Study Guide

Heart of Darkness Power

By Joseph Conrad

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Everyone wants to be powerful. (Even you. Even Shmoop.) And the people in Heart of Darkness are willing to do some pretty nasty things to get their way: blow up steamships, behead Africans, and wish untimely and unpleasant illness on their coworkers. (Okay, truth, who hasn't done that one?) The Europeans all see nature, and the Africans, as something to be dominated—but in the end, we can't help feeling that the real power is still locked up tight in the African Interior. In fact, we suspect that Kurtz's warrior mistress just might be the most powerful one of all.

Questions About Power

  1. How do white men overpower the black native Africans? Where do the Africans seem most powerless? Most powerful?
  2. Which characters are concerned with gaining more power and rank within the Company? What does their obsession for power cost them?
  3. How is Kurtz's power more absolute than any other characters'? Conversely, how is his control over himself especially weak? How does this tie into Marlow's comments about his "lack of restraint"?

Chew on This

Kurtz's power comes from being able to understand and control the native Africans. With access to a large stash of ivory, he wins leverage within the Company.

Kurtz's lack of self-restraint eventually undermines any position of power he manages to hold.

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