Study Guide

Heart of Darkness Writing Style

By Joseph Conrad

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Writing Style

Verbose, Poetic, Introspective

We hear you: Conrad isn't easy to read. His writing can come across as long-winded and (we'll go there) tedious. But we think you should give it a chance. It might help to slow down and read it almost like poetry, because it really is more like poetry than like your typical prose narrative. Once you get the hang of his writing, it's worth it. Check out this passage:

She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose. A whole minute passed, and then she made a step forward. There was a low jingle, a glint of yellow metal, a sway of fringed draperies, and she stopped as if her heart had failed her. (3.15)

Notice how Conrad hops from physical ("she stood looking at us") to metaphorical ("like the wilderness") to speculative ("with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose") in just one sentence. The sentence's slow, meditative rhythm almost makes us feel the pause of the warrior woman looking over the group—and then we move back into rich physical description ("jingle," "glint," "sway") before veering off again into the speculative "as if her heart had failed her."

This passage shows us that, even when Conrad is describing the physical world and physical action, it's always tightly linked to psychology and motivation. Just as the journey into Africa is really a journey into the human heart, a description of a woman stepping forward is really a description of her mind.

We told you it was worth it.

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