Date of Award


Degree Type




First Advisor

Dyer, Gary

Subject Headings

Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924, Heart of darkness -- Criticism and interpretation, Reality -- Fiction, Truth -- Fiction, Heart of darkness, Joseph Conrad, The real, Reality, Truth, Modernism, Chinua Achebe


Heart of Darkness, as a framed narrative, questions perception and authenticity. It is difficult to discern Marlow's individual voice, for it is buried within a layering of narration. Critics ascribe the words of the text to Marlow, claiming he is the one who, in Achebe's words, dehumanizes Africans. Yet, the quotation marks suggest otherwise. Perception is relevant to an analysis of Heart of Darkness, for it is unclear whose point of view constructs the text, that of Kurtz, Marlow, or the frame narrator. Since the narrative is likely composed of multiple perspectives, it is difficult to determine whose reality it reveals. Marlow questions reality and whether it is feasible to convey one's own life-sensations to another, as does Louis Althusser. Althusser discusses the difference between ideologically determined truth and authentic reality. Modernist writers, such as Eliot and Woolf, seem to agree with Althusser on how it is through great art that one might convey his own lived experiences to another. Marlow attempts to express his reality through his own art, or the story he creates about his time in the Congo. In the text, Marlow claims his goal is to allow others to see him interestingly, Althusser claims real art allows for one to see, perceive, and feel another's reality. Critics state Marlow is searching for a sense of self in the Congo however, it seems Marlow actually hopes to find the real, in Althusser's sense. While Marlow might glimpse the real in Africa, he seems disappointed to find reality is something he cannot have in the Western world. In fact, Marlow finds the truth of reality in Africa . . . that it is unreal. Marlow is an always already subject without an authentic voice, which seems to be what he finds horrifying