Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Capital and largest city of Great Britain. The story opens with five men on a cruising yawl on the River Thames on a hazy evening at sundown. One of the men present is named Marlow. He is the only one of the men who is still active as a sailor or naval officer. Marlow begins telling a long story by remarking that the Thames has a dark history. He is referring to ancient times when the Romans first colonized England. At that time, London was an uncivilized place for the relatively sophisticated Romans to be entering.


*Brussels. Capital city of Belgium. Marlow tells a story concerning his voyage to the heart of the African continent. The company that has hired Marlow to fix a river steamer and become its captain is headquartered in Brussels. At the time of the story, the 1890’s, Belgium was a colonial power in control of a large portion of central Africa. Marlow must visit the company offices to obtain his commission and get orders concerning his new job. The people who work at the company headquarters treat him as though they do not expect him to return. The entire story Marlow tells shows that he has strong contempt for the way the Belgians have managed the country. He compares the city to a sepulcher—white on the outside but full of rotting bones.

*Congo River

*Congo River. Greatest waterway in Central Africa. Joseph Conrad never names these places by their proper names, but it is obvious from his descriptions of them and their place on the map of Africa that he is referring to Congo Free State and to the lengthy Congo River. Marlow also discusses the company’s lower station and a central station, analogous to Stanley Falls, far up the Congo River in the center of Africa. The trip that the steamer, captained by Marlow, makes up the Congo River to relieve Kurtz is eventful and dangerous both because of African attacks and because of tropical diseases. The journey into the heart of the dark rain forest is symbolic of the journey into the dark depths of the human soul.

Heart of Darkness Historical Context

Map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Published by Gale Cengage

European Presence in Africa
In 1890 Joseph Conrad secured employment in the Congo...

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Heart of Darkness Setting

The story opens as a nameless narrator aboard the cruising yawl Nellie, anchored in the Thames River in England, begins to relate...

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Heart of Darkness Literary Style

Point of View
Heart of Darkness is framed as a story within a story. The point of view belongs primarily to...

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Heart of Darkness Literary Techniques

Conrad uses a variety of techniques to advance his narrative and to imbue it with a parable like quality of universal experience extrapolated...

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Heart of Darkness Literary Qualities

Conrad uses a variety of techniques to advance his narrative and to imbue it, like a parable, with a quality of universality derived from...

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Heart of Darkness Social Concerns

The combined exploitative forces of capitalism and imperialism are the objects of Conrad's social criticism in Heart of Darkness, objects...

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Heart of Darkness Compare and Contrast

  • 1890s: The iron steamship has supplanted the sailing ship. The British, French, and Dutch Merchant Marines are...

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Heart of Darkness Topics for Discussion

1. Because of his experiences in Poland, Conrad hated totalitarianism. What evidence do you see of this hatred in Heart of Darkness?...

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Heart of Darkness Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Critics have pointed out that Marlow's journey is a descent to the underworld, similar to Dante's in The Divine Comedy. Explain the...

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Heart of Darkness Topics for Further Study

  • Research the Belgian atrocities, committed in the Belgian Congo between 1889 and 1899, and compare them to the evidence of same presented...

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Heart of Darkness Literary Precedents

Heart of Darkness has precedents in the tales of Chaucer and Boccaccio, the epic poetry of Virgil and Dante, in the literature of the...

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Heart of Darkness Related Titles / Adaptations

His first novels, Almayer's Folly (1895) and An Outcast of the Islands (1896), established Conrad as an observer of persons...

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Heart of Darkness Media Adaptations

  • Directed by Nicolas Roeg, Heart of Darkness was adapted for television and broadcast on TNT in 1994. The film features Tim Roth as...

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Heart of Darkness What Do I Read Next?

  • In Lord Jim, published in 1900, another maritime tale, Conrad deals with issues of honor in the face of...

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Heart of Darkness For Further Reference

Baines, Jocelyn. Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography. New York: McGraw- Hill, 1960. A useful biography of Conrad in political, social,...

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Heart of Darkness Bibliography and Further Reading

Adams, Richard. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin, 1991.

Bloom, Harold, ed....

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Heart of Darkness Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Beach, Joseph W. The Twentieth-Century Novel: Studies in Technique. New York: Century, 1932. Conrad’s narrative style and his characterizations (especially of Kurtz) are discussed. How Conrad’s life experiences are related to the plot is hypothesized.

Gillon, Adam. Joseph Conrad. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A book-length exploration of Conrad’s style and how his technique evolved, especially regarding the narrator, Marlowe. There is also an analytical consideration of Kurtz.

Guerard, Albert J. Conrad the Novelist. New York: Atheneum, 1958. Examines some of the autobiographical elements of the work as well as Conrad’s attitudes toward social and historical events of his time. Provides useful insights into Kurtz’s character.

Hay, Eloise K. The Political Novels of Joseph Conrad. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. Presents the view that Heart of Darkness is not the masterpiece critical acclaim would suggest. Explores the social events and political climate of the time to show some of the influences on the plot and style.

Watt, Ian. “Heart of Darkness.” In Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. A discussion of sources and ideological perspectives relative to Kurtz and the Victorian era. A scholarly assessment in a readable style.