Joseph Conrad Short Fiction Analysis
Throughout his career, Joseph Conrad returned to a constellation of central themes that were expressed through the actions of his characters and, more important, through those characters’ reactions to events around them. These themes can best be considered when they are grouped into two generally opposing categories. A sense of personal, moral heroism and honor is contrasted to betrayal and guilt. Typically, a Conradian character will discover, in the crucible of a dangerous situation, that he does or does not live up to the inner standards he has hoped to maintain. This realization may not come immediately, and often the true meanings of a character’s actions are revealed only long afterward, through a retelling of his story.
The second grouping contrasts illusion with reality. Illusion is often a belief in “progress” or some grand political scheme. It is unmasked by reality, which, in Conrad, inevitably assumes the form and tone of pessimistic irony. Through the device of a narrator recounting the story, the truth gradually emerges, revealing the tragic difference between what characters believe themselves and the world to be, and what they actually are.
“An Outpost of Progress”
The division between these two groupings is present even in Conrad’s early story “An Outpost of Progress.” Like many of his fictions, it is set in the tropics, specifically a desolate ivory trading station in the isolated reaches...
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