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The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897)

by Joseph Conrad

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8231020,416 (3.71)25
A dying sailor boards the Narcissus and acts as a memento mori upon his shipmates, eliciting pity and selfless compassion as well as fear, resentment, and a profound hatred. Powerful narrative technique, compelling character study. When a black sailor with tuberculosis boards the Narcissus, the shadow of death falls across the ship and the lingering gloom brings out both the best and the worst in the crew. The harsh endurance test of survival at sea, magnified by the dying sailor's condition, sends the crewmen through an emotional gamut, ranging from pity and selfless compassion to fear, resentment, and a profound hatred that boils perilously close to mutiny. In this 1897 novel, a compelling examination of human character under conditions of extreme danger and stress, Joseph Conrad considers some of his customary preoccupations. His masterful narrative technique captures every nuance of atmospheric tension as it explores issues related to moral dilemmas, isolation, and the psychology of inner compulsions. Conrad drew upon his two decades of experience in the British merchant marine for the vital, memorable characterizations and realistic depictions of seafaring life in this and many of his other works.… (more)
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» See also 25 mentions

English (8)  Spanish (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
A voyage from East to West. A voyage through life. A voyage into eternity. Conrad takes the reader along all three journeys. Along with Lord Jim, I feel The Nigger of "Narcissus" captures the author at his height and in his most pure form. Another one of his shorter works, a novella, The Nigger of the "Narcissus" condenses into just over a hundred or so pages the style and preoccupations that will characterize most of his later work. The shifting perspectives, the psychological observations, and, here, also, the notations about how shipboard crews meet and splinter, only tied by vague remembrances of endless voyages. Still, each journey in the age of sail has its own unique personality, something that is yielded from the men who man the decks, go aloft, steady the wheel, and issue commands. It is a living breathing organism. That is why there is no central protagonist, other than perhaps The Narcissus herself. The title character, the "Nigger of the Narcissus" is James Wait, a black seaman around whom the constellation of shipmates gather and in turn criticize, suspect, and find fault, before coming to realize that his journey, the final one through life, is one each must make in his own time. Alas, it is true for the reader as well. Thus the novel has a sense of the cosmic about it. All supported by the at times lyrical nature of the prose. And, too, there are times when Conrad joins hands with Kipling, in this story, when depicting lives heretofore unacknowledged and often discarded. In this work, they all live and breathe together, and give The Narcissus a sense of mission, a vital organism if only for a few months before the ship takes on a new lot and the former crew disbands to new duties ashore or aboard new vessels. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
With a title like this, it should be banned shortly!

Except that one of the people is advocating socialism....maybe not. ( )
  CAFinNY | Apr 26, 2019 |
The crew of a merchant ship forms a bond with a dying West Indian sailor, James Wait, said bond strengthened by the man’s refusal to admit that he is dying.
I haven't read many nautical books, save for the Aubrey/Maturin novels. Nevertheless, I don’t believe I will read a better account of a sea voyage, save for Conrad himself. I still have a lot of his novels to work to read. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Nov 23, 2018 |
St. Bart's 2015 #10 - the final book of this year's vacation.....one I felt I had to almost hide in the plane flight home as I finished it, due to its less than politically correct title. This is one of those that I have always wondered about due to its startling title, and it is about just what it says it is, the 'nigger' on the crew of the sailing ship 'Narcissus.'. Actually, it's about what his presence onboard did to disrupt the already shaky psyche and hierarchy of a rough & tumble, ragtag sailing crew.

Conrad is an amazing author, especially when you learn that English was his second language, yet he wrote his books in English. The beautifully descriptive prose describing the power of the sea, the beauty of the sea, what the isolation of the sea does to men's minds, and the fury of a Cape of Good Hope storm are quite remarkable, especially coming from the pen of a Polish sailor. He brilliantly captured the humanity of these crusty, hardworking inhabitants of this ship, and makes one realize that anyone who would venture onto these ships were truly special people. Not the most exciting book I ever read, although the storm was gripping, but the insight to the life of a sailor was well worth the read. And of course the racial tensions on board are somewhat intense, but presented in a way that the bigots are the bad guys, which I thinks was Conrad's point. Definitely worth the time! ( )
  jeffome | Jan 26, 2015 |
A masterpiece of characterization inside a rich and graphic adventure, The Nigger of the "Narcissus" recounts a single passage of a cargo ship, a passage in which the main drama, despite a storm that nearly un-masts her, surrounds a black sailor who may be sick or may be goldbricking. That might sound thin, but it's plenty in the hands of a master story-teller.

Not his best, but very good. ( )
1 vote steve.clason | Jun 15, 2012 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Conrad, Josephprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berthoud, JacquesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallone, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greene, MaxineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamolle, OdetteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Theroux, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watts, CedricEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Edward Garnett
this tale about my friends of the sea
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This edition contains only the story of the title. Do not combine with editions that also include other stories, eg, Penguin Modern Classics edition (with Typhoon and other stories).
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A dying sailor boards the Narcissus and acts as a memento mori upon his shipmates, eliciting pity and selfless compassion as well as fear, resentment, and a profound hatred. Powerful narrative technique, compelling character study. When a black sailor with tuberculosis boards the Narcissus, the shadow of death falls across the ship and the lingering gloom brings out both the best and the worst in the crew. The harsh endurance test of survival at sea, magnified by the dying sailor's condition, sends the crewmen through an emotional gamut, ranging from pity and selfless compassion to fear, resentment, and a profound hatred that boils perilously close to mutiny. In this 1897 novel, a compelling examination of human character under conditions of extreme danger and stress, Joseph Conrad considers some of his customary preoccupations. His masterful narrative technique captures every nuance of atmospheric tension as it explores issues related to moral dilemmas, isolation, and the psychology of inner compulsions. Conrad drew upon his two decades of experience in the British merchant marine for the vital, memorable characterizations and realistic depictions of seafaring life in this and many of his other works.

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