Heart of Darkness – a preview

I am presently stretched out inside my cottage with the beginning of a rather interminable stomach ache; my back and the couch seem welded together without a joint.  If that sentence saw your thoughts cruising towards Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and arriving at rest without a flutter of sails, then I’ve renewed hope in my sense of humor.

To speak seriously, however – I’ve begun to read the aforementioned text; I recalled that we will be studying it this year in English.  As a result, I was wondering how many individuals would like me to effect a page-by-page, relatively in-depth analysis of the novella.  The below is a preview of how I would take up the remainder of the text, if anyone would will me to.

Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924. Heart of Darkness
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

| Table of Contents for this work |

|All on-line databases | Etext Center Homepage |

The NELLIE, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.  (1) The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide. (2)

(1)  The first sentence contains a drastic contrast between calm and active – the yawl powerfully swings to her anchor, and then is immediately at total rest.  There is no intermediate fluttering of sails either, as is explicitly noted.

(2)  We are told that “the flood had made” and that “the wind was nearly calm”; these two events are separated by a comma, which compels us to await a third significant event and read with increased speed.  We are then faced with two more clauses that not only slow down our reading speed but also echo the idea of waiting for something as slow as the tide.  This is a wonderful example of how sentence structure can parallel content.

The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint (3),(4), and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still (5)  in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked (6), with gleams of varnished spirits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom (7), brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest (8), town on earth.

(3)  Metaphor; a very powerful one.  The concept of the sea and the sky, two immense dimensions, being welded together is an extremely strong one.  It points to something that was built up by the sharp contrast between the motion and stillness of the boat – a world of extremes, where immensities like the sea and the sky merge, and where there are no transitional states.

(4)  The fact that two things could be welded together without the use of a joint denotes that either a) the connection between them must be very strong, or b) something is slightly askew here.

(5)  Again, things are not precisely as they seem here.

(6)  The motion of the barges (drifting = soft, whimsical, hardly noticeable) is sharply contrasted by the shape of their sails (sharply peaked = hard angles, bold, direct).

(7)  The environment and climate is given the ability to feel and think (note “brooding”) – personification, slightly.  This is very important, as it makes the story more complex by assigning the capacity of consciousness (and, therefore, responsibility) to something besides humanity, and can therefore be utilized later to, perhaps, alleviate blame that might otherwise be placed on human characters.  It also furthers the notion that this area of the Earth is almost other-worldly: one doesn’t need joints to weld, the sky and the sea merge, there are no transitional states here, and now, the air is brooding.

(8)  The author finds it necessary to note that the biggest things are not the greatest, always.  Will this become a recurring motif?

Literary Devices:
1. Metaphor: “…the sea and the sky were welded together…”
2. Sensory imagery, particularly appealing to sight and our kinaesthetic sense: “barges drifting“, “canvas sharply peaked“, “luminous space”, the mentions of the color red, a gleam, surfaces that seem varnished.
3. Personification: the “mournful gloom”.
4. Varied length of clauses within sentences.

yawl: Essentially a sailing craft.
to make: To rise. A tide “makes” if it is rising, and “ebbs” if it is falling.
sea-reach: The place where the sea meets the Thames – where the Thames reaches the sea, in other words. In this case, this is the Thames Estuary.
The Thames: A major river flowing through southern England that happens to meet the North Sea at the Thames Estuary, where these men are currently situated.
interminable: Endless.
offing: A distant part of the sea that, whilst one cannot anchor there at present, is still visible.
luminous: Brightly-lit.
barge: A type of boat often used to transport goods.
varnished: Either coated with a glossy, protective film, or seeming this way.
to brood: To think unhappily, to appear menacing.

We are faced with a setting that brims with power, impressive imagery, and contradictions. Something is slightly out of the ordinary here – this seems to be a unique location on Earth, where entities as immense as the sky and sea merge readily, and where even the air has the capacity to think dark thoughts.

I hope someone might find this helpful.  If you’d like me to continue, then please inform me in some way!

This entry was posted in English Language, Literature, & My Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Heart of Darkness – a preview

  1. Hayden says:

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t
    show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway,
    just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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