Heart of Darkness Suggested Essay Topics
by Joseph Conrad

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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 men, contrast with the blacks? Focus not only on their physical differences, but their behavior and general way of life. Are they representative of their distinct cultures, since one group comes from “civilized” Europe and the other comes from the “dark” continent?

3. A few times during Section I, Marlow mentions how he anticipates meeting Kurtz. Why does Kurtz intrigue him? Has the gossip about Kurtz fueled his interest? Is there any logical reason why he becomes obsessed with meeting Kurtz, a white man like himself?

4. The conversation between Marlow and the manager in Section I, and the talk between the manager and his uncle at the beginning of Section II, establish the manager’s character. According to Marlow, he has no good qualities. Show how the manager is greedy, self-centered, and more of a hindrance to Marlow than a help. Remember, the manager envies Kurtz, a man Marlow longs to meet. Could this account for Marlow’s unflattering picture of him?

5. Conrad ends Section I between when the manager’s uncle arrives and the manager talks to his uncle about Kurtz. Section II ends right after the Russian greets Marlow and tells them preliminary information about himself and Kurtz. Why does Conrad end these sections here? Are they important breaks in the plot? Would Heart of Darkness have been different if Conrad had left the novella as one chapter, with no separate sections?

Section III
1. From what the Russian says, he worships Kurtz. He always praises him, even justifying Kurtz’s barbaric killings. Marlow admires Kurtz also. How,...

(The entire section is 977 words.)