Heart of Darkness

What is the purpose of the anonymous narrator?
It allows the reader to insert her or himself into the narrator’s shoes giving the reader the opportunity to decide for himself or herself. Also, the outside narrator distances the reader even further from Marlow’s experiences.
How does Marlow describe Brussels, Belgium?
Marlow uses the phrase “whited sepulcher” to describe the city (Biblical allusion to Matthew 23:27) — reveals that Marlow disliked the city’s prevalent corruption and the fact that its prosperity came from the backs of slaves.
In what instances does Conrad use foreshadowing?
1. “And this also… has been one of the dark places of the earth” suggests that Marlow will compare England to another dark place or time.
2. Marlow emphasizes his hatred of lies early in the book foreshadows his future lie to the Intended.
3. Fresleven’s death may indicate Marlow’s own future.
In what instances does Conrad use foiling?
1. Marlow and Kurtz
2. Two women knitting black wool (allusion to Fates) – Both women knit black wool “as for a warm pall.”
3. Kurtz’s African mistress and his Intended
What contextual pairings appear in the novel?
1. Two places of darkness: London and the Congo
2. Two time periods of savagery: ancient Roman conquest of Britain and contemporary Belgian imperialism of the Congo
3. Two rivers: the Thames and the Congo
4. Two contrasting empires: the British and the Belgian (also, consider the similarities and differences between the Roman Empire and the Belgian).
How does light function in the novel?
Solely to highlight darkness (candles, torchlight, etc.) Marlow describes sunlight as “pitiless” and in the “light” persecution takes place of the guise of enlightenment or evangelism. Also, when describing Kurtz’s intended, he reminds the reader that “sunlight can be made to lie.”
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How do the Thames River and the Congo River represent contrasting ideas?
1. Both rivers facilitate exploration, commerce, and progress, but Conrad describes the Congo using serpent imagery to create a sense of danger. While Conrad describes the Thames as a “venerable stream,” he tells the reader that the Congo River has offered no beneficial service to those who people its banks.
Why is Conrad’s description of Marlow as a Buddhist idol important?
The reader first encounters Marlow in a meditative stance which could suggest that he is seeking enlightenment and balance after his experience. The absence of the lotus flower also suggests he has not attained enlightenment.
Marlow’s observations of the brick-maker
At first Marlow is suspicious of him as he seems to be spying for the manager of the Central station. Marlow refers to him as a “paper mache Mephistopheles” implying the brick-maker is a devil and hollow to the core.
What is the key characteristic of the Chief Accountant of the Outer Station?
Cleanliness and meticulousness – Marlow describes him as a “miracle” in white and a “vision” which is in stark contrast to the description of the natives in the prior passage (phantom, contorted, massacre, pestilence). In addition, the accountant obviously lacks human compassion as he is easily annoyed by the dying agent.
How does Conrad use allusions to Roman history in the scene with the knitting women?
He envisions himself greeting the older women, “Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant!” as the gladiators had done before their deaths. This adds to the sense of uneasiness and conspiracy that Marlow is beginning to experience.
How does the helmsman die?
He dies from a spear in his chest, while waving around an empty rifle into the wilderness (irony)
In the novel, Marlow shows grudging respect for his cannibal steamboat crew because he realizes that they can show..
restraint, something he later claims that Kurtz lacks. The heads of the rebels reveal that “Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts” (72). In the novella, cannibalism may symbolize the exploitation of a fellow man.
In the novel, Marlow never goes ashore “for a howl and a dance” because…
steamboat demands too much attention
Kurtz’s painting
A combination of the traditional images of Liberty and Justice, ironically poorly reflecting on both. In the painting the lady carries a torch, not a scale, revealing Kurtz’s understanding of the truth of imperialism. The background of the painting is black with light shining on the face to make it look sinister. This may suggest that those who are attempting to “enlighten” are blind and ignorant to the truth.
Ivory
the manifestation of everyone’s greed in the Congo; a symbol of capitalist exploitation; whisper of it “hangs in the air” like a “spell”
Frame Narrative
A technique of telling a story through many layers, typically beginning with an unnamed first person narrator who hears another narrator tell the main story.
“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.”
Marlow refers to England as one of these implying a repetition in historical practices particularly in the case of imperialism and oppression. The use of present perfect “has” opposed to the past perfect “had” suggests that it still is a dark place.
Marlow’s attitude toward women
Marlow describes women as living in a beautiful, dreamlike state (think the Intended, Marlow’s aunt). “It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.” Does this attitude seem to apply to Kurtz’s African mistress as well?
Prodigy
Kurtz is described as “a ____ […], an emissary of pity, and science, and progress”
“The horror! The horror!”
These are Kurtz’s final words; Keep in mind the many things that these words may represent. Marlow understand his words as a great moral victory.
Layers of Story
(1) The initial first-person narration, (2) Marlow’s telling of the first-person narrator, and (3) Marlow’s hearing other stories all form Conrad’s Three ___
Yellow: I was going into the yellow. Dead in the centre. And the river was there — fascinating — deadly — like a snake.
danger, corruption, death, sickness
Color Black: “. . . regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don’t you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back—a help—an instrument. It was a kind of partnership.”
Is there a positive or negative connotation of the use of color imagery here? Does Marlow use irony at all here?
White: whited sepulcher, white patch, white worsted, white fog descending like a shudder, etc
white washed graves (allusion); unexplored or untainted by imperialism; oppression of native (collar of European wool around his neck); lack of clarity (used to create suspense before attack)
Themes
1. Man’s confrontation with himself can be both dangerous and enlightening.
2. Often bearers of light destroy what they profess to enlighten.
3. The removal of all restraints in solitude and silence will bring out a man’s true nature.
4. The strongest barrier to the abyss is a previous commitment to faith or responsibility.
Work
Outer and central station: Work keeps people focused; focus provides sanity. Note the “busyness” that goes on in the outer station (detonations, construction of railroad yet nothing is being built, “artificial hole” to meet “philanthropic desire” of giving the natives something to do.) Also, in the central station, note that the delay of the rivets keeps Marlow from settling “the affair” sooner than he might have. Do you think this delay was contrived by the manager? Why or why not?
El Dorado Exploring Expedition
Represents the greed and the piracy of the Europeans who rape the African continent of its riches. This group underscores the oppressors’ tendencies to give in to the darker side of human nature as opposed to demonstrating concern for humanity’s “lesser animals” (Marlow’s irony).
Russian’s clothes
He is dressed in many colors (like the map) similar to a harlequin or court jester. Note, when leaving the inner station, he places his ammo in his red pocket and his seamanship book in his blue pocket. What might these colors represent?
What might be the significance of the accountant playing “architecturally with the bones”?
Keep in mind, these “bones” are dominoes likely made of ivory stripped from Africa.
Devils
One of the prevalent themes is that any human can devolve if he/she succumbs to inner darkness; examples are the “devil of violence, devil of greed, devil of hot desire” (Europeans and Africans); “strong lusty, red-eyed devils” (Africans recruited to subdue other Africans); “flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” (European imperialism).
drums and bells
The excerpt where Marlow describes the native drums having a meaning as “profound . . .as bells in a Christian country” certainly suggests he recognizes communication as part of the native civilization.
Marlow’s attitude toward lying
a truth too dark to tell (a black truth)
a lie too light to be false (a white lie)