Heart of Darkness - Heart of Darkness The framing narrative...

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Heart of Darkness The framing narrative of Heart of Darkness is presented by an unnamed, undefined speaker, who is one of a group of men, former sailors, now professionals, probably middle-aged, on the deck of a yacht at the mouth of the Thames River, London England. The time is probably contemporary with the writing and publication of the novel, so around the turn of the 20th century. One among the group, Charlie Marlow, a mysterious figure who is still a sailor, tells the story of something that happened to him several years before, when he drove a steamboat up a river in Africa to locate an agent for a Belgian company involved in the promising ivory trade. Most of the novel is Marlow's narration, although Conrad sometimes brings us back to the yacht and ends the novel there. Also, as in Wuthering Heights, the technique of a framing narrative brings up questions of memory: how a story is reliable when related by someone many years after the fact, then reported by someone else. The structure of Heart of Darkness is much like that of the Russian nesting dolls, where you open each doll, and there is another doll inside. Much of the meaning in Heart of Darkness is found not in the center of the book, the heart of Africa, but on the periphery of the book. There is an outside narrator telling us a story he has heard from Marlow. The story which Marlow tells seems to center around a man named Kurtz. However, most of what Marlow knows about Kurtz, he has learned from other people, many of whom have good reason for not being truthful to Marlow. Therefore Marlow has to piece together much of Kurtz's story. We slowly get to know more and more about Kurtz. Part of the meaning in Heart of Darkness is that we learn about "reality" through other people's accounts of it, many of which are, themselves, twice-told tales. Marlow is the source of our story, but he is also a character within the story we read. Marlow, thirty-two years old, has always "followed the sea", as the novel puts it. His voyage up the Congo river, however, is his first experience in freshwater travel. Conrad uses Marlow as a narrator in order to enter the story himself and tell it out of his own philosophical mind. When Marlow arrives at the station he is shocked and disgusted by the sight of wasted human life and ruined supplies . The manager's senseless cruelty and foolishness overwhelm him with anger and disgust. He longs to see Kurtz- a fabulously successful ivory agent and hated by the company manager.
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