Nigger of Narcissus: by Joseph Conrad - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

      Nigger of Narcissus novel by Joseph Conrad, published in 1897. Framed around a sea voyage from Bombay to London, and narrated by an anonymous seaman, the action concentrates on the human community of the ship, the Narcissus. The tensions within that small number are as perilous as the weather itself, and are produced partly by two different generations of seamen. Captain Alistoun and the veteran Singleton have the reticence of men primarily concerned with their duties as seamen. Conversely, the detachment from the working community of the younger Donkin and the Negro of the book's title, Wait, comes to represent a powerful, if less practical, set of interests.

      The illness and confinement of Wait claim the humanitarian sympathies of the remaining crew. Indeed, at the height of a storm, five men risk their lives to save the trapped Wait from his deck cabin. As Singleton and Alistoun are easily aware, the safety of the entire ship is meanwhile at risk. Confrontation between the captain and Donkin (who supports Wait's demands to go back on duty) comes to a head. After Konkin has hurled a belaying pin in his direction, the captain calmly reasserts a seamanlike authority, with the remaining crew looking on. More strangely, Singleton's superstition that Wait will die at the first sight of land proves to come true; before the Narcissus comes to port, Wait is buried at sea.

      Conrad's Preface is frequently cited as a manifesto of literary Impressionism and of its chief aim: 'it is, before all, to make you see'.

Analysis

      This novel actually is no tale; nothing in particular takes place in the book but it is a sheer account of the voyage which is uneventful, in a ship called the "Narcissus" sailing from Bombay to the Thames. The essence of the novel lies in a violent storm, a slight dissatisfaction of the crew-members, and a man who is the least admired, is thrown into the sea. This novel is remarkable for its simplicity; reality and freshness. The narrative style is very significant. It is Conrad's excellent characterization, the amazing sea, the irony and pathos that catch the attention of the reader.

      The striking feature of the novel is its characterization and the individual scenes. Each and every character of the crew is well presented, vividly elaborated and life-like. They are so alive that it seems, we ourselves have taken part in the lengthy voyage. We are made to laugh, and grumble at the idiosyncrasies and failures of the characters. The characters like old Singleton, the Nestor of the company; blue-eyed Archie, Belfast with fidelity to the Negro, Mr. Baker, Captain Alliston etc. seem to be encountered by us in our everybody lives.

      There is no plot, no treachery; no oppression or cruelty; no heroism, except a storm or death and a burial, in the book. The only female is the ship herself which is described by Conrad, very lovingly and with great knowledge of seamanship.

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