Study Guide

The Nigger of the Narcissus

by Joseph Conrad

The Nigger of the Narcissus Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

James Wait

James Wait, an indolent and malingering black man from St. Kitts, the last crew member to report aboard the “Narcissus” as it prepares to get under way from Bombay to London by way of the Cape of Good Hope. A kind of Jonah, his emphasis on his illness and approaching death elicits from the crew a subtle and mistaken sympathy which is demoralizing except when work or great danger, such as the storm, draws them together. Wait dies when in sight of land, thereby lifting a burden from the crew and ship, and the ship reaches port without further friction.

Captain Allistoun

Captain Allistoun,

Old Singleton

Old Singleton, a sailor intuitive and indifferent to the corrupting influence of Wait. During the storm, he remains at the wheel for thirty hours. He has come upon the sinister truth of his mortality. He predicts Wait will die when the ship comes in sight of land.

Podmore

Podmore, the ship’s cook, a religious fanatic scorned by the captain and an embarrassment to the men. He talks of eternity, providence, and rebirth, braves the deck to serve coffee during the storm, and tries to convert Wait.

Donkin

Donkin, the eternal grumbler, always squealing for his rights, always avoiding work and responsibility. Seemingly devoted to Wait, he watches him die and then steals his money.

Belfast

Belfast, the sailor who, of all the crew, is most mistakenly influenced by Wait’s false humility. He performs many deeds for Wait. In port, he begs for a relic from the dead man’s belongings.

Wamibo

Wamibo, a Russian Finn, wild, mysterious, primitive, who seems to gloat over Wait’s worsening condition like a fiend over the damned.

Mr. Baker

Mr. Baker, the first mate. In spite of his menacing utterances, he is liked by the crew. A man with bull neck, steady eyes, and sardonic mouth, he carries on his duties calmly.

Mr. Creighton

Mr. Creighton, the second mate, a fair gentlemanly fellow with a resolute face and a splendid physique.

Charley

Charley, the youngest seaman aboard, chastened by learning his youth is insignificant.

Archie

Archie,

Davis

Davis,

Knowles

Knowles, and

Two Young Scandinavians

Two Young Scandinavians, other seamen aboard the Narcissus.

The Nigger of the Narcissus Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Joseph Conrad. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A selection of critical essays that help place The Nigger of the “Narcissus” within the framework of Conrad’s fictions.

Karl, Frederick R. A. Reader’s Guide to Joseph Conrad. Rev. ed. New York: Noonday Press, 1969. An introductory volume, especially helpful in guiding the reader through the actions and activities of the novel and relating them to Conrad’s thematic and artistic concerns.

Schwarz, Daniel R. Conrad: “Almayer’s Folly” to “Under Western Eyes.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980. Views The Nigger of the “Narcissus” in terms of Conrad’s developing style and point of view as an author, relating this growth to his own psychological state.

Watt, Ian. “Conrad Criticism and The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus.’ ” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 12 (March, 1958): 257-283. Although considerably dated, this is a valuable survey of critical views of the novel from its publication to the mid-twentieth century.

Winner, Anthony. Culture and Irony: A Study in Conrad’s Major Novels. Charlottesville: University Press of Virgina, 1988. Although the contrast between East and West is not strongly represented in The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” the dichotomy between the land-based and sea-based views of life gives Conrad, in the novella, ample material.