Study Guide

Heart of Darkness Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

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Move over, Mother Nature: there's a new wilderness in town. In Heart of Darkness, the natural world isn't a place of comfort or pleasure or even mild neutrality: it's dark, frightening, and it will basically eat your face off if you so much as look at it cross-eyed. But is civilization really that much better? Sure, you might get to sleep in a bed—but human nature is the same whether it's shouting "brava" after an operatic aria or chanting along with war drums.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What does civilization seem to represent at the beginning of the novel? What does nature represent? Does this distinction hold true as the novel progresses?
  2. How does the concept of civilization become problematic as the novel progresses? How are the Company's attempts to 'civilize' the Africans hypocritical?
  3. If nature is madness-inducing, what does this say about human nature, especially the native Africans?
  4. How do different aspects of nature, especially the river and the jungle, become characters in their own right? What is nature's attitude towards man?

Chew on This

In Heart of Darkness, natural forces have a will of their own: they're hostile to the white "pilgrims," but accepting toward the black "savages."

Conrad suggests that there's no real difference between the natural world and human nature.

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