Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Narcissus

Narcissus. Freighter on which the novel’s action takes place, as the ship sails from India to Britain, going around Southern Africa. The Narcissus is modeled on a real ship on which Conrad worked in 1884. A light/dark, white/black, life/death motif begins within the ship’s forecastle even before the arrival on board of the black sailor, Wait. The narrator notes how the light there illuminates the white of the berths and only the heads of the men, whose bodies “were lost in the gloom of those places, that resembled narrow niches for coffins in a whitewashed and lighted mortuary,” and takes on a new dimension with Wait’s boarding the ship. With Wait confined there at the beginning of the voyage because of his mysterious illness, the forecastle becomes the focal point for the crew’s emotional life and id-like underworld in which the men respond in various ways, according to their beliefs and temperaments, to the shadow of their own mortality.

The above-deck section of the ship represents the visible ego-like area, a place illuminated by the light of day and controlled by the captain, whose elevated “Olympian” position on the poop deck suggests the hierarchical position and the role of the superego. The dark, emotional turmoil of the forecastle moves above deck when Wait is moved into the deckhouse, an effort intended to quell the mutinous spirit arising from Wait’s impossible demands on crew’s time and emotions and Donkin’s ceaseless shirking and grumbling about mistreatment. The inner storm is externalized not only by the movement of Wait into the light of day and reason but also by a strong gale that the ship encounters at this point.

*Cape of Good Hope

*Cape of Good Hope. Peninsula near the...

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The Nigger of the "Narcissus" Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Joseph Conrad. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A selection of critical essays that help place The Nigger of the “Narcissus” within the framework of Conrad’s fictions.

Karl, Frederick R. A. Reader’s Guide to Joseph Conrad. Rev. ed. New York: Noonday Press, 1969. An introductory volume, especially helpful in guiding the reader through the actions and activities of the novel and relating them to Conrad’s thematic and artistic concerns.

Schwarz, Daniel R. Conrad: “Almayer’s Folly” to “Under Western Eyes.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980. Views The Nigger of the “Narcissus” in terms of Conrad’s developing style and point of view as an author, relating this growth to his own psychological state.

Watt, Ian. “Conrad Criticism and The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus.’ ” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 12 (March, 1958): 257-283. Although considerably dated, this is a valuable survey of critical views of the novel from its publication to the mid-twentieth century.

Winner, Anthony. Culture and Irony: A Study in Conrad’s Major Novels. Charlottesville: University Press of Virgina, 1988. Although the contrast between East and West is not strongly represented in The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” the dichotomy between the land-based and sea-based views of life gives Conrad, in the novella, ample material.