Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness book cover
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In Heart of Darkness, who is the narrator at the beginning of the story?

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Joseph Conrad uses a framing device to set up the story that Marlow will tell. The narrator is a fellow traveler or boatman aboard the Nellie; the author never gives this person's name.

Using this type of frame has several effects. It establishes the basic orality of the narrative. There is no indication that Marlow has written out his story for others to read; rather, he is telling a tale to which the others are listening.

Positioning Marlow as a yarn-spinner also adds an element of uncertainty: is he relating his story truthfully, or is he exaggerating or downright lying to create an effect for his audience? Did the events he mentions happen as he presents them—or at all? Did Kurtz even exist?

Using a narrator also adds a filter. The reader must rely on the narrator's word that he is repeating what Marlow told him.

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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While the central story of Heart of Darkness is told by Marlow, a long-time sailor, it is in the form of an anecdote told to an unnamed Narrator, who frames the story with their voyage on the Nellie, a cruising yawl sailing down the Thames River in England. The narrator has little to do with the story itself, aside from being the person who relates it to the reader.

Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns—and even convictions.
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

The Narrator does not interrupt the story, but listens and understands without judging Marlow's actions. His listening mimics that of the Reader, who sees the story through two layers of disconnect: Marlow to the narrator, and the narrator to the Reader. Despite this, the Narrator is changed by the story, looking out over the river and seeing not the comfortable water of his experience but a "heart of an immense darkness."

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kmieciakp | Student

an unnamed person on docked boat, The Nellie