Conrad's novel is intricately constructed to affect the reader: it leaps in time and setting and drops out morsels of information so as to manipulate a reader's understanding. These features lead to a dense, obtuse novel in which it is hard to gain an overview, and thus the themes of lack of social awareness and insufficient communication ("he [Verloc] did not really know what to say to Stevie" etc.) are reflected in the book's form.

Conrad's chapters are comparatively neatly focused: they each have a definite sense of time and place, and have a strict inclusion of only one perspective. For instance, in Chapter Nine, the Assistant Commissioner is a "long thin stranger", since the chapter is preoccupied with Winnie's view of the situation, and her painful anagnorisis. Yet in Chapter Ten, he is no longer a stranger but is defined by name again, since the episode is focused on him. Thus the impression of 'compartments' of partial understanding is promulgated: via the structure, we are aware of insufficient understanding of each secluded character because we ourselves are only privy to one dimension. However the gap between the chapters is often radical: most notably in between Chapters Three and Four, which is a leap of over a month. When Winnie switches off the light at the end of Three, Verloc is worried about how to enact the bombing; at the start of Four, Ossipon and the Professor have heard that a bomb attack has taken place that morning and assume that Verloc has died in it. Flashbacks gradually fill the reader in on what happened in the interim. The unexplained gaps in the time span mirror the murky blackness of the metropolis, and the dangerous barriers between its inhabitants.
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