How is the structure of Heart of Darkness significant?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heart of Darkness was originally published in three magazine installments instead of as a single work. As such, it contains a three-part structure often seen in story-telling: introduction, rising/sustained action, climax/falling action. Most of the back-story is explained in the first part, while the second part details some of the hazards and obstacles Marlow faced in the jungle. The third part details Marlow's reaction to Kurtz and the effect that Kurtz has on him and others around him, giving the purpose behind the story. By splitting it into these three parts, Joseph Conrad is able to keep tension high and show the slow deterioration of Marlow's mind; as Marlow tells the story, he explains how each event changed him. The third part could be seen as the actual "Heart of Darkness," the place where the horrors of Kurtz's actions are fully seen and recognized; in that context, the first two parts are the journey to find the third.