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Narrator of Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness presents a story-within-a-story, creating a central narrator, Marlow, who tells an audience of four a tale about Kurtz, an agent for a Colonial enterprise in the Belgian Congo. Marlow recounts the tale at the outset of a voyage; he has a seaman's "propensity to spin yarns," but the story is told not to amuse his shipmates--it is told to make them think about significant political, spiritual, and moral issues (Conrad 9). The unidentified first narrator wants to hear about Marlow's own adventure, but Marlow recounts instead the fate of Kurtz, and how Marlow's own journey into the Congo became a quest to understand the workings of Kurtz' mind (Conrad 11).

Marlow, deeply attracted to the notion of exploring Africa, signs up to pilot a steam boat up the Kissai River, taking the place of a murdered company agent. Marlow's narrative is a story stripped of names and details, focussing on the physical journey as a metaphor for spiritual confrontation of man's ultimate depravity, symbolized by Kurtz' "monstrous passions" (Conrad 57). Early on Marlow hears about Kurtz' remarkable character, eloquence, and productivity. Yet when Marlow's boat finally reaches Kurtz' outpost, Marlow sees that Kurtz has himself become the heart of darkness: he has bowed down to depravity, to power, and to lust, ruling over the native population and accepting their sacrifices to him as if he were a god himself. When Kurtz dies, however, he realizes what he has become; his last words are "The horror--the horror" (Conrad 72)! Marlow, fascinated, is left to carry Kurtz' effects to Kurtz' European fiancee, who had had knowledge neither of Kurtz' evil ambitions nor of his black mistress.

Heart of Darkness is a story told by a man to men about a man's exalted failure to live as a man should live. In the text there are only six women, four of whom the reader actually sees, and one of whom the reader actually hears: the Kni...

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Narrator of Heart of Darkness. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:54, May 27, 2020, from