DefamiliarizationLiterary Theory and Criticism

Defamiliarization in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”

4 Mins read

The term “defamiliarization” could appear too technical to explain a process that ought to seem more approachable under the name of “strangeness” and even “unfamiliarity.”

“Defamiliarization,” not like different options corresponding to “unfamiliar” or just “strange,” implies a process that turns one thing that was beforehand familiar into something alien.

Defamiliarization certainly operates not solely upon language but additionally targets particular works where events seem deformed to the reader, reminding him/her of one thing familiar that has been distorted, after which making a distance between the reader and the narrator that often conveys some touches of irony and humorous comments on the part of the latter. In the same case of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” the novelist might experience foreign cultures and undertake new customs and traditions, and due to this fact, suggesting that the characters analyzed here, are a reflection of the writer.

In “Heart of Darkness,” the first narrative voice within the novel depicts Marlow within the following terms: “He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life.” Conrad’s novel begins as framed stories told by a narrative voice. The impact of this framing consists of lifting a veil that covers reality, offering their stories with a contact of unreliability. The manipulation of the story inevitably brings forth the distortion of the narration’s materials, provoking irony and defamiliarization. The narrator imposes his specific view of reality, being the one who observes and evaluates.

The shift of narrative voice present in “Heart of Darkness” from the very starting, where the story begins with a first-person narrative voice describing the landscape and commenting: “Between us, there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea.” The comment: “as I have already said” reveals his acknowledgment of his responsibility as story-teller, although the narrative voice immediately introduces Marlow’s utterance: “I was thinking of ancient times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago—the other day . . . Light came out of this river since”. Like the earlier narrative voice, Marlow is also aware of his process, as he continuously makes use of aporias to leave his sentences unfinished and create suspense.

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The character then manipulates reality, providing a far from objective version of the occasions he narrates. What links is the best way of describing a situation where he feels himself to be a complete stranger to make the reader take part in this alienation. He depicts what is meant to be a comparatively familiar incident as if it have been an exotic ritual.

Defamiliarization, thus, arises from a well-known expertise that’s now portrayed as unique and unknown devices to the character. The ironic perspective increases, much more, the degree of detachment because the narrator is manipulating elements that the reader undoubtedly is aware of, making him understand such options in the same method the narrator perceives them.

The unique description reaches its climax in Conrad’s novel, where the unfamiliar is an actual foreign figure to the narrator. Marlow’s specific method in “Heart of Darkness” conceals related info from the reader to supply a first sensory impression of the events because the narrator first perceives them. As Ian Watt clarifies, the approach consists of a narrative device he names “delayed decoding,” since, in accordance with Watt, “it combines the forward temporal progression of the mind, as it receives messages from the outside world, with the much slower reflexive process of making out their meaning.”

Certainly, Marlow’s apprehension of actuality is managed by previous impressions that disconcert the narrator’s interpretation of events. Sometimes it’s the narrator himself who later finds out the which means of the experience. In distinction, different times, it’s the reader who must make an effort to associate the episode with one thing acquainted to him, as within the following fragment where Marlow describes the job of the fireman of the tribe:

“He ought to have been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge. He was useful because he had been instructed, and what he knew was this—that should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst and take a terrible vengeance.”

Marlow portrays this member of the tribe’s job in an indifferent manner in order that an occupation that ought to be familiar to the reader right here receives magic overtones. Although there are quite a few examples all through the entire novel, one of the thrilling passages to understand the degree of distance between the narrator and the events he’s accounting for is the attack episode. Marlow begins receiving some visible impressions of objects: “Sticks, little sticks, were flying about, thick; they were before my nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against a pilot-house.” Only on the end does Marlow notice what the “sticks” actually are, although the reader has most likely found it by the point Marlow will get to the solution: “Arrows, by Jove! We were being shot at!”.

The defamiliarization of the events within the narrator’s eyes usually provokes a comic impact that includes a sinister perspective. As the reader manages to interpret the true meaning of the episode that Marlow doesn’t see, at first sight, the narrative tone turns into ironic and morbid in a manner, too, as within the example:

“Something big appeared in the air before the shutter, the rifle went overboard, and the man stepped back swiftly, looked at me over his shoulder in an extraordinary, profound, familiar manner, and fell upon my feet. The side of his head hit the wheel twice, and the end of what appeared a long cane round and knocked over a little camp-stool.”

An innocent narrative emphasizes the unique events as seen by the narrators, turning them from a transparent situation into probably threatening episode.

Defamiliarization, then, can solely be achieved on a well-known base, and the reader must acknowledge that behind the story narrated, there lies one other that may sound familiar to him.

The writer additionally presents characters who really feel alienated from the context where they’re positioned in one way or another. Therefore, the space created between the reader and the textual content could also be an attempt on the part of the novelists to make the reader discover the numerous difficulties they had to overcome in using the English language.

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