The Narrative Technique in "The Secret Agent".

Essay by miki13University, Master's August 2003

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It is obvious that Conrad a writer that seems more preoccupied with his narrative than anything else. Conrad describes his narrative as essential in uncovering the underlying themes, ironies, characters, and mysteriousness of the novel. Like in most of his other works Conrad has decided to use the omniscient narrator. The narrator is an extension of Conrad but the distinction between the two should be made. The omniscient, although an extension of the author, is purely a creation designed to fulfill themes and help with regards to the structure.

The omniscient switches umpteen times, from character to character throughout the novel. This is done to give the reader a certain divinity; a Godly like state making one able to see all. Once the reader is given insight into the novel he/she is more capable in exposing truths. The omniscient is required to reveal the burning core of the narrative whilst retaining the ironic detachment Conrad wanted.

The truly amazing thing about the gift of divinity is that it allows one to distinctly notice contrast. The contrasts lie in the ironic differences between realities. The narrator has allowed the reader knowledge that allows him/her to see Conrad's reality, contrary to the reality created by the characters. It is in fact this divinity that allows the reader to mock many of the characters as they are blinded from parallel situations. An example of this is the episode in which the assistant commissioner is assuring the safety of Verloc whilst he is being stabbed by Winnie. Ironic in substance, this further flatters the intelligence of the reader. This is also used in revealing the the positions of the officials; in that they are unaware of the situations they must protect (this is obviously a jab at the real enforcers of his time).

The role of the omniscient is to reveal certain things about the novel that we would normally find unobtainable. However equally important is the role of denying facts when is necessary. We are sometimes made to share the same limitations of perspective as the characters. Unfortunately, what the characters consider truth is incomplete due to their self interest, moral obtuseness, and overall mortal flaws. The reader can only hope to understand the novel fully if willing to intertwine facts and character opinions against traditional style.

Foreshadowing is a commonly used tool. "She could not bear to see the poor boy hurt" is a clue to Stevie's demise, much like the fireworks incident. "Busy letting off fireworks on the staircase" preempts his death in the explosion. Once the plot unfolds the reader is left with better knowledge regarding the foreshadowing technique and is now able to spot them as they happen. This flatters the reader as he/she is now close to the omniscient.

The constant reference and description of London is also important with regards to the narrative. "And a peculiar London sun - against which nothing could be said except that it looked bloodshot..." Both the characters and the city are both similiarly referred to as "grimy," or "bleak." This creates a relentless bleakness around London and its population further reinforcing the bleakness of the novel. Conrad, with all his heavy texts, has managed to portray faces and an actual vision of the city very vividly.

The time scheme in this book further reinstates the fact that reality has to be perceived not conventionally and by being spoon fed, but rather through the understanding that completely non related areas infringe on each other. Also this type of time scope allows the reader to examine the reaction to an action with better understanding as he/she might have seen the reaction prior to the action.

The prose style given to the narrator is formal, heavy, and convoluted. This is where Conrad may have been mistaken. Due to this lengthy text given sometimes by the narrator, the reader may sometimes get frustrated. This reduces the flow and the reader quickly loses focus. The style in which the narrator gives information gives the reader the feeling that every word has been thought of, further emphasizing the author's control over the way in which his plot unfolds. Much like Hardy in "The Tess Of The DÚrbervilles", Conrad plays the roles of creator, judge, and executioner. It is this egotistical style that establishes Conrad as the final court of appeal. However, the most impressive thing about the narrator is how through his irony and manipulation, the reader is coaxed into finding the usually incomprehensible, understandable and vice versa.

Conrad's narrative has been said to be "regulated hatred." Because every character, setting, and action mocks and is mocked by moral judgment, Conrad, through these parallels and cross references is able to express the ambiguities of moral understanding. The structure as a whole embodies both the essential singularity of each character and their vital simultaneity.