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Tone in Heart of Darkness

Tone Examples in Heart of Darkness:

Chapter 1

🔒 4

"he could keep the routine going..."   (Chapter 1)

“[R]outine” connotes that colonialism is but a show, a “farce.” Conrad continues to emphasize the false, almost silly nature of the Europeans’ colonial efforts by belittling them and turning the whole situation into a joke.

"the noble cause..."   (Chapter 1)

Marlow recounts the grisly death of the man whose position he had taken over. This characterizes the jungle as a wearying environment and hostile enough to drive men to murder, possibly foreshadowing some distressing circumstances. While Marlow’s tone is nonchalant, as he doesn’t express any disturbance, Conrad ironically calls this a “noble cause,” as the events Marlow describes are rather ignoble.

"set the women to work..."   (Chapter 1)

Many 20th and 21st century feminist scholars have called Heart of Darkness sexist for its dearth of female characters, and the few women who do feature in the novella are portrayed negatively. In this passage, Marlow describes how his aunt helped with finding a job. He scoffs at the notion of asking for a woman’s help, and his tone is nearly that of embarrassment.

"wait for the turn of the tide..."   (Chapter 1)

Conrad opens with a very still scene: the boat is at “rest” and the wind is “calm.” However, the tone of “turn of the tide” foreshadows that this serenity will not last, creating an unsettling mood as the reader anticipates the oncoming threat to peace. This feeling of anxiety runs throughout the entire novella.

"to an advanced age..."   (Chapter 3)

There is a confluence of a past memory and an imagined future in this passage as Marlow remembers the “knitting old woman” from Brussels and imagines a future for himself in the jungle. His perception of time is somewhat disorienting, adding further to the dreamlike feeling of the section.

"whether I had ever really seen him..."   (Chapter 3)

Notice how Marlow has doubts about what he sees. The ambiguity of his meeting with Kurtz, described as some sort of ghostly encounter, is eerie in tone. The instability of concrete facts makes this last section register as dreamlike.

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