Study Guide

Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness Essay - Suggested Essay Topics

Suggested Essay Topics

Section I
1. From the very opening on the Thames in Heart of Darkness, when day mixes with night, Conrad uses images of light and dark. Traditionally, light represents “good” and dark represents “bad.” Does Conrad use these interpretations in the same way? What do his constant references to light and dark suggest about Marlow’s story? Remember, Africa is the “dark continent,” where the black natives live.

2. Conrad alters his narration by making Marlow jump back and forth in time. Marlow mentions people and events we won’t know about until later. Cite examples when he does this, and explain how it affects the story. What advantages are there in breaking the sequence of events? Why does he tell us some things, while withholding others?

3. In a sense, two narrators speak—a nameless “I” and Charlie Marlow. The narrator introduces Marlow, then tells us some of his ideas. When Marlow speaks, we see everything from his perspective. Suppose someone else told Marlow’s story? Say, perhaps, the narrator or, possibly, one of the people Marlow meets along his journey. How would the story change? Would the information and details be different?

4. After taking the steamer captained by the Swede, Marlow sees the blacks for the first time. Why does the sight of them appall him? Why is he bothered by the way they are treated? No one else seems to be disturbed by their condition, so why is Marlow?

5. Section I contains a number of shorter episodes, as Marlow switches steamers and heads deeper into the jungle. What does he see and experience at each temporary stop over? Is there a progression as he moves from one boat to another? Does each stop affect Marlow’s attitude and opinion toward what he sees?

Section II
1. Marlow hears about Kurtz when other people talk about him. The accountant, brickmaker, manager, and the manager’s uncle speak of Kurtz to each other and/or Marlow. He pieces together their offhand remarks to form his opinion of Kurtz. From their references, characterize Kurtz. Is he admirable, a good ivory-agent, successful? Is it possible their positions influence their feelings toward Kurtz?

2. Marlow’s journey to Africa enables him to meet for the first time the natives, people unlike him in many ways. How does Marlow, as well as the other white...

(The entire section is 977 words.)