Ambiguity as meaning : an application of post-structural critical techniques to selected novels by Joseph Conrad
In my thesis, I use contemporary critical techniques to
demonstrate the intimate relationship between ambiguity and meaning in
the novels of Joseph Conrad.
In my INTRODUCTION, I identify the post-structural nature of my
approach and define the terms employed. Each of the following chapters
analyses a single novel by establishing the dominant strategies
whereby the flow of information is regulated, then demonstrating how
these strategies render ambiguous the information imparted. The novels
selected reflect the successive stages of Conrad's writing life.
In CHAPTER I, I analyse passages from Almayer's Folly,
particularly its opening pages, to show how from the outset of his
writing life Conrad subverts such reader expectations and traditional
'plot pleasures' as suspense, and instead inscribes tension in the
play of ambiguity in narrative strategies ranging from shared
perspective narration to simple description.
CHAPTER11 considers Lord Jim, showing how the novel's equivocal
ending reflects the ambiguously proleptic tendency of the narrative,
which offers various chains of inference to the reader that, when
pursued, are shown to contradict their own ,logic.
CHAPTERIII analyses Under Western Eyes with particular reference
to the incongruously playful tone of the Western narrator. It explores
how such ludic features, although designed to convey the foreignness
of the Russian subject, reveal a narrating voice profoundly at odds
with the personal tragedy being recounted.
CHAPTER IV discusses the nature of focalisation in Victory. By
identifying the multiple perspectives that compose the narrative, and
the interplay between them, the discussion shows that these provide range of often contradictory readings of Lena's 'victory'.
CHAPTER V considers The Rover. Noticing how Conrad's last
completed novel presents a curiously 'un-Conradian' hero, my analysis
demonstrates how this entails a shift in the focus of ambiguity from
that identified in the preceding chapters, from ambiguity of character
to ambiguity of motive for action - indicating Conrad's enduring
fascination with the relationship between ambiguity and meaning.
In a brief CONCLUSION, I consider the development of ambiguity
represented by the novels selected