Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) has often been read as an allegory about Africa and Europe, but few critics have addressed the role of Marlow's Englishness in the novel. Marlow unconsciously forms his attachment to Kurtz on the basis of their shared admiration for English values and institutions. The narrative structure of the novel draws attention to the role that Marlow's "interpellation" as an Englishman plays in his "choice of nightmares," the decision to side with Kurtz rather than the Company, which Marlow himself has so much trouble explaining. By representing the conflict between the "ethical" perspective on human action, based on free will, and the "sociological" perspective, which treats such action as determined by circumstances beyond the individual's control, Conrad both contributed to the development of modernist literary technique and exposed a crisis in the values of English liberal nationalism. Conrad's own attitudes to his adoptive country and to political liberalism suggest that he sensed contradictions in the "national idea." He sought, through his layering of narrative perspectives, to understand liberalism as the fragile product of historical accident that seemed destined to develop successfully only in a particular cultural context. The essay traces Conrad's agonized liberal nationalism to the dilemmas posed by debates over the sources of national character in Victorian England. Conrad's attempt to respond to the crisis of the discourse of national character helps to clarify critical debates over whether he was a liberal individualist or an organic nationalist.
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