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Analysis of Narrators in Heart Of Darkness Essay


The narrative technique used in "Heart of Darkness", is one of a story within a story. Although the primary narrator is Marlow, there is a second narrator, unnamed, who tells us about Marlow telling his story.There is also a third voice added to this narration which can be considered the author himself, who is really telling the whole story.

"Beyond these three dominant points of view are the individual viewpoints of the book's major characters. Each has a different perspective on Kurtz. These perspectives are often conflicting and are always open to a variety of interpretations."

onrad's narrative technique is a necessary key to explore the nineteenth century European colonialist psychology. It is a part of the meaning of the text, and not just a means to convey it. Structurally, Heart of Darkness is a framed narrative. It opens with the anonymous first narrator describing the backdrop, the tranquil Thames estuary which would prove to be an ironical antithesis to the Congo basin, the setting of the inner narrative. He was thinking of the glory of English colonial enterprise, when Marlow almost reads his mind and begins his story to problematize it. The anonymous narrator and the rest of the listeners on the yawl constitute the Eurocentric world. They occasionally interjects in Marlow's narration as mild resistance, when he destabilises colonial binaries as the "dirty game" of the Empire.

Nevertheless, the sceptical interjection of the listeners only increases for the reader the credibility of Marlow's first hand experience. Also, the frame narrator describes Marlow as Buddha and therefore a wise man. Mythologies tell us that the intruder into the Other world often perish like Kurtz; but the few that outlive the experience like Ulysses and Nachiketa, or Marlow in the present case, return enlightened. The outer narrative is also a standard literary device to enhance the realistic impression; a number of earlier writers like Emily Bront had employed it with remarkable success.

The second but major narrator, Charlie Marlow provides the inner frame by retelling his experiences in Africa. The layered framing device is a clear structural metaphor for Marlow's journey in search for the implications of colonialism and the hidden truths in his own heart of darkness. The division of the narrative into three chapters at first appear to be arbitrary. Nevertheless, each break takes place at a crucial moment in Marlow's approach to Kurtz. The first one occurs when he has only heard of him and wonders whether Kurtz is equal to the moral ideas he propounds, the second at the height of Marlow's curiosity about Kurtz just before he discovers what the latter really is. Similarly, each pause in the narrative has a specific function and draws attention to Marlow's listeners and their reactions. The first substantial interruption, for example, elicits from the first narrator a comment on Marlow's experience. Another significant pause takes place when of the listener talks of absurdity. Lawrence Graver observes that this interruption so unnerves Marlow that it leads to a five-page outburst, in which he summarises nearly all the major themes in the story.

While making the reader aware of the effect Kurtz had on Marlow, this passage further delays his account of the actual meeting with Kurtz. This stream-of-consciousness flash-forward adds to the suspense Marlow gradually builds up. For this technique the reader knows a lot about Kurtz beforehand; while relating the actual meeting Marlow can concentrate on his struggle with Kurtz. According to Edward Said, the "retrospective method" of Conrad allows Marlow to interpret what he could not explain at the time of experience. Marlow asks himself as many questions as he answers in his interpretation. In the course of the narrative, Marlow frequently moves backward and forward in time; they are important clues to his experience and in his attempt to convey it to his listeners. In Part I, for instance, he interrupts the account of his conversation with the brickmaker to question himself about the beauty of the landscape, and about Kurtz whom he was yet to meet. Addressing his listeners, he asks: "Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything?" To make the reader see is the artist's purpose as defined by Conrad in his preface to the Nigger of the Narcissus.

Verbal and dramatic ironies are also prominent devices in Heart of Darkness. The Fresleven episode, the comparison of colonialists with pilgrims, the reference to Brussels as "a whited sepulchre" are fine examples of the verbal irony. Nevertheless, it culminates in the contrast between Kurtz' eloquence and the postscript to his report: "Exterminate all the brutes!" On the other hand, dramatic irony prevails all over the text in the depiction of "the merry dance of death and trade" of European colonialist enterprise, the turnaround of Eurocentric binaries and the discover of darkness by a White man in his own 'civilised' heart.

Conrad also makes use of wide ranged symbolism in his novella. The title is symbolic and covers a psychological as much as a geographical reality. It refers to the ambivalent force at the heart of wilderness; it also stands for the central darkness Kurtz discovers within himself, and possibly at the heart of all civilised consciousness. The voyage from Outer to the Central and Inner Station also indicates an introspective journey; and an other world recall similar episodes in Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divine Comedy, and the legends of Orpheus in the West and Nachiketa in the East. Africa and the Congo have been projected here as the perennial Other of Europe and the Thames. The depiction of the characters like Marlow, Kurtz, his African mistress as well as of his Intended are also highly symbolic.

Conrad uses light and darkness in all the possible connotations: good and evil, civilised and savage, truth and lies, innocence and experience, idea and practice, philanthropy and exploitation. The tension appears between the two opposing forces of the binaries, within each of them and finally in the relation between the duo. Conrad constantly destabilises and validates the polarities, only to destabilise once again. And in this endless deference of a conclusive meaning, Heart of Darkness invokes more and more critical discourses on its title and the theme.

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