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Narrative Techniques in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness - An Analytical Study

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NARRATIVE TECHNIQUES IN JOSEPH CONRAD’S HEART OF
DARKNESS - AN ANALYTICAL STUDY
V. Rajesh, M.Phil., B.Ed., (Ph.D),
Principal & HOD (English),
Velankanni Matric. Hr. Sec. School,
Chennai
J. Jaya Parveen, M.Phil., (Ph.D),
Asst. Professor,
CTTE College for Women,
Chennai
Abstract
Narratology is the systematic study of narratives and narrative structures.
Vladimir Propp initiated this by his Morphology of the Folktale in 1928.
Gerard Genette introduces different analytical categories like narrative
mood, narrative instance, narrative level, and narrative time. Joseph
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness explores the horrible effects of imperialism
and racism in Africa. It is written as a frame narrative. This paper analyses
the various narrative techniques used by Conrad in developing the story
into a narrative.
Narratology is the systematic study of narratives and narrative structures. Vladimir Propp
initiated this by his Morphology of the Folktale in 1928. Some of the significant theorists in
narratology are Gérard Genette, Gerald Prince, Roland Barthes, Claude Bremond, Gerald Prince,
Seymour Chatman, and Mieke Bal.
Gerard Genette introduces different analytical categories like narrative mood, narrative
instance, narrative level, and narrative time. Narrative mood comprises of narrative distance and
functions of the narrator. Narrative instance contains narrative voice, narrative time, and
narrative perspective. Narrative level contains embedded narratives and metalepsis. Narrative
time comprises of narrative order, narrative speed, and frequency of events. (Genette, 1980)
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Genette’s Narrative Typology
(Lévesque & Guillemette, 2006)
Joseph Conrad is a Polish-British writer who brought non-native touch to British English
fiction. His novels focus more upon Polish nationalism, nautical experiences, and effects of
imperialism on non-European nations. Some of his important works are An Outcast of the
Islands, The Nigger of the 'Narcissus', Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, Under Western
Eyes, The Shadow Line, and The Arrow of Gold.
Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad in 1899. It explores the horrible
effects of imperialism and racism in Africa. It is written as a frame narrative.
In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad has used the two principles of combination -
temporal succession and causality - to combine the events into sequences and to construct
them into a story. He has used chronological order in narrating the experience of Marlow.
However, he has not used a strict succession of events. Shift in present and past time is evident
in the text. Flashbacks and Flash-forwards are used along with recurring symbols and motifs.
Conrad has used multilinear narrative in the text.
Posterior narration is identified as the events of the story are recalled and narrated by
the narrator a few years after these happened.
The difference between a narrator and focaliser is evident in the novel. A sailor
describes what/how Marlow narrates to his fellow sailors, along with his (Marlow’s)
retrospective comments. The sailor also gives his comments over Marlow and his narration:
“Mind,” he began again… he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and
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without a lotus-flower.” “Try to be civil, Marlow,” growled a voice, and I knew there was at
least one listener awake besides myself.” (Heart of Darkness, 40)
The narrator uses acceleration’ and ‘deceleration’ with respect to the duration of the
narration. ‘Explicit ellipsis’ is evident as the narrator omits many events e.g., the events which
occur in the ship (except Kurtz’s last days and death) during the return journey to England. He
speaks more about his own thought-process rather than concentrating on the activities or talks of
the fellow sailors - except the manager - during and after Kurtz’s death.
The explicit ellipsis is of indefinite type because it is not possible to measure the elided
stretch of time. ‘Deceleration’ is observed when the narrator describes the attack that leads to
helmsman’s death, events that take place before and after reaching Kurtz’s station, and the last
days and death of Kurtz.
Conrad has employed causality by using Analepsis (Flashback) and Prolepsis
(Flashforward) wherever necessary.
Marlow’s speech to the sailors start like this: “And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has
been one of the dark places of the earth.” (Heart of Darkness, 3) The speech continues after an
interesting description about Marlow’s character: “I was thinking of very old times, when the
Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago…” (4)
External Analepsis is evident here as the narrated event’s time is prior to the starting
point of the first narrative. It can be considered as Heterodiegetic Analepsis also because it
pertains to a storyline different from that in the first narrative.
Homodiegetic Analepsis is evident where the narrator/character Marlow narrates his
own childhood interest to the sailors using flashback technique: “Now when I was a little chap I
had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and
lose myself in all the glories of exploration…” (6)
Marlow describes the pathetic story of the dead captain Fresleven in whose place he is
appointed by the company: “…I heard the original quarrel arose from a misunderstanding about
some hens. Yes, two black hens. Flesleven that was the fellow’s name, a Dane…” (8) These
two events are illustrations of External Analepsis as the narrated events’ time is prior to the
starting point of the first narrative.
The narrator remembers the words of the old doctor who does medical check-up for him
before taking up the voyage to Congo. “I remembered the old doctor ‘It would be interesting
for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot.” (22) In the same manner, he
is reminded of the two women, one fat and the other slim, sitting on straw-bottomed chairs and
knitting black wool before the Company’s office entrance. “Often far away there I thought of
these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall...” (10) These
events may be examples of Completing Analepsis, filling the earlier recognized gaps (mental
changes in sailors and black wool symbolizing darkness/horror) in the minds of the narrator.
These may be considered as Internal Analepsis because their time falls within the starting point
of the first narrative.
Marlow says, “I miss my late helmsman awfully Well, don’t you see, he had done
something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back a help an instrument.” (60) This
is an example for Internal Analepsis (because the event’s time falls within the starting point of
the first narrative) and Homodiegetic Analepsis (because it pertains to a character in the first
narrative where it is inserted).
Flash-forwarding is used by Marlow to describe Kurtz. The helmsman dies falling at the
feet of Marlow. Marlow is terribly upset and throws away his blood-stained shoe. At that
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moment, he thinks of Kurtz (whom he will meet later in the story) and narrates a part of his
strange experience with him. “You should have heard him say, ‘My ivory’. Oh, yes, I heard him.
‘My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my--” (58)
This may be considered as Internal Prolepsis (because the event’s time falls within the
end point of the first narrative), as Homodigetic Prolepsis (because the event pertains to the
character Kurtz in the first narrative), as Completing Prolepsis (because the event fills a later
gap to be created by the strange character Kurtz ahead of time), and as Repeating Prolepsis
(because it is an advance narration of the last episode of Kurtz’s life which will be repeated later
in the natural order of story events).
Only towards the end of the narrative (90-94), Marlow meets Kurtz’s lover. But he talks
about her previously: “Voices, voices – even the girl herself now… Girl! What? Did I mention
a girl? Oh, she is out of it - completely…” (57) This can also be considered as ‘Internal
Prolepsis (because the event’s time falls within the ending point of the first narrative) and as
Homodiegetic Prolepsis (because it pertains to a character in the first narrative where it is
inserted).
Repetitive Frequency is evident as the narrator talks about Kurtz’s last days and death
(which occurred only once in the story) several times in the narrative.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is popular for its direct attack on British imperialism
and racism. It tries to distinguish between civilized and uncivilized / barbarian / savage. It has
grabbed the attention of narratologists as Conrad has used various narrative techniques in
developing the story into a narrative.
WORKS CITED
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Global Classics, 1899. Print.
Felluga, Dino. "General Introduction to Narratology." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory.
2002. Web. 5 July 2016.
Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Trans. Jane Lewin, Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1980. Print.
Guillemette, Lucie & Lévesque, Cynthia. “Narratology” Signo 2006. Web. 30 June 2016.
Prince, Gerald. “Narrative Analysis and Narratology” Narrative Analysis and Interpretation Vol.
13, No. 2, 1982. Web. 20 July 2016.
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