Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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In Heart of Darkness, how does Conrad use language to create a threatening atmosphere?

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Marlowe is a good storyteller, or at least the narrator’s rendition of Marlowe is a good storyteller—it’s important to remember that all of Marlowe’s words reach us second hand. Part of the theme of the story is that wildness lurks everywhere in the world; Marlowe begins by saying that “this also” (meaning the Thames) “has been one of the dark places of the earth.” It is a matter of perception: most people would look at the Thames and see civilization, but Marlowe knows better.

Conrad reinforces this notion using point of view. In crucial moments of the story, the language limits our perception. Take, for instance, the moment when his pilot is killed:

Looking past that mad helmsman, who was shaking the empty rifle and yelling at the shore, I saw vague forms of men running bent double, leaping, gliding, distinct, incomplete, evanescent. Something big appeared in the air before the shutter, the rifle went overboard, and the man stepped back swiftly, looked at me over his...

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