Marlow’s role in ‘Youth’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’

  • Daniel R. Schwarz


Let us consider why Conrad created Marlow. As Conrad’s 1894–1900 letters reveal, for him fiction writing is a self-conscious process in which he tests and explores his intellectual and moral identity. Except for brief moments of despair, Conrad believed in the essential value of self-knowledge and self-exploration. He created Marlow to explore himself. Conrad was also concerned with the dilemma of transforming the ‘freedom’ of living in a purposeless world from a condition into a value. And Marlow enabled him to examine this dilemma in “Youth” (1898), ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1899), and Lord Jim (1900).


Moral Identity Emphasis Mine Silly Dream Black Bank Ordinary Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For important discussions of Marlow’s general function, see John Palmer, Joseph Conrad’s Fiction: A Study in Literary Growth (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), Chap. i;Google Scholar
  2. John Oliver Perry, ‘Action, Vision, or Voice: The Moral Dilemmas in Conrad’s Tale-telling’, Modern Fiction Studies, vol. x (Spring 1964), pp. 3–14.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Quoted in Jocelyn Baines, Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography (New York: McGraw Hill, 1960), p. 219.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form ( New York: Scribner’s, 1953 ), p. 292.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Edward Said, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), has written: ‘The past, requiring the illumination of slow reflection on former thoughtless impulses, is exposed to the present; the present demanding that “desired unrest” without which it must remain mute and paralyzed is exposed to the past’ (p. 93).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    For penetrating remarks on Marlow’s role in ‘Youth’, see W. Y. Tindall ‘Apology for Marlow’, in R. C. Rathburn and M. Steinmann, jun. (eds.), From Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1959)Google Scholar
  7. reprinted in Bruce Harkness (ed.), Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and the Critics (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1960 ), pp. 123–335.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Morton Dauwen Zabel, Introduction to The Portable Conrad (New York: Viking, 1947), p. 57, speaks of ‘cloying lyrical verbalism’, but such a style is deliberately assigned to old Marlow as part of Conrad’s dramatisation of his speaker.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    John A: Lester, jun., Journey Through Despair 1880–1914: Transformations in British Literary Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), p. 173.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    My discussion of ‘Heart of Darkness’ has been especially influenced by Guerard, Conrad the Novelist (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958) pp. 33–48;Google Scholar
  11. J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth Century Writers ( Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965 ), pp. 13–29;Google Scholar
  12. James Guetti, The Limits of Metaphor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), pp. 46–68.Google Scholar
  13. The selections in the following anthologies have also played an important role in my thinking: Robert Kimbrough, ‘Heart of Darkness’: Text, Sources, Criticism, rev. ed. (New York: Norton, 1975);Google Scholar
  14. Bruch Harkness (ed.), Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’and the Critics (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1960 ).Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Ernest Cassirer, The Logic of the Humanities, trans. Clarence Smith Howe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), provides a helpful gloss: ‘The possibility and necessity of … a “breaking free” of the limitations of individuality emerges nowhere so clearly and indubitably as in the phenomenon of speech. The spoken word never originates in the mere sound or utterance. For a word is an intended meaning. It is construed within the organic whole of a “communication”, and communication “exists” only when the word passes from one person to another…’ (p. 58).Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Walter Wright, ‘Ingress to the Heart of Darkness’, from his Romance and Tragedy in Joseph Conrad (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1948), reprinted in Harkness, p. 154.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel R. Schwarz 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel R. Schwarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations