Style and Technique

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 365

Conrad is known as one of the great stylists of modern fiction, and “An Outpost of Progress” displays many of his characteristic techniques to full advantage. He uses a certain amount of realistic narrative, but for the most part, the story is filled with ominous and moody passages that create a haunting landscape that is not only the background for Kayerts and Carlier but also a disturbing projection of their minds. The purposely vague and melodramatic descriptions of the jungle and the river, for example, place the trading post in a setting that is impenetrable and unintelligible. Kayerts and Carlier never see anything clearly or have anything firm to hold on to, and it is inevitable from the start that they will be overwhelmed by mysterious forces that they have no hope of controlling.

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The story is also effectively structured. There are, for example, repeated contrasts that make the reader aware of the key alternatives or conflicts being dramatized: Europe versus Africa, the trading post versus the jungle, “civilized” white men versus indigenous society, and so on. Furthermore, Conrad uses highly charged symbols to suggest that he is writing not an action story but a philosophical and moral parable: The storehouse, for example, is called a “fetish” and stands as a mock-shrine for the worship of material goods that characterizes European civilization. Finally, Conrad keeps his tale from becoming ponderously serious by interjecting grotesquely comic moments: Kayerts and Carlier, the ambassadors of civilization, are more laughable than imposing, although their absurdity does not make them any less destructive.

The most important technique used throughout the story, however, is irony, and its effect is especially noticeable when one reads “An Outpost of Progress” as an implicit parody and critique of traditional adventure stories by Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson that glorify adventurers and colonizers. From beginning to end Conrad’s corrosive irony undermines the pretensions of the would-be civilizers by showing that their notion of “progress” leads only to decay and murder, that the culture they disrupt is wiser than their own, and that the jungle and all the forces it symbolizes may yet win out over all attempts to banish darkness from human life.

Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

"Outpost of Progress" employs a straightforward and direct narrative technique quite different from the more complex and elaborate series of narrative perspectives that Conrad would use in such later works as Lord Jim (1900; see separate entry). In "Outpost of Progress," Conrad employs a method close to the omniscient narrator point of view of much nineteenth century fiction, especially that written before the innovations of Gustave Flaubert and Henry James. The nature of Conrad's characters is revealed rather quickly and sardonically by Conrad's own narrative voice. Early on, Conrad's narrator tells the reader that both Kayerts and Carlier are rather shallow minds without imaginative resources. Moreover, it is not long before this voice informs the reader that Kayerts and Carlier are not even capable of sticking diligently to routine duty tasks, because, as Conrad puts it sententiously, "To grapple effectually with even purely material problems requires more serenity of mind and more lofty courage than people generally imagine." However, Conrad also allows the Director of the trading company to complement his narrator's views by offering a contemptuous assessment of the two agents.

Conrad's narrative voice becomes surprising (in the light of contemporary attitudes) in its casual use of the term nigger in referring to Makola, and in the comment that Makola,...

(The entire section contains 2146 words.)

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