The Limits of Language in Heart of Darkness Essay

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The Limits of Language in Heart of Darkness From the very beginning of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad traps us in a complex play of language, where eloquence is little more than a tool to obscure horrific moral shortcomings. Hazy, absurd descriptions, frame narratives, and a surreal sense of Saussurean structural linguistics create distance from an ever-elusive center, to show that language is incapable of adequately or directly revealing truth. Understanding instead occurs in the margins and along the edges of the narrative; the meaning of a story “is not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze” (105). The title of the novel is itself misleading, because Conrad…show more content…
No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light” (107). Because Conrad finds it impossible to truly reach the interior of an idea or person, notions of “light” and “progress” quickly become absurd; he inverts the traditional hierarchy of meaning. Where in King Leopold's Ghost, Stanley and Leopold speak of progress as though it is a precise point on a map, in Heart of Darkness, the journey is much hazier and fraught with gaping holes — in watering pails and broken-down steamers alike. This is a world where captains “engaged in the noble cause” die in bloody disagreements over a pair of hens, and the Company compensates cannibals for their boating services with nine-inch pieces of brass wire (109). The Company's chief accountant keeps up the carefully coiffed appearances of a “hairdresser's dummy” even in the midst of the jungle and “the great demoralisation of the land” (119). Marlow's convoluted journey to find Kurtz coils around the center in an absurd, almost Kafka-esque fashion as each station gives way to yet another, always claiming to be the most “central” or “inner,” much like Russian nesting dolls. Marlow confronts a series of surfaces, exteriors like the edges of the forest or “a whirl of black limbs,” but never the interior kernel of truth (139). Even when Marlow locates Kurtz at last, at the both the dramatic and physical center of the story, his true essence still escapes him; he is only a “shadow” “unsteady, long, pale, indistinct,
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