How does Marlow maintain suspense when he is telling the story?

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copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marlow fully captures the attention of the others on board the Nellie early in the frame story by suggesting that the tale he is about to tell is not only one that changed his life forever but also has the power and potential to change their lives as well. Conrad's reference to Marlow sitting "like a Buddha figure" also suggests that there is some kind of eternal, life-altering truth, wisdom, and insight within the tale. He states:

"to understand the effect of [his journey up the Congo River] on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place where I first met the poor chap [Kurtz]. It was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me--and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough too--and pitiful--not extraordinary in any way--not very clear either. No. Not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light."

But it is the mystery surrounding Kurtz that continually draws the men on board the Nellie and the reader into the story. We want to know who he is, whether or not all of these rumors we have heard about him are true, and we want to witness him ourselves. Conrad and Marlow are experts and stringing all of us along with tiny crumbs of details, leaving questing for more information--just as Marlow himself is at the time of his journey up the Congo River.


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Heart of Darkness

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