The frame story of Heart of Darkness is important in a couple of ways. Conrad tells us the story of the novel through his created middleman, Marlow. In the frame story, Marlow is telling of his voyage up the Congo to a group of sailors, all safely anchored on the calm water of the Thames.
First, the frame narrative creates the minor dramatic irony of the reader being aware of Marlow's fate. After all, we see here that Marlow is alive to tell his tale, so we know that, regardless of what horrors may ensue over the course of the journey, Marlow will emerge relatively unscathed, at least in a physical sense.
More importantly, it allows the reader to question the reliable nature of the narrator. From the onset of the story, the reader is quick to notice that Marlow has an extreme fascination with Kurtz that sometimes seems to border on an obsession. Because of the knowledge that we are hearing the story not only from Marlow's perspective, but as his account, we are forced to distance ourselves from...
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