Heart of Darkness

An Inquiry into some Points of Authorship: The Meaning of Meaning in Heart of Darkness

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the narrator is obsessed with a search for the meaning of everything he sees. Marlow, thrust into a new continent, is overwhelmed by its foreignness and his inability to understand his surroundings. The meaning that he seeks he expects to find in explanations and tries to relate in his words, but he and other characters in the story are often either deceived by words or unable to understand them. Marlow's story shows how words and meaning are divorced and even opposites.

Heart of Darkness is narrated primarily in the first person, by the character Charlie Marlow, and is filtered through the viewpoint of an anonymous third-person hearer. Marlow only gradually comes to understand his experiences, and even as he is telling his story sometimes struggles to explain the significance of what has occurred. According to the narrator, a seaman on shore "generally...finds the secret [of the continent] not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity...Marlow was not typical...to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside" (7). The meaning of his story, then, will be as difficult to grasp as a "misty halo" (7). His tale has no...

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