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Style in “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad Essay

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2021


In this paper, I am commenting about the style used by Joseph Conrad, in the given passage from his famous book, “The Heart of Darkness”. Set in deepest and darkest Africa, the pace and narration is quite compelling and bears a richly descriptive and evocative style – a style that is needed to consider not an image of Africa, but rather the protagonist, “Marlow ‘s experience of Africa and Marlow’s attempts to understand and represent that experience.” (Conrad xxxi). I strongly feel that he has indeed been able to render an impacting style in his description of events that occurred in this passage extracted from the book which reaches out to the heart and psyche of Conrad himself.

Main Body

According to me, the style is narrative, unequivocal, powerful and vivid, sometimes even starkly vibrant and evocative in content and depth, matched only by the characters, however minor, that Conrad breathes life and soul into. According to me, he has used the direct narrative, no-frills style.

I feel that the protagonist’s intrepid voyage into the Congo and his experiences dealing with the locals and trying to take Kurtz back home is visualized and written in an inimitable descriptive style by Conrad.

What I have felt after reading the novella is that the choice of diction deliberately used by Conrad in this passage was to convey, more than a physical journey, a moral sojourn of the writer through characterization of Marlow to the deepest recesses of actor’s mind and his reactions to his impending journey. Marlow wished to seek out his own identity in this voyage and Conrad’s style supports it.

The settings of this passage, description of staid and archaic surroundings reinforces the visual image presented to the reader about the lurking greyness in the office atmosphere, complete with shades of bureaucratic officialdom, which however, turns optimistic and bright towards the end of the passage.

In this passage from the novella, ‘The Heart of Darkness’, racism is being presented with such vividness that, for once, I am compelled to overcome the predominant racial aspects, before settling down to read and understand the storyline. His picturization of the immense impact of racist overtures in the dealings of various characters, especially Kurtz, the ivory dealer is well conceived and portrayed and has gained the impact it most needed.

The portion for which this essay needs to concern itself is found in Para 3, Pgs.24-25 of the first chapter of this novel. It is mainly concerned with describing Marlow’s visit to the office of his future employers, in order to sign the documents for taking the African cruise to bring back the ivory trader, Kurtz, who was very sick and needed to be relocated back to his home country, Leopoldville.

His use of similes are very apt and considerate, for instance in Para 3, lines 4-5, he uses the simile “as arid as a desert” to describe the surroundings in the building. Another striking analogy employed by Conrad and impressive to me was his reference, “And the river was there- fascinating-deadly-like a snake.” (Heart of Darkness Line 15). In the passage under review, there have been no instances of anadiplosis, anaphora, epanalepsis or epistrophe. His rendering style, according to me, is short, direct, succinct and persuasively simple.

This style is right regarding the genre of writing that Conrad indulges in. This is because while writing about subjects like Africa, aspects like darkness, somber, eerie and mysterious need to be used, time and again, in order to produce the right effect and create the right mood for progress of storyline. Besides, it is also needed that artistic impressions need to be provided that could enhance the reading effect and create the right kind of mood that the reader would like to experience while reading this novel. In the genre of books that Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” falls into, it is imperative that the overall effect is created through good choice of words. The stylized themes need to present and unravel the plot and sub-plots within the story, and these need to be dealt in a delicate and sensitive manner – which Conrad has been able to do to a very large measure.

Regarding the passage under review, Conrad’s use of adjectives is also apt and serves to heighten the needed mood and atmosphere. For instance, he writes about “imposing carriage archways” and “ponderously ajar” doors. (Conrad 24). The style is excellent and very much the kind that would be needed to explain and detail aspects. However, I feel that Conrad’s use of symbolism, especially with regard to the narrator Marlow’s trepidation and fears about his new appointment and meeting his future employers, who would arrange for his sea faring career into Africa has not been sufficiently highlighted. These aspects need to have been introduced and explored by Conrad to gain a greater degree of credibility and creativity for this work. However, I hasten to add that this, in no way, reduces the existing flavor and receptivity of what has already been penned by Conrad in these paragraphs.

Coming to examples of syndetons, there are at least two examples of these in this passage. The first is “…. with Venetian blinds, a dead silence, grass sprouting between the stones… (Heart of Darkness Line 2) and again in Line 12 “a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange….” The first was given to produce the much needed effect of tranquility and loneliness in the street leading to the office premises, and the second, to give the effect of the atmosphere pervading inside the room, the riot of color and imagination that the author imagined in this settings.

Next, coming to asyndeton, that is the lack of conjunctions, used for creating enhanced dramatic effect, there are two examples in this passage. The first, Line 10, “There was a vast amount of red – good to see at any time…” and secondly, in Line 15 – “And the river was there- fascinating- deadly-like a snake.”

The effects that Conrad thought were in order to heighten the imagery of color and vividness in the first instance, and to drive home the point that the river Congo through which they had to undertake their journey was like a snake-twisted, treacherous and venomous, capable of endangering lives that ventured near it. The adventurous and daredevil spirit shown by the explorer, Marlow is indeed commendable and laudable, and this has been highlighted by these lines. An African voyage – or more appropriately a travel to the Dark Continent, was considered next to death in those times – if the animals, or climate did not kill enterprising explorers, disease and the deceit of the rivers certainly did.

The asyndeton effect surely provides needed effect for heightening and sustaining visual imaginative effects, and retaining the interests of the reader in what would occur next in the narrative. Again the use of comparative antonyms has also been used to good effect – for instance “Two women, one fat and the other slim” in line 5 speaks about the characterization which Conrad is so adept at drawing forth and another description that goes like this -“white-haired secretarial head”

The use of punctuation marks has been apt and well-intentioned. There have been instances of em-dash, in line 7, for instance, “me – still knitting with downcast eyes – “and again in line 15 – “And the river was there- fascinating- deadly-like a snake.”

In this passage, the author wishes to symbolize the calm before the storm. The peaceful, almost somnolent atmosphere which he sought to create in this passage would be in deep contrast with what would occur during the later stages of the story, as the protagonist has to deal with one crisis after another on his mission into deepest Africa, to rescue and take back the company agent, Kurtz.

The woman knitting “black wool” forecasts aspects of darkness and despondency that overtook explorers in their journey to Africa. The dreariness and unpolished nature of the building and its appurtenances signify the emptiness in the pursuit of traders to amass wealth by exploiting poor natives in ivory trade. Further, it is also believed that inactivity, loneliness and indolence would be companions during his expedition to Africa. The symbolism of dark and brilliance is a major aspect of this travelogue of Conrad. Perhaps, it is his own adventure as a seaman, seen from the perspective of Marlow, a seafarer.

The reason why Conrad chose gloom at the beginning and hope and expectation at the end is that he wanted his readers to experience the fact that human struggles and efforts do pay off at the end and that eventually hard work is rewarding even though it may be laborious and tedious.


The aspect of style in the passage has been discussed in the preceding pages. The reason why Conrad chooses to present a melancholic picture, like that of a somnambulist moving about at night, but which brightens as the passage moves along, is that he wishes to compare it with existence on earth. Human life has to undergo a lot of gloom and despair at younger stages, a struggle not only with the world, but also with oneself, one’s own perceptions, trials, tribulations merged with adverse circumstances. What Conrad seeks to express is that humans need to rise above their own destinies and seek peace with themselves and the world.

This has also be said to be the moral of this story, which searches for mechanism of consciousness and search for his own identity.

Conrad’s storytelling ability, especially his style is as gripping as it is nuanced.

Another aspect that stands out in this novella is the tautness and fascinating nature of its narration, aided with excellent choice of words and exemplary rendition. In this passage from Heart of Darkness, Conrad has been at his best literary style and has used diction and style with great skill and dexterity. His choice of words blend well with the surroundings, his command and effortless use of hyphens enhanced dramatic effect of words. Conrad is widely regarded as one of the pre-eminent writers in the English Language, and that too, with English being his third language, after Polish and Russian. Although English was perhaps a foreign language for him, yet he excelled in writing it and succeeded in gaining laurels for his style of writings.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness, with, The Congo Diary: Introduction. Ed. Robert Hompson. Penguin Classics, 1995.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Style in “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad'. 26 November.

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