Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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How does the death of the helmsman help to illuminate a theme of Heart of Darkness?

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The attack on the boat that causes the helmsman's death highlights the idea of the jungle as a hostile and inscrutable place full of unknowable dangers. First, the attack comes suddenly, and it takes a while for Marlowe to notice it: the "little sticks" that fill the air are hardly recognizable as arrows and seem as if "they wouldn't kill a cat." It is as if the jungle itself is attacking them. Even though Marlowe is slow to apprehend danger, the Helmsman has an intense reaction, raising his feet up and down and frothing at the mouth. Marlowe orders him to be still, but his comment, "I might just as well have ordered a tree not to sway in the wind," suggests that the Helmsman's fear has more to do with nature than any adversary. In fact, the people on shore doing the shooting are not individuals but a collection of "naked breasts, arms, legs, [and] glaring eyes" that seem like...

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