Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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How does Conrad create atmosphere and mood in "Heart of Darkness?"

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Atmosphere and mood are highly subjective. For the purposes of this answer, we will define Atmosphere as sense of place and mood as sense of feeling. Additionally, Heart of Darkness is about 40,000 words long, so there are many, many examples throughout the text. One of each will be provided here, which should inspire deeper reading.

Atmosphere: For a sense of place, the prose should be simple and direct. There is a certain amount of license allowed for longer descriptions and metaphor; "purple prose" is often seen in longer novels, but Conrad's prose is short and very descriptive:

"I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn't a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do. I don't know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled in there. There wasn't one that was not broken. It was a wanton smash-up."

The jumbled pipes in a narrow ravine, the artificial hole with no purpose; each of these is simply described and solidly realized in the description. No extra words, no glorified metaphor, just a couple of holes that Marlow almost falls into. They serve no higher purpose in the story but they establish the terrain he is traveling and the activities that may have happened there. We don't...

(The entire section contains 537 words.)

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