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“Heart of Darkness” – Joseph Conrad’s Writing Style

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As numerous themes and a suspenseful plot give “Heart of Darkness” the characteristics of a superior novel, the one feature that primarily stands out is Joseph Conrad’s writing style. Not only is the story full of vague imagery and descriptions that the reader must reflect on to fully comprehend, but it also contains an abundance of indistinct references to its characters. Since Conrad was not a native English speaker, it was truly an impressive feat that he could write so vividly. His style includes a great deal of intricacy even though it seems unclear at times. Conrad’s style lacks order and clarity as criticized by countless readers, but obviously they never discovered the deeper meaning to the novel. As for the blurred references to the characters, the reader must realize the significance to such an issue. Although it may appear as if Conrad was trying to confuse the reader, his target was to create a work of art, not just a novel.

Throughout the novel, Conrad continues to use ambiguous allusions to many of the characters that Marlow encounters. In the beginning of Heart of Darkness, Conrad cleverly refers to a handful of those characters as he begins to retell his story of the journey down the Congo River. “The Lawyer – the best of old fellows – … The Director, satisfied the anchor had good hold …” (2) clearly introduces and illustrates Conrad’s style of writing. It is at first unclear why a writer would not give a character a definite name and rather a title of his occupation, but nonetheless the reader would eventually realize the meaning to this.

As Marlow reaches deeper into his tale, occupations begin to pop up as often as weeds along side a road. “I learned he was the Company’s chief accountant, and that all bookkeeping was done at this station” (18). This vague reference is clearly indicative of Conrad’s attempt to force his readers to not just scan the novel, but rather comprehend and analyze the true significance behind his writing. If he were to insert a random name, the reader would never think twice about the characters importance. By not giving the characters definite names, Conrad seeks to bring more emphasis to them and their actions as they interact with Marlow along his extensive journey.

As part of Conrad’s writing style, it is evident that he did not desire to spend a lot of time describing each character that came in contact with Marlow. As with Marlow’s helmsman, the distinctive title that was placed upon him assumed more detail than any one paragraph could have illustrated. It is not necessary for the reader to know anything more. “The man had rolled on his back and stared straight up at me; both his hands clutched that cane… I had to make an effort to free my eyes from his gaze and attend to the steering” (51). As shown by this, the knowledge of the helmsman’s occupation was all that was needed to show the importance of his character.

It is true that at times, the characters function was much more important than their name, for each individual contributed in someway to Marlow’s journey. By depicting characters like this, Conrad was able to make their contributions that much more important to each segment of the novel, more specifically when it came to the Company’s employees. As a whole, Heart of Darkness contributes from this style of writing because Conrad does not have to retell the story, but rather he seeks to let his readers reveal the story by how they interpret the characters and their actions.

Altogether, Conrad’s style of writing continues to impress readers and critics alike. By simply adhering to imprecise descriptions, he is able to expose a whole new interpretation of his novel. Conrad never lacks complexity or intricacy within any part of Heart of Darkness, especially within the characters. He leaves the significance of numerous components up to the reader to fully interpret within their own understanding. By emphasizing the titles of the characters the way he does, Conrad shifts the focus more towards the characters and how their actions tie into the novel. In no way does Conrad fail to leave out a detail, but as opposed to traditional writing styles, the reader must create those details within their mind and rely on their imagination rather than the author’s opinion.

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