Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Pantai River

Pantai River (pan-TI). Fictional river in the Dutch East Indies to which the novel’s subtitle alludes (“A Story of an Eastern River”). Conrad modeled the Pantai on the real Berau River in Borneo. The subtitle accurately reflects the importance that the river plays in the narrative. All the major events take place either on or next to the Pantai, and its ceaseless motion and dangerous turbulence serve as both menacing background and active foreground to the development of the plot.

Conrad often uses the literary technique of personification, which attributes human qualities to inanimate objects, to portray the river as having strong emotional reactions to the uses to which people put it. As a result, the Pantai becomes a character in its own right, and there is a sense in which its actions are as significant as those of the novel’s human cast of performers.

The river also represents the flow of life passing by Almayer. The novel’s opening scene finds him envying the fate of a log tossed about in the stream’s violent currents, because its temporary suffering will be rewarded by a journey to freedom when the river eventually carries it to the sea. This moment foreshadows an episode at the conclusion of the novel when Almayer’s daughter, the only person he still loves, leaves him by sailing down the Pantai to the sea.

Conrad’s career as a merchant seaman included several visits to Borneo’s eastern coast during the late 1880’s, when he encountered a Dutch trader upon whom he based Almayer. The novel closely...

(The entire section is 651 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gordon, John D. Joseph Conrad: The Making of a Novelist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1940. An early but still valuable study of Conrad’s artistic development as a novelist. Although the discussion is weighted toward the more well-known books, it sheds informative light on Almayer’s Folly.

Hampson, R. G. Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. In the chapter “Two Prototypes of Betrayal: Almayer’s Folly,” the author examines the psychologies of the major characters and the tension created within them by their ideal selves at war with their actual personalities.

Karl, Frederik R. A. Reader’s Guide to Joseph Conrad. Rev. ed. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969. An introduction that provides a clear review of the essential features of Almayer’s Folly and its place in the Conrad canon.

Schwarz, Daniel R. Conrad: “Almayer’s Folly” to “Under Western Eyes.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980. An excellent discussion of Conrad’s psychology during the period he conceived and composed the novel. Schwarz also discusses the connections and relationships between Almayer’s Folly and An Outcast of the Islands (1896).

Sherry, Norman. Conrad’s Eastern World. London: Cambridge University Press, 1966. Places the novel within the context of Conrad’s early and continuing interest in settings and plots involving the Far East. Helpful in understanding the nuances of Malayan politics and culture.