Joseph Conrad: point of view in the early Marlow fiction
Allen, Thomas Coy
Dowden, W. S.
Master of Arts
The thesis is a study of point of view in the early fiction of Joseph Conrad. The movement toward the use of an identified narrator is traced through the fiction preceding the appearance of Marlow in "Youth." Conrad's first short story, "The Black Mate, " has a narrator as witness. Abandoning the narrator, Conrad used the point of view of neutral omniscience in the first three novels, Almayer's Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, and Parts I-III of The Rescue. A narrative voice with distinguishing characteristics is identified in the retrospective passages, especially when time is being ordered. Furthermore, in the novels the author transgressed the limits of neutral omniscience and spoke, upon occasion, in the first person plural. After the restive use of neutral omniscience, Conrad experimented with point of view in the short stories which were published in Tales of Unrest. The short stories reveal a variety of points of view, yet the movement is always toward that of a narrator. "The Lagoon" has a listener who hears Arsat's framed story. "The Return" and "An Outpost of Progress" are told from neutral omniscience in order that the minds of the characters may be fully explored without the restrictions which are imposed upon a narrator. "The Idiots" has a narrator who functions to introduce the story, but who disappears after the first three pages. To this second stage of a search for a point of view most congenial to him, belongs The Nigger of the "Narcissus" which represents Conrad's movement toward the use of point of view as a means of thematic definition as well as dramatic delimitation. The appearance of "I" and "we" supports the theme of solidarity of men who wring meaning out of life through toil together. In "Karain: a Memory," which is nearest in technique to Conrad's first fiction, "The Black Mate, " Conrad used a narrator as witness, participant, and listener. Throughout the second stage the role of the narrator became increasingly important. The identified narrator Marlow appeared for the first time in "Youth" and subsequently in "Heart of Darkness" and Lord Jim. In each of the three early Marlow fictions, the point of view, objectifying the material, serves as a means of thematic definition as well as dramatic delimitation. The consummate artistry of Conrad’s use of technique is delineated in the early Marlow fiction: in "Youth" the point of view provides the dual perspective of age looking upon youth; in "Heart of Darkness" the enveloping point of view of Marlow provides the insight into the "heart of darkness" within Kurtz and all men; and, in Lord Jim, the narrator Charlie Marlow gains entry into the mysterious complexities of human character. Although Conrad later used other narrators, Marlow represents the solution to the problem of achieving complete immersion into the fiction. The point of view becomes not only a means of objectifying primary sensation, but of defining and exploring values within the material presented in the fiction.