Modernist Features in Heart of Research Paper

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" In more general terms, Conrad uses Marlow to give his tale, neither the full close of the plot of earlier fiction, nor James' more limited completeness in the formal structure, but a radical and continuing exposure to the incompleteness of experience and the impossibility of fully understanding it." (Watt, 1978)

The strength of subjectivity as far as perception was concerned is another modern theme. It is safe to state that Conrad managed to prove the profound importance of the subjective dimension in a very complex manner. The stream of consciousness and first person technique which he applied had as a result a process through which the reader completely identified with the inner life of the character.

Naturally all certainty and objectivity is lost in the process and not only does the reader not know where he is going, but he embraces the upcoming transformations as exciting surprises. From this point-of-view we could assume that Conrad succeeds to change the status of the author, from omniscient to omnipotent (since after all he is in control not only of the denouement, but of the manner in which the story unfolds as well):" and for a moment it seemed to me as if I also was buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night." (Conrad, 87)

Taking the analysis further, we can say that the use of the "I" is a means through which the narrator supports a process of inner discovery (valid for both the main character and the readers). Reading between the lines we understand that the route of the knowledge process is no longer oriented towards the direct contact with the external reality, but is accomplished through an inner journey meant to unveil some of the mechanisms of our unconscious self:" it is because Marlow has this "double privilege of subject and object" that the reader cannot see him as a fictional object very clearly; Marlow is in effect his own author, and so there is no reliable and comprehensive perspective on him or his experience." (Watt, 1978): "I did not betray Mr. Kurtz -- it was ordered I should never betray him -- it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone -- and to this day I don't know why I was so jealous of sharing with anyone the peculiar blackness of that experience." (Conrad, 101)

It is safe to declare that the book present a great variety of hypostases in which the hero finds himself. These are a means through which the reader (and why not the author) is taken to understand the great complexity of the man at the centre of attention and of the overall situation. As the story unfolds, the character and the readers are forced to put the pieces of the puzzle together, always wondering if the puzzle is complete or is there something yet to come: "Yet to understand the effect of it on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river (…) it was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me -- and into my thoughts. It was somber enough too -- and pitiful-not extraordinary in any way-not very clear either. No. Not very clear…" (Conrad, 7). The symbolic connotations are more than obvious (another element of novelty in terms of literary style and form) and so is the attempt of the character at self knowledge. Admitting that his ideas are not clear and may never be, the character expresses the very crisis of the modern age.

The author keep the readers in a constant state of awaiting, powerfully underlining the difficulty that one encounters in telling the "complete" story- therefore making a statement about the utopian dimension of the omniscient author. "As several critics have noted, Marlow's role turns "Heart of Darkness" into a story about -among other things- the difficulty of telling "the full story." This problem is latent in the whole Impressionist movement and Marlow is obsessively aware of it." (Watt, 1978 )

The relation between impression and reality is another interesting sign of modernity in Conrad's work. The main character who is constantly analyzing himself seems to be trapped in a world of mere impressions, that is, analyses of the primary perceptions. With him, the reader is trapped within the realms of intellectual appreciations, away from factual reality. In this manner the narrator succeeds to prove that the border between the inner self and reality can be easily erased. Through the stream of consciousness ad first person narrative technique, Conrad demonstrates that reality becomes synonymous with the inner world, hence demonstrating Freud's theory regarding the overwhelming impact of the unconscious self upon the conscious one.

In conclusion, Joseph Conrad's book "Heat of darkness" is a fine example of impressionist novel, which brilliantly illustrates three major modernist features, such as the belief in the split self (with its corollary, the power of the unconscious), the fall of the traditional values and the need for new stylistic devices such as the first person narrative or the stream of consciousness technique.


Conrad, J. Heart of Darkness. Norton Critical Edition. Norton and Company Press. 2006

Levenson, M. "The value of facts in the Heart of Darkness." Nineteenth century fiction, vol 40. no. 3. Dec, 1985. pp. 261-280. University of California Press.

Watt, I. "Marlow, Henry James, and "Heart of Darkness." Nineteenth century fiction, vol. 33, no.2, sep. 1978,…[continue]

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