The Nigger of the Narcissus | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 17, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 17, 2015

The Nigger of the Narcissus

Author: Joseph Conrad

OSEPH Conrad was born in 1857. He was a Polish author who wrote in English after settling down in England. He was granted British nationality in 1886, but he always considered himself a Pole. Conrad is regarded as one of the greatest novelists of the world. The Nigger of the Narcissus is one of the best-known novellas by Joseph Conrad.

The Nigger of the Narcissus is a story of troubled interpersonal relationships, racial exploitation and the supremacy of white westerners. It's about the lives of some sailors belonging to a ship called Narcissus. Joseph Conrad asserts that seamen are guileless fellows with good hearts. The innate morality or sanctity of untutored, rough, simple seamen is probably the main theme of The Nigger of the Narcissus.

The inner message of the book is that humans must get rid of their irrational forces to become sensible beings like sailors do their duties on ships skillfully in silence without listening to emotional chattering of the crew. Throughout the novel we find several characters, among whom the main figures are James Wait, Captain Allistoun, Old Singleton, Belfast, Mr. Baker etc. The main character, James Wait, is a black man. He is a dying West Indian black sailor on board the merchant ship Narcissus sailing from Bombay to London. While he was sailing from Bombay to London he was suffering from tuberculosis. He became seriously ill during the voyage. The captain of the ship, Allistoun, is too busy with his job. Because of this he does not have any idea about the condition of James Wait. On board Narcissus all the people are psychologically different from each other. Some people are very humanistic, some people are not. Throughout the novel we also find a tone of racism. On this ship all people are white except James Wait. So, according to the white people, the “Niggers” (black people) are comparable with Satan. This nigger James Wait is also compared with Satan by the white crew members of Narcissus. Even after hearing racist comments from others, James Wait does not get angry. His behavior is very polite. And he says politely “I am a black man but I am a human being. I belong to the ship. I have an identity.” He becomes confident about his identity, about his selfhood. However, the behavior of Mr. Baker, a white man, is very arrogant. All crew members have a lot of fun on the ship, but James Wait is always in a sullen mood because he knows nobody respects him for the black complexion of his skin.    

The story of the book is based on colonial times. It shows the torment of black people at the hands of the white Europeans. James Wait feels so sad and humiliated that he thinks he will die very soon. Belfast, another sailor seems to be slightly sympathetic with the plight of James Wait. The underlying message of the story is, people should not be differentiated on the basis of the colour of their skin. Rather humanity and benevolence are highly essential to constitute equity and brotherhood among people.

 

The reviewer studies English literature at

Metropolitan University, Sylhet

Email: shahana.yeasmin90@gmail.com

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