Heart of Darkness: Tone & Point of View Video

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  • 0:04 Heart of Darkness
  • 0:46 Point of View
  • 1:54 Tone
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

There are many different literary devices an author can use to affect a novel. In this lesson, you'll learn about how two of these, tone and point of view, are used in Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness.'

Heart of Darkness

When you listen to a story or read a book, most of the time you'll come away with some kind of impression of the general feel of the story. Maybe it was happy or sad, light or dark, or funny. This general feel is the tone of the story, and it's one of the literary devices authors use to give character to their works.

Another device is point of view, or how the narrator is related to the story itself. Every story you've ever read has some point of view, whether it was first, third, or second person. Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness is no exception. Throughout the novel, Conrad uses point of view and tone to add to its overall character.

Point of View

Heart of Darkness takes place entirely in first person. What's particularly interesting about this novel, though, is that there are two different first person narrators.

The first is the narrator that opens the novel and describes the scene on the Thames River. He narrates the beginning and end of the novel, and a few small points where there are breaks in Marlow's story. We are never given any name or information about this character, except that he serves on the ship that Marlow is currently on when he tells his story. Essentially, this narrator is there to tell us about Marlow. Having a separate narrator allows Conrad to describe Marlow in detail for the reader, and give an outsider's impression of him, as opposed to Marlow's impression of himself.

The second point of view, also first person, comes from Marlow, once he starts telling his tale. The majority of the novel comes from Marlow's point of view. It's from him that we get the main plot, the descriptions of the Congo and Marlow's journey there, and all the impressions and opinions of that trip and what he experienced. Marlow is the primary narrator and point of view of Heart of Darkness, even though he isn't the only one.


Since we get different narrators and settings, the tone changes a little as the book goes on. The tone we get from the first narrator, on the Thames, is very calm and content. It's not a highly active scene, and the descriptions are tranquil.

The narrator uses words like 'affectionately' when describing some of the characters, which makes the tone more positive. We also get sentences like the following: 'We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring.' This is a very calm sentence, showing the characters just sort of waiting around, which adds to the tranquil tone.

From there we move on to Marlow's narration. The tone of the first part of his narrative, which starts off in London, is different from the later parts. In this section, he describes himself as enthusiastic and eager to travel to Africa. The tone is very excited and fast-paced. Marlow uses a lot of words like 'anxious' and states that, '{He} flew around like mad to get ready.'

There was also some apprehension in this section, which is a common tone throughout Marlow's part of the novel. He uses words like 'ominous' and 'uneasy' in his descriptions of his impression of the trading company. His descriptions of the people he met add to this tone, since he gets the impression from them that they don't expect him to come back.

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