Pseudo-Psychics and Knitting Yarns: On Fate in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”

Despite narrating a personal experience, Charles Marlow fails to “throw a kind of light” on the inciting incident of his story. Rather, he resolves “not to disclose” the specifics of the “ominous something” which pervaded the “atmosphere” of the “waiting room”, despite now knowing exactly that which would later manifest from it. Such foreboding allusions are further woven throughout this “yarn”: Marlow describes himself as having been overcome with what is simply described as an “eerie”, “troubled” “feeling”. Marlow, however, was not merely “slightly uneasy” – as he attests – but cognizant; acutely aware of the moment’s minutiae: the “forty-five seconds”, the “swift”, “quick” glances of the older knitting woman. She, in particular, commanded his attentions, then – unlike his feelings, he describes solely her in unsparing detail, from her “flat cloth slippers”, to her “starched white affair”, to her “silver-rimmed spectacles”. This “old one” is hence finagled by Conrad to be a plot device in Marlow’s tale, a “fateful” clairvoyant of sorts, her “wisdom” profound in contrast to the “cheery and foolish faces” “she seemed to know all about”. In a silent, “unknown” way, she foretold the “Darkness” which Marlow would afterwards encounter.


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