Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for January 2014


Chinua Achebe’s essay, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” will be central to our discussion of the novel. The first three questions will specifically bring the novella and the essay together.

1. Achebe writes the Conrad induces ‘hypnotic stupor in his readers through a bombardment of emotive words and other forms of trickery,’ and chose a subject ‘guaranteed not to put him in conflict with the psychological predisposition of his readers.’ What is the predisposition of the reader? Is it relegated to the late 19th century or does it exist in the 21st century?

2. Does the novella suggest that the the River Thames (’embodiment of vaunted intelligence and refinement’) is good and the Congo River (‘avenging recrudescence of the mindless frenzy of the first beginnings’) is bad? How does the story reflect modern/Judeo-Christian conceptions of good and evil?

3. Achebe claims that Conrad was a ‘thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked.’ Do you agree?

4. Why does Conrad have one of Marlow’s listeners relate the story, rather than make Marlow the narrator of the novel who speaks directly to the reader?

5. What is Marlow’s attitude toward the African people he encounters on his trip up the Congo? In describing them, why does Marlow say that “what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” ?

6. What does Marlow mean when he says that “there is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies” ?

7. What does Kurtz mean when, as he’s dying, he cries out, “The horror! The horror!”?

8. What is the significance of the report Kurtz has written for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs? Why does Marlow tear off the postscriptum, which reads “Exterminate all the brutes!” (p. 84), before giving the report to the man from the Company?

9.  Why does Marlow think that Kurtz was remarkable?

(Some questions adapted from Penguin Classics reading guide.)


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