Joseph Conrad


Conrad called himself as "Homo duplex” because duplicity characterized both his life and the contradictions of his work. In fact, he had two nationality, he did two opposite works (the sailor and the writer), he used a lot the theme o double in his writing.
In his novels, work was a very strong theme. As a sailor, he had to go to Africa, where he saw the brutalities of colonial exploitation, that changed his life and the way of writing. First of all, emerged the first signs of a mental breakdown, but, thanks to one of his uncle, he could live his mariner career and he focused only on writing.

Writer’s task:
Novels don’t have to just amuse or teach, the writer has
- to record the complex pattern of life as he saw it
- to explore the meaning of human situation


Conrad’s novels set at sea or in exotic latitudes: he could isolate characters so that their inner side could stand out strongly
Ship: a sort of microcosm


The style of Conrad is defined as “oblique”, because he describes extreme situations that often deal with violence and mystery. Conrad’s heroes are solitary people, rooted in no past and committed to an uncertain future; they are viewed externally, through the mind of other characters or through their actions

Narrative techniques

He didn’t respect the chronological sequence of the events, because he thought that without respecting it, the events seem to be lived by different people at the same time.
- first person narrator
- invisible narrator
- journals and letters
- many novels and short stories are told by Marlow
- more than one narrator
 the several points of view leave the reader decide for himself and show him the relativism of moral values


Conrad’s native tongue was Polish but he wrote in English.
- Variety of adjectives and of complex structures
- Idiomatic dialogues: questions, exclamations marks, interjections

Individual consciousness

Conrad is concerned with the contrast between personal feelings and professional duties: in the crowd of organized society man finds confidence, but this one is deceptive because when man is alone he’s surrounded by a wild and hostile background  reality is the construction of individual consciousness though self-control and personal responsibility.

Heart of darkness - 1902

The story is a journey into the self: civilized man, freed from the restraints of society and work, finds out that he is savage and instinctual and that he can be even more savage and cruel than the natives he has the duty to civilize.


The main character is Marlow, a sailor that works for a British company that involve the ivory trade with Africa. When he went there, he met a lot of people, and all of them talked about Kurtz, a Company agent who wanted to take more ivory than other agents and he became an idol for the native. But indeed Kurtz is only an ill man that wants to suppress the savage customs. When finally Marlow met him and could take him on board, he unexpectedly died saying “The horror! The horror!”.

Historical context

The historical context of the novel is the colonial imperialism of King Leopold II of Belgium in Africa, in particular in Congo, which he regarded as a personal territorial possession. Leopold presented his interest in Congo as an antislavery campaign and in the name of philanthropy, and he declared that all was made to civilize African men, reducing the primitive barbarism and deleting customs of the natives; at the same time, the task was to educate them at the European customs. But indeed he only wanted to exploit their resources.

The indictment of imperialism

Conrad wrote this book in the period in which he doubted about imperialist policy, which in his work is seen as a system of politic and economic dominance. He expressed all his hostility for imperialism in the situation of Marlow and in the character of Kurtz.


The book is composed by a series of stories, one embedded within the other.
The first story is the one in which is presented the situation and Marlow, the narrator. After this, the rest of the stories are narrated with the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards and all is described in minimum details.


The novel is rich in imagery and symbolism, in parallels and in oppositions.
Opposition light/darkness
For the frame-narrator:
• light is associated with calm, peace and beauty
• darkness is associated with insidious menace to light and evil

For Marlow, instead, this two things change connotations:
• darkness become something of positive (black people)
• light is the emblem of imperialism (white people)

A quest for the self

Hearth of Darkness can be seen as the journey of Marlow in order to discover himself. Kurtz too is gone to the jungle to find himself, but he transgresses his limits and he is punished with madness and death; Marlow instead don’t transgress his limits, so he can return back to home. So Marlow is saved because the only thing that he want was to know himself, he demonstrates a sense of humility, that is fundamental.
Marlow: his devotion to his work prevents him from losing his sanity, and so it is to him as a moral principle;
Kurtz: he his surrendered by the appeal of darkness losing self-possession and indulging in acts of cruelty and lust.

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