In this article, we use Searle’s ideas on the logic of fiction and the construction of social reality to examine Joseph Conrad’s short story ‘Youth’, particularly in relation to the background theme of changing ship technology. To do this, we contrast the fictional voyage of the Judea in ‘Youth’ with the non-fictional voyage of the Palestine on which the story is based. In identifying the differences between the two, and in examining the ship technologies of the 1880s, we suggest that an important background theme in ‘Youth’ is the increasing dominance of steam over sail.
In the final part of the article, we consider the potential value of ‘Youth’ as a graded reader. It is an important part of a trilogy that includes Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, with a very strong plot apposition between the voyage of the Judea in ‘Youth’ and the voyage of the Patna in Lord Jim. As both Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness have been converted into graded readers, ‘Youth’ would supplement these. As a short story, it does not need shortening for conversion into a graded reader, and there would be space for an introduction that highlights some key aspects of Conrad’s writing, these being his use of embedded narrations and delayed decoding that appear throughout the trilogy. In addition, ‘Youth’ has an important theme of changing ship technologies that acts as an important background to the foregrounded behaviour of the ship’s officers and crew. Finally, simplicity of the plot combined with powerful visual scenes make it an attractive story to read.