Definitions

the nigger the narcissus

The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'

The Nigger of the 'Narcissus': A Tale of the Sea is a novella by Joseph Conrad. Published in 1897, it has been described as marking the start of Conrad's major phase.

The author's preface to the novel, regarded as a manifesto of literary impressionism, is considered one of Conrad's significant pieces of non-fiction writing.

The titular character, James Wait, is a West Indian black sailor on board the merchant ship Narcissus sailing from Bombay to London. Wait falls ill with tuberculosis during the voyage, and his plight arouses the humanitarian sympathies of many of the crew, five of whom rescue him from his deck cabin during a storm, placing their own lives and the ship at risk. Captain Alistoun and the old sailor Singleton, on the other hand, remain concerned primarily with their duties as sailors and are indifferent to Wait's condition.

The novel is seen as an allegory about isolation and solidarity, the ship's company serving as a microcosm of a social group. Conrad appears to suggest that humanitarian sympathies are, at their core, feelings of self-interest and that a heightened sensitivity to suffering can be detrimental to managing a society.

In the United States, the novel was first published with the title The Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle, at the insistence by the publisher, Dodd, Mead and Company, that no one would buy or read a book with the word nigger in its title.

Notes

Further reading

  • Jacques Berthoud (1978). Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase. Cambridge University Press.

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