Significance of the title of the story ‘The Lagoon’ by Joseph Conrad

The word ‘Lagoon’ (from Spanish ‘laguna’) means a ‘stretch of saltwater parted from the sea by the low sandbank’. It implies the enclosed sea-water, within the ridge of some rock or sand. This is quite common in Asiatic countries and particularly in the Malayan region.

Conrad’s story has the precise title The Lagoon. This is mainly because of the Malayan setting of the story. The entire theme is set against a gloomy. stagnant and weird-looking lagoon. The main event centers around this lagoon, for the hut of Arsat, hero of the story, is shown situated by its shallow side. Here, by the side of the abandoned lagoon, Arsat nurtured his love, lived with his Diamelen. Since his own fortunate escape and his brother’s unfortunate death, they had been here together. The story opens well when the white man entered the lagoon to pass the night in Arsat’s place. Here he heard the latter’s story of love and repentance. The tragedy of the tale- Diamelen’s death and Arsat’s realization of the stark illusion of the world– was enacted on the lagoon. Indeed, the lagoon is closely related to the thematic aspect of the story as an appropriate background.

And the lagoon is appropriate to the tone of the story, too. Conrad’s story has a deeply tragic note, a voice of despair, rather an echo from the grave. It is all about human frustration and the utter illusion of the world in which there is ‘no light and no peace’, ‘but there is death-death for many’. The very appearance of the lagoon–its gloom and ghostly aspect-seems to be in keeping with the tragic theme of the story. The morbid atmosphere that haunts the lagoon pervades the story all over. This may be illustrated from the description of the lagoon, as the white man with his men moved through it:

“The men poled in the shoaling water. The creek broadened, opening out into a wide sweep of a stagnant lagoon. The forests receded from the marshy bank, leaving a level of strip of bright green, reedy grass to frame the reflected blueness of the sky”.

Again, the story ends with the departure of the white man from the lagoon, as the Arsat stood all by himself in the searching sunlight of the lagoon.

“Before the sampan passed out of the lagoon into the creek he lifted his eyes. Arsat had not moved. He stood in the scorching sunshine, and he looked beyond the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of a world of illusions.”

There is yet another point from which The Lagoon seems appropriate as a title. The lagoon implies a detached stretch of water from the main. The hero of the story, Arsat, too, led a detached isolated life in an old hut by the side of the lagoon. He wanted to live in love away from the main current of the world around him. Like the lagoon, he remained alone, after the death of his Diamelen, ‘in the darkness of a world of illusion’.

The title of the story is related to the environment as well as the events in the hero’s life. It has, in fact, a symbolic suggestiveness, an environmental effect, and well bear out the brooding, gloomy spirit of this tragic tale of life, love, and death.