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Analysis of Almayer's Folly by Joseph Conrad

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will analyze the novel 'Almayer's Folly' by Joseph Conrad. This is a story about a family who is impacted by European influence in Southeast Asia.

The Almayers

What kinds of things do your family members disagree on? Politics, religion, and even which football team to cheer for are some of the things that family members sometimes have to steer around to keep the peace. In Almayer's Folly by Joseph Conrad, the Almayer family could not be more different from one another.

Kaspar Almayer, the protagonist, is a Dutch trader, who like many of the European settlers in Southeast Asia, maintains a superior attitude toward the indigenous people. Mrs. Almayer, his wife, is Malayan and thinks that white people are corrupt and untrustworthy. Together, they have a daughter, Nina, who is understandably confused about her identity. Let's analyze this novel.

Author Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad

Plot Summary

Almayer travels to Southeast Asia for his trade business, but actually, he hopes to find a hidden gold mine. While he is there, he befriends a successful businessman named Captain Linguard who is wealthy and searching for a white man to marry his adopted Malayan daughter. Linguard convinces Almayer to marry her in exchange for money, but bad decisions cause Almayer to lose all their money. One of those decisions is to build a large house for the British to use during the British invasion; only the invasion never happens, and the house is never completed. Others make fun of him by calling the home ''Almayer's Folly.''

The Almayers have a conflict-filled marriage that leaves Nina confused. She goes away to a European school for 10 years where she is treated poorly by white society, although many white men find her attractive. When she returns to Malaya, she feels much more comfortable. With her mother's encouragement, Nina starts a relationship with a Malayan, Dain Maroola. Almayer likes Dain because Dain offers to help him search for the gold mine, but Almayer wants his daughter to live as a white, rather than a Malayan person.

When English soldiers search for Dain after he and some of his companions attack an English gun boat, Almayer covers for Dain and Nina so they can escape but disowns Nina because she has given herself to Dain. Almayer's wife leaves him, and he spends the rest of his life alone in the half-built Almayer's Folly.

Analysis

Almayer's Folly is told by a third person omniscient narrator who mostly describes characters, settings, and events using Almayer's perspective and dialogue but is able to describe the thoughts and feelings of other characters where warranted. As with his other novels, Joseph Conrad draws on his personal experience as a mariner to write about exotic places. The story takes place near the fictional Pantai River in the Borneo jungle. Literary techniques, such as personification, are used to describe the setting almost as if it were another character in the story. For instance, Almayer looks '' fixedly at the great river that flowed—indifferent and hurried—before his eyes.''

The theme of colonialism supports critical race theory (CRT), which is the belief that those in power undermine other races legally and economically to maintain control. The European settlers take over the land and resources of the indigenous people but then attempt to arrest Dain when he attempts to fight back. Further, Mrs. Almayer and Nina are treated as property of white men rather than respected for their cultural heritage and ability to make their own choices.

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