Heart of Darkness Questions
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
- Why is Marlowe telling us this story? What does he want to get out of it?
- Does Marlowe's curiosity have a price?
- What is madness like in Heart of Darkness? What brings it on? Is it innate, or does the environment bring it on?
- What do obsession and ambition have to do with the story? What are some specific examples of certain characters being obsessed with something or having too much ambition? What consequences does it have?
- Is Chinua Achebe right—is Heart of Darkness racist? Does the book present a simple and degrading view of the native Africans? Or are the views of race more complex?
- How does Conrad depict Africans as different from Europeans? Does this characterization degrade them?
- How does Conrad complicate the idea of colonization being "good"? What kind of negative effects does it have on both white men and the black men of Africa? Who suffers more?
- What is Kurtz passing judgment upon when he voices his famous last words: "The horror! The horror!"? What's so horrible?
- Much of our information of Kurtz comes secondhand or through the grapevine. How does that affect our vision of him when we finally see him in person? Does Kurtz live up to our expectations?
- Consider the accountant, the manager, and the brickmaker—all puppets of the Company. What negative concepts or themes might each one represent? How are they different from one another?
- What is the effect of the narrative being told by Marlow first-hand? What is the effect of having this narration as a frame story told by the nameless narrator?
- What's going on with the names—or lack of names? The only names we get are "Marlow" and "Kurtz." Everyone else is defined by their occupation, a physical description, or their relation to a named character. Does this demean their importance? Does it level the statuses of white and black individuals?
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