Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness Research Paper

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Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness

The purpose of the present paper is to discuss the modern features which can be found in Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness." The first part of the paper will explain what the modernist features are, what led to their creation and how they impacted literary writing. The second part will identify these modern influences in the book under analysis and also analyze them.

There are three fundamental characteristics which come to mind when one discusses the modern period. The first one is represented by the severe break away from the traditional values and perspectives of the world. This is now conceived as lacking its human and humane part, under the circumstances in which man becomes aware of his limitations and looses hope in front of the new acknowledged complexity of the environment which surrounds him. The attempts of the modern artists to recreate a new aesthetics is nothing but a counter- reaction to the new-born disillusionment. The new aesthetics undergoes important transformations in terms of style, structure and style -- all of them revised in order to support a different vision of the literary work and through it, of the world.

The consequence was to be found in a strong preference for a method of representation which supported the non-realistic. From this point-of-view, it is safe to speak about a clear rejection of the mimetic art which no longer corresponded to the psychological needs of the modern man who, disappointed with the external world and reason turned towards his inner self in the search for meaning and relevant answers.

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The pragmatic changes which resulted from this tendency were the abstraction technique in the area of painting and the so-called impressionist novel in the literary area (where Ford Madox and Joseph Conrad are believed to be important contributors). Research regarding the evolution of the literary form in the late nineteenth century demonstrates a general thirst for novelty amongst the narrators. The new spiritual goal is searched through means of form and technique which undergo a process of strong innovation.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness Assignment

When speaking about the modern period, one can not ignore the fundamental contribution of the psychological studies led by Freud, which had a profound impact, both at philosophical and social level. For the first time, the individual is no longer conceived a perfect unity in which all the parts are perfectly united, but as divided self. these divisions are represented by the unconscious and the conscious.

While the latter one is available for knowledge, understanding and awareness, the former is not subject to direct access. The challenge arises under the circumstances in which it is this very unconscious part which determines the actions and feelings enacted by the easily accessible conscious dimension.

Therefore the direct observation of reality was no longer regarded as sufficient in order to have access to the deep inner truth. In terms of literary form this was translated into the abandonment of the third person narratives and the adoption of the first person narrative and the stream-of- consciousness technique. On the one hand this meant the abandonment of the omniscient authors which gave the reader as much information as they wished and were in complete control of the development of the literary work. The first person narrative implied the loss of this authority, as well as of their reliability.

On the other hand, although the author was flawed and had a partial control upon the development of the story which could change from one moment to the other, this allowed for a higher degree of involvement in the story on behalf of the reader. In addition this type of literary device allowed for a more profound insight regarding the inner realities. This was important under the circumstances in which the objective dimension of perception was held to be a mere utopia. If the objects cease to exist through themselves and if the individuals' subjectivity is what creates the outer world, then it becomes fundamental to have access to this very subjectivity.

The impressionist novel, just like the impressionist painting is concentrated on the contemplation of the present evolution of a situation. In the impressionist novel, the author concentrates on the "impressions" of the characters, on his feelings and emotions, his thought and opinions, in short, upon the development of his inner life. Since the author is no longer omniscient, his task is not to interpret these feelings and feed the reader with his own interpretation.

His role is just descriptive and the reader has the task to interpret the information he is being given access to. The main dimension is the subjective one, as both the reader and the characters become aware of the story's development as they go along with it. Conrad's novel focuses "not on what will happen, but rather with what the happening will mean to the principal character or characters (…). Conrad lets his protagonist muddle out the meaning of his own experiences as best as he can." ( & #8230;.., 7): "Never see him! I saw him clearly then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her too, a tragic and familiar shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness." (Conrad, 120)

The novel under discussion can be considered as one of the finest examples of impressionist novels. Conrad succeeds in creating a type of intimacy for both the readers and the characters through the symbolic use of temporal and spatial coordinates which serve as a setting. "..a setting whose time and place -- the coming of the night on the Thames estuary- are themselves to become important elements in the narrative. The occasion is unique in another respect. The teller and his audience have been physically immobilized by the tide, and are isolated from all else; both circumstances favour intimacy of disclosure." (Watt, 1978)

This isolation on the one hand favours the creation of a deeper degree of intimacy between the characters, just like between the readers and the main character. The passages towards self-awareness as well as towards the understanding of the character are parallel. The manner in which the story evolves and the manner in which the character relates to himself and to his evolution demonstrate how far we are in this novel from the absolute omniscience giving insight upon a fixed reality. The continuous transformations which are witnessed contemporarily with the character that represents the main focus of the book underlines the fact that we are dealing with an open fiction. "Marlow goes much further than James both in the abandonment of authorial omniscience and in the related transition from a closed to an open fictional form" (Watt, 1978).

It is not that the main character focuses upon himself only and that the theme of the novel is the development of Marlow's inner life. On the contrary, the book deals with various themes, including the European imperialism in Africa, an argument with various and profound implications regarding the manner through which the Europeans conquered the African territory and the corrupt values upon which this conquest is based. While there are numerous social and political considerations which Conrad had in mind when writing this novel, it is important to underline that all these thoughts and feelings are perceived through the eyes of Marlow- who reaches them in a gradual manner: "I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know (…) There it was black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids- a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, with dry shrunken lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of eternal slumber. " (Conrad, 57)

One of the main themes which troubled the modern thoughts, just like it was suggested in the first part of the paper, is represented by the lack of certainties. The complexity of the environment has become so deep, that the happy outcome resulting into balance can no longer be a certainty. Conrad transmits the exact same idea through a narrative technique which does not provide the reader with a single warranty regarding the outcome of the plot. For what the reader might suspect, the book could have an open ending, leaving him with absolutely no certainty regarding the denouement.

The declared purpose of the author was to keep the reader in tension in a manner that would get him completely involved in the story, identifying himself with the character, thinking the thoughts of the character and reaching the conclusions of the character on his own. In this manner narrator-character- reader become the same instance as opposed to the former techniques which installed a clear opposition between the narrator and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness.  (2010, May 18).  Retrieved August 3, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness."  18 May 2010.  Web.  3 August 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Modernist Features in Heart of Darkness."  May 18, 2010.  Accessed August 3, 2021.