supernatural connotations, like that of “greedy phantoms” (page 98). The construction of the phantom image connotes a mystical ghost like apparition. Such an image indicates that Marlow’s reality is not confined only to tangible presence’s but is also open to suggestion of alternative, possibly supernatural phenomenon. This acknowledgment of spirituality within Marlow deepens existing images of his self-awareness.
Joseph Conrad further reinforces the ideology of supernatural awareness in Heart of Darkness by beguiling the narrative structure to convey connotations through binary oppositions. For example, many references are juxtaposed to compare dark with light. Often these words are replaced with similar descriptions, culminating a similar effect, for example light may be replaced by words like shine, peace, and white, where dark is replaced by black, dull, and violence. These images can be read as allusions to the religious comparison of heaven and hell, or with spiritual understandings of the concept of freedom and entrapment. The juxtaposition of these binary oppositions are made to affirm the thematic image of incongruity and conflict in the text.
Heart of Darkness also employs the advanced technique of framing to divide the narrative structure into layers of consciousness, where thematic concerns can be embedded. The division of such a polysemus text into different levels of narration and perception extends the text by giving it a three-dimensional construct. This is to say that there is more than one character or presence delivering the thematic concerns of the narrative. For this reason the reader is allowed the privilege of observing the plot from a distance where they can delve between the textual layers.
The outer most narrative frame is the chosen structure for the text but in conjunction with this frame other frames operate within the text to deliver the story. The primary narrator is the first frame within the narrative frame. The primary narrator speaks in first person to inform the reader about Marlow and his actions. He introduces some of the thematic concerns, for example Marlow’s tendency to be atypical of his chosen path in life. This is demonstrated when the narrator tells the reader:
But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode is not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeliness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine. (Page 8)
This example demonstrates the primary narrator’s position within the narrative, which is to be the first point of contact between the reader and the text.
Within the frame of the primary narrator the protagonist Marlow, is objectified as yet another frame. For this reason, any point made by Marlow is conveyed through a blend of second and third person narration. Marlow never speaks directly with the reader, he does however, speak directly with the narrator by employing second and third person speech conventions. In second person style Marlows direct voice in the “you” form instructs the primary narrator of what he should think, see, hear or feel. For example, “You should have seen the pilgrims stare!” (page 62). In third person style however, with the application of limited omniscience he provides retrospective insight to the reader about prior events. For example; “There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and in talk just about that time .” (page18).
Conrad’s application of the framing convention enhances the images that create the thematic concerns of Heart of Darkness by linking different voices of experience together to deepen the meaning of the text. The process of framing deepens the meaning carried within the text by allowing readers to have fuller understanding of what is being said. This means that the reader is distant enough from the characters to be objective and critical of the thematic concerns they represent; whilst still being close enough to remain fully informed of who they are and what they believe in. This may be to such a degree that the reader can possibly even identify with them, or reject their ideas completely.
The different voices within frames are useful for communicating different thematic concerns because they invite variance in the delivery of the narrative itself. They reconstruct the reality of the concerns being addressed by giving different character’s or presence’s views of scenes and engaging the reader. The reader may only be able to access particular details through thorough scrutiny of the entanglement of frames. One of the reasons for this is because of the complexity created by the different textual layers in the narrative. The layers within the text are responsible for the implementation of a conventional technique formally known as delayed decoding.
Heart of Darkness expresses its network of meanings through the innovative technical convention of delayed decoding. This is to say that the realisation of what is actually being conveyed is not perceived immediately. In other words, there is often a gap between the point of intention or narration (when the information is delivered), to the point of comprehension (when its full meaning is understood). This can be as a result of getting second hand information; remembering that that Marlow speaks within the framing voice of the primary narrator, who addresses the reader directly. This means that what Marlow thinks is delayed before it is communicated to the primary narrator, then delayed again before it reaches the audience.
Conrad employs delayed decoding to slow down the reader’s reception of imagery. He utilizes the convention to alleviate the possible problems that may be created through bombarding the reader with information. This is to say he engages frames to filter unnecessary details from the text and focus the reader’s attention on the most important aspects of what is being said. Often the reader will subconsciously acknowledge this filtering system by ranking the voices of the characters according to whose voice they deem to be more important to the thematic achievements of the text. This process of selectively prioritizing is not an uncommon reading practice. In the case of Heart of Darkness it is likely that the reader will prioritize the greatest portion of their attention to what is being conveyed by Marlow, being that he is the protagonist.
Another affect of delayed decoding is that minor details can secretly withhold their full significance until latter stages in the book. These minor details are often employed by the writer to sharpen the impact of thematic concerns when their relevance is uncovered. Often small details hide their meaning at first as a result, of being unrelated to the circumstances directly surrounding them, but when they are linked to the overall themes of the text they complete the missing components pertinent to specific images.
The construction of imagery can be accomplished through many different techniques. Once the reader’s attention has been engaged and the plot begins unfold different images are put to the reader, from which they must draw their own conclusions. The process of unfolding images is guided by particular conventions or mechanisms implanted in the narrative by the writer. These conventions include things such as simile, metaphorical expression, defamiliarisation and fragmentation. They are often employed subconsciously by the writer, as a tool for creating specific affects or expressing emotion, depending on the desired achievement of the narrative.
When a writer, such as Conrad, wants to relate themes of reality to his novel he may find it useful to employ simile to the structure of his narrative. Conrad does in fact employ this affect frequently. For example:
A beardless, boyish face, very fair, no features, nose peeling, little blue eyes, smiles and frown chasing each other over that open countenance like sunshine and shadow on a wind-swept plain. (Page 76)
This example demonstrates how, in the description of a life like image Conrad is able to bring the image closer to the reader by alluding to a vision that the reader can easily interpret and imagine.
Just as simile creates reality through a likening experience, symbolism can be employed to represent a part of an image that can be expanded to connote its full meaning. Symbols are utilized to refer to aspects that are closely related to each other. For example, the symbol of a teapot may be employed to connote beverages, afternoon tea and refreshments. In Heart of Darkness the symbols presented to the reader by Conrad are often less obvious but, nevertheless affective. For example:
” The harlequin on the bank turned his little pug-nose up at me.” (page 76)
The symbol of the harlequin is a comical clown like image that can connote mockery, entertainment and festivity. The use of such a symbol in this context is to make the reader aware that the person on the bank (metaphorically referred to as a harlequin) was not a serious or threatening presence.
Heart of Darkness consists of many different metaphorical expressions like the “harlequin”. They are employed to assist the construction of one image to represent another unlike itself. In Heart of Darkness the linguistic device of metaphor is often employed to defamiliarise different objects. This is often a concept that Conrad utilizes to reduce objects back to their primitive history or connote ignorance of the progression that has occurred over time. One example of where Conrad employs metaphorical defamiliarization for the purpose of promoting one of the thematically concerns of Heart of Darkness; ignorance, occurs when Marrlow and his crew are attacked from their steamer:
Then I had a look at the river mighty quick, because there was a snag in the fairway. Sticks, little sticks, were flying about- thick: they were whizzing before my nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against my pilot- house.
By employing the metaphor of sticks to represent the tribal arrows Conrad shows how the Imperialists were ignorant of the African Tribal culture. He has the affect of highlighting the complete denial of the Imperialists to acknowledge a culture that was other to theirs. This is another major thematic concern within the text.
As well as the employment of literature devices to express different images of narrative concern, it is possible for the author of a book to omit details for the purpose of developing themes. This omission of detail forms textual fragments through the construction of gaps and silences. This is to say that the white space of paper in a tex can also be read with a meaning of its own. It also means that not all of the images must run together fluently, often it is more affective when a point is made by saying nothing at all.
The textual fragments in Heart of Darkness play a large part in making the text abstract. Some critics believe that Conrad has been “Insufficiently specific about inconceivable ceremonies and nameless lusts to which Kurtz has abandoned himself”. This is in keeping with the textual fragments of the narrative because it shows how the lack of detail impacts upon the reader. This is to say that through the gaps and silences he’s created in the text, Conrad has made the critics’ job of deciphering the meaning of his words much more complex. Instead of simply being given direct denotations the critics have been challenged to mediate through the fragments and access experiences available to them, to bridge the gaps.
This essay has acknowledged that, what all novels have in common is narrative. It has employed intertextual references, from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to demonstrate the complex relationships that exist between the author’s expression of thematic concerns and the imagery they articulate for the purpose of creating particular affects. It has focussed on the conventions of literature that are developed to invent images with the best possible opportunity of giving a desired affect sought by the writer.