Conrad's Obsession with "Voice" in Heart of Darkness
For the moment that was the dominant thought. There was a sense of extreme disappointment, as though I had found out I had been striving after something altogether without a substance. I couldn't have been more disgusted if I had travelled all the way for the sole purpose of talking to Mr. Kurtz. Talking with . . . I flung one shoe overboard, and became aware that that was exactly what I had been looking forward to--a talk with Mr. Kurtz. I made the strange discovery that I had never imagined him as doing, you know, but as discoursing.
Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
The above quotation suggests what has been noted frequently in recent years as damning evidence of the "literary" racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. That is, like his character Marlow, Conrad seems more interested in "discourse" than in its effects; more eager to write a story about story-telling than to consider directly the ugly realities of a brutal imperial regime contained (and deferred as unfathomable "mysteries") in the story being told. Rather, readers are invited here and elsewhere to consider a series of clever doublings and treblings in the "telling" itself: the story told by the outside narrator ("I") is quickly overtaken by the voice of Marlow, who at times gives over his voice to the Russian sailor and finally to Kurtz, who is himself described from beginning to end as pure "voice." Each of these shifts draws us further into Conrad's novella, and certainly these voices seem in some sense to carry us deeper and deeper into Africa, but in the end we find we have never left--and never been asked to leave--the deck of the Nellie, which sits waiting idly for the tide to turn. (Now there's a metaphor).