The Shadow Line  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Shadow Line is a short novel based at sea by Joseph Conrad, one of his later works, being published in 1917. The novella depicts the development of a young man upon taking a captaincy in the Orient, with the shadow-line of the title representing the threshold of this development.

The novella is notable for its dual narrative structure. The full, subtitled title of the novel is The Shadow Line: A Confession, which immediately alerts the reader to the retrospective nature of the novella. The ironic constructions following from the conflict between the 'young' protagonist (who is never named) and the 'old' drive much of the underlying points of the novella, namely the nature of wisdom, experience and maturity. Conrad also extensively uses irony by comparison in the work, with characters such as Captain Giles and the ship's factotum Ransome used to emphasise strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist.

The novel has often been cited as a metaphor of the First World War, given its timing and references to a long struggle, the importance of camaraderie etc. This viewpoint may also be reinforced by the knowledge that Conrad's son, Boris, was wounded in the First World War. Others however see the novel as having a strong supernatural influence, referring to various plotlines in the novella such as the 'ghost' of the previous captain potentially cursing the ship, and the madness of first mate Burns. Conrad himself however denied this link in his author's note, claiming that although critics had attempted to show this link, "there are enough mysteries and marvels in the real world to engage with the folly of the supernatural."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Shadow Line" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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