In this article, we use speech act theory to explore Joseph Conrad’s ‘Youth’, Heart of Darkness, and Lord Jim. Initially we consider J. L. Austin’s use of the term ‘parasitic’ in How to Do Things with Words and Searle’s adoption of the term ‘nonserious’ in his article ‘The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse’. While retaining our commitments to the overall speech act framework described by Austin, we re-label the two terms as ‘symbiotic’ and ‘fictional’, contrasting the latter with ‘non-fictional’ rather than ‘serious’. We also consider Searle’s contribution to the speech act taxonomy through his creation of the category of assertives.
In the analysis of the three Conrad stories, we place emphasis on the use of assertions, which fall within the category of assertives. We use these to examine Conrad’s non-fictional commitments to accuracy. Finally, we consider how one of the stories, Lord Jim, has been adapted for use as an EFL text and consider how such adaptations could be improved to give the reader a greater understanding of the richness of Conrad’s writing, and also whether Conrad’s short stories are better texts for language learners to study than his longer works.