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The *Actual* Narrator
Something that occurred to me while writing forums this week is about how we interpret Marlow as a character versus how many of his flaws might actually be attributed to the actual narrator who is telling us this story - that is, the person sitting on the dock and documenting this story as Marlow tells it to the small group of people who had gathered before him. This is something that makes the novel's commentary on race and whether Marlow is a trustworthy character even more blurred. Perhaps Marlow is giving more information surrounding the Africans who are being colonized, or around events such as the presence of Kurtz's mistress in more detail, but this information is being left out by the person who is transcribing the narrative on the dock. With that said, the object of our examination of racism in this novel should not be Marlow in the end, but the greater social/political climate in which this book takes place where it could be very likely that those who Marlow is telling the story to are only retaining the information about people who, at least at one point, were just like them. We have talked a bit about how much we should be able to trust Marlow's recollections of the events in the Congo, but discerning the true nature of Kurtz and the relationships both he and Marlow have with anyone in this novel is made even more hazy by the unnamed sailor's narration.
I agree that the narrator's perspective might be different than Marlow's, and he could be hiding or censoring certain information. Something I've noticed in all of the books we've read so far is that the narrators aren't necessarily reliable, or like in Turn of the Screw, there's a chain of different narrators. Square was incredibly closed-minded, IM was highly opinionated, the governess was potentially delusional, and now Marlow is presenting his experience from a point of view very disconnected from the reality of how life really was in the Congo. He obviously has little to no sympathy for the natives being exploited by the people he works for. Furthermore, he started his journey with a romanticization of the Congo. He was searching for adventure, similar to how Americans romanticized cowboys and the "wild west" in the late 1800s. If the story had been told from an unbiased perspective, we would most likely have more information or information that wasn't skewed by personal bias. Is it possible that Marlow was trying to get the people listening to his story to believe something specific? Did he succeed in this? If he did or didn't, how would the story change based on what the actual narrator believed?
It's frustrating to be presented again with a book with an unreliable narrator. We could go in so many different directions about what the narrator means, what is true, what is biased, etc. We did that for all the other books, especially Invisible Man and Turn of the Screw, where the narrators were arguably both losing their senses in more ways than one. This makes me think again about our discussion with Winter's Tale and the reliability of words and oaths and vows. We will never know the actual truth with what happens in Heart of Darkness. Same goes for Turn of the Screw and Invisible Man. Words aren't reliable because there is no word uttered without bias, just like how Derrida shows us in deconstruction.
I got the impression that the narrator was rather impressed with Marlow's storytelling and the idea that the meaning of Marlow's stories was on the outside of what he was saying. Therefore, I believe that whoever this narrator is, he is presenting this story to us, the readers, as best he can to match what Marlow actually said so that we can hope to get the same effect from t as he did upon hearing it. Because of this, I believe that this narrator is probably rather reliable, as we don't know anything else about him.
I am curious, though, why Conrad chose to have a member of Marlow's audience narrate the story rather than just having Marlow as the narrator, since the people on the dock do not play any part in the story Marlow tells. This suggests to me that there is some additional meaning, or the meaning of the rest of the book is helped by, the scenes on the dock and how Marlow is being observed as he tells this story.
I have found a lot of my thinking about marlo coming back to this idea. Whatever we see about marlo as a character is given to us through the eyes of one of the men on the dock. This makes me wonder how arguments about marlo being racist would change based on this information. Couldn’t it be this man who is installing this part into the story? I think it will serve as something interesting to use in an argument during a writing essay in class or even on the ap test.
I like the idea that these characters must be there for a deeper meaning. Upon my reading of the story, I found it a lot easier to comprehend if I tried to put myself in the place of the narrator, but by doing that, you create an entire character out of an intentional blank slate. Maybe the point of creating these characters on the docks are to create a feeling as if the reader is in the story, as opposed to reading a story written by someone who is telling a story of an experience they had a while back.
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