Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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What is the significance of the discussion of the building of the railway in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

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When Marlow travels to the Congo, he takes a boat up the big river and, after a few miles, arrives at a place where men are building the railway. The horrible sight of the workers’ poor health and captive condition is offered as a stark contrast to the privileges and power of the white overseers and bureaucrats. The scene also foreshadows his later encounters with Kurtz and the people at his camp.

When Marlow hears explosions before he sees anyone involved in the railroad project, he concludes that workers are blasting through the rock but that the activity is basically busywork, as the cliff is not actually in the way. Marlow vividly describes the men who are employed on the railroad project and assesses the value of the project itself and their involvement in it.

In these passages, Marlow condemns the excesses of colonial rule and, more generally, the entire colonialist enterprise. He particularly criticizes the dehumanization of black workers, beginning with the six men he sees on a...

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