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Conference Proceeding

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Throughout Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad juxtaposes seemingly contradictory terms: light and dark, Europe and Africa, centrality and exteriority, morality and the immorality. In contrasting these various finite images, the author appears to mirror the “direct simplicity” in his word choice which he claims also punctuates the tales of seamen. However, by describing colonial endeavors using words laden with double and sometimes conflicting meanings, infusing the novel with repetition, and presenting characters alongside their doppelgangers, Conrad prompts readers to reconsider concrete standards of good and evil in regards to imperialism. Consequently, the text, refusing to elucidate Marlow‟s journey to the Congo, actually acts much like the haze of the moon, both illuminating and blurring the meaning of the tale. Arguably, the narrative structure also performs a similar function. Conrad deconstructs boundaries between the past and present and removes the distinction between missions of conquest and colonialism. Furthermore, the susceptibility of both the narrator and Marlow to human fallacy and the telling of lies make the structure of Heart of Darkness misleading. Thus, the author refuses to provide a consistent and reliable lens through which readers can interpret the plot. As the narrator states, following his description of the supposed simplicity within the tale, Marlow is not a typical representative of his profession. Here, by qualifying this simplicity with an exception, the narrator suggests the very essence of imperialism: complexity. By utilizing a seemingly simplistic narrative structure and turning it on itself, Conrad challenges the reader to look beyond obvious standards of black and white.


Presented at Graduate English Association New Voices Conference 2007, pp. 1-10.