Heart of Darkness: Marlow’s Heroic Cry

  • David H. Lynn

Abstract

Aboard the Nellie, dusk settling as the tide ebbs on the Thames estuary, Marlow sits apart from the small group of men with whom he shares ‘the bond of the sea’ (p. 52). To them he recounts the story of his adventures in the Congo and his meeting with the extraordinary Mr Kurtz. The journey has been long and Marlow has himself been changed; the man who speaks is not the same as when he first joined the colonial enterprise. Marlow treats this earlier self as a distinct character, one not at all privileged, but subjected to varied ironies, great and small, throughout the narrative. This Marlow of the central tale is no fool, however; when recognition becomes possible, the ironies of situation, event, character, and so on, do not escape him. What distinguishes him later as narrator is an ironic vision larger than any particular situation or mode, a sense of general irony2 which acknowledges the fundamental paradoxes of the story, of his efforts on the Nellie to recount it, and of man’s desire to act meaningfully in the ‘flash of lightening’ (p. 49) that is the duration of civilization.

Keywords

Dust Europe Steam Coherence Explosive 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Joseph Conrad, ‘Heart of Darkness’, in Youth and Two Other Stories, The Complete Works, Kent Edition (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926) p. 97. All further page references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This term belongs to the brilliant analysis of irony in D. C. Muecke, The Compass of Irony ( London: Methuen, 1969 ).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton University Press, 1968) p. 30.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, Kent Edition (Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926) p. 25. All further page references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: a Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908–1922 ( London: Cambridge University Press, 1984 ) p. 10.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979 ) p. 164.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, Kent Edition (Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926 ) p. 521.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    This term is taken from W. J. Harvey, Character and the Novel ( Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965 ).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    For a full discussion of this process see Wayne C. Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (University of Chicago Press, 1974) esp. p. 28.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    David Thorburn, Conrad’s Romanticism ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974 ) p. 124.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Walter L. Reed, Meditations on the Hero ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974 ) p. 63.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    The term is taken from Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, trans. L. M. Capel ( New York: Harper & Row, 1966 ).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes, Kent Edition (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926 ) p. 279.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    C. B. Cox, Joseph Conrad: the Modern Imagination ( London: Dent, 1974 ) p. 57.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David H. Lynn 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • David H. Lynn
    • 1
  1. 1.Council for Basic EducationUSA

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