Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The use of multiple narrators and repeated flashbacks are techniques that Conrad carried to even more complex levels in other works. In “Amy Foster,” the technique permits Conrad to minimize the elements of his story that interest him the least (such as melodrama, the sea adventure, and the budding romance), while concentrating on Yanko’s isolation, rejection, and personal despair. Conrad’s artistic choices, as in many of his other works, break up the linear development of plot in favor of character analysis and psychology. Kennedy’s disjointed narrative thus supports Conrad’s conscious artistic design. The strategy allows Conrad to emphasize fragments of Yanko’s life that lack proper chronological unity but reflect the larger thematic unity. This technique also enables Conrad to introduce brief comments from the other characters whom Kennedy quotes to round out the picture of Yanko.

Kennedy is an ideal narrator to relate Yanko’s story. His training as a physician, his analytical mind, and his professional duties in towns outside of Brenzett distance him from other villagers. The unnamed narrator who begins the story introduces Kennedy by remarking thatthe penetrating power of his mind, acting like a corrosive fluid, had destroyed his ambition, I fancy. His intelligence is of a scientific order, of an investigating habit, and of that unappeasable curiosity which believes that there is a particle of a general truth in every mystery.

Such detachment provides Kennedy with a growing appreciation and understanding of Yanko’s rejection and anguish, as well as a measure of shared guilt in its outcome.