E212-M Joseph Conrad Questions

Assigned: Heart of Darkness (1957-2016).

Heart of Darkness

1. What is the point of providing a "frame narrator"? How does the presence of this kind of narrator affect your view of Marlow's authority as a narrator?

2. On 1959, what does the frame narrator say distinguishes Marlow from other sailors? How is this distinction significant with respect to the adventure that Marlow recounts?

3. What does Marlow say on 1960-61 about the Roman imperial project? How does the Roman project compare to the Belgian (and British) motivations for seeking an empire?

4. Keep track of references to maps — see, for example, 1961-62. What significance lies in Marlow's references to maps? How, for example, do they represent the novella's frequent opposition between light and "darkness"?

5. On 1963, Marlow describes a map image of the Congo River in Africa as being like a snake. What snake-like qualities does this reference transfer to the River, and how does the transference set us up for the rest of the novel's events?

6. On 1964, Marlow meets a pair of women weaving — to what Classical myths does this scene appeal, and why would such an appeal be significant in the context of the story as a whole?

7. Describe the exchange between Marlow and his idealistic Aunt on 1965. How well does Marlow's self-description as a realist hold up over the course of the story? Explain.

8. Soon Marlow sets out for Africa on a French steamship, and gets his first look at native Africans along the shore. On 1966, what qualities does he observe in them, and what seems to be his attitude about those qualities?

9. By page 1968, Marlow has reached the Company's Outer Station, and offers us some observations about it. What does he say about the reigning "Devil" in this Outer Station? How does this "Devil" differ from others with whom he has made acquaintance?

10. On 1969, what fundamental contrast or contradiction among the Outer Station inhabitants begins to appear right away, as soon as Marlow comes across dying workers and the smartly dressed Company Accountant?

11. On 1970, what is the first description we hear of Kurtz? For what quality or activity is he praised? How does the praise bring up the novella's frequent oppositions between light or whiteness and darkness?

12. On 1972 and following, Marlow reaches the Central Station. How does he describe nature's effects on the Station and its inhabitants? What power does the wilderness have over the Station, and what appears to motivate its occupants?

13. On 1975, what view of Kurtz does the Brickmaker (a favorite of the Manager) take? Why does he appear to resent Kurtz?

14. On 1977, Marlow says that he detests lies. Does this implied (and elsewhere stated) preference for truth hold constant in the novella? Does Marlow seem to understand his own character, or is he at times confused about his interests and beliefs? Explain.

15. On 1980, how do the Manager and his nephew reveal their resentment of Kurtz in spite of that agent's obvious success as an ivory collector? What effect does their resentment have upon Marlow, who has overheard their conversation?

16. On 1982-84, how does Marlow describe the Congo River and its environs? How does he describe his interaction with the River? What illusion does the River promote? What insight does it provide, at least so far as Marlow is concerned?

17. On 1984, what does Marlow imply is the basis for his ability to respond to the African natives he observes? To what extent does he here invoke the distinction often made between nature and culture, primitive and civilized? Does he accept that distinction?

18. On 1985, Marlow discovers a hut with some firewood and a book. Why does this book impress him?

19. On 1986, Marlow says that he came to an important realization as he neared Kurtz's Station. What is the realization, and to what extent does it influence or explain his behavior in the rest of the story?

20. On 1988-89, what commentary does Marlow offer on the issue of "restraint"? What accounts for the restraint shown by the natives, and what accounts for the restraint shown by the Manager?

21. On 1993, Marlow speaks of Kurtz as "a voice." Soon thereafter, how does Marlow's manner of relating his story change? What seems to be the reason for his fascination with Kurtz' voice?

22. On 1995, how does Marlow describe the partially completed report that Kurtz penned before lapsing into his fatal illness? What effect does that report have on Marlow?

23. On 1998-2000, Marlow meets a Russian devotee of Kurtz. What view of Kurtz does the Russian set forth? How does he differ from Kurtz?

24. On 2001, Marlow sees the "symbolic" skulls lining Kurtz's hut? What reflections do those skulls lead Marlow to make regarding the nature of Kurtz' downfall in the wilderness?

25. On 2003, the travelers meet Kurtz' mistress. Does her presence affect their (or your) understanding of Kurtz? If so, how?

26. After making some less than condemnatory remarks about Kurtz, Marlow is pegged as a "fellow traveler" of Kurtz. How does Marlow react when, on 2006-09, he finally closes in upon and then encounters Kurtz?

27. On 2009-11, what does Kurtz say in his final illness? What, if anything, does Marlow learn from Kurtz? How does he interpret Kurtz's phrase "the horror, the horror"?

28. Kurtz finally passes away, and, at the text's conclusion, Marlow decides to visit Kurtz's "Intended," or fiancee. Why does Marlow lie to her about Kurtz's last words? Does his lie reflect any insight he has gained from his trip up the Congo and to "the Heart of Darkness"? Explain.

Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.