Darkness In Heart Of Darkness Essay Assignment

  • 1

    Examine the group presences in the book. What are similarities between the natives and the pilgrims?

    Answer: The natives and pilgrims, superficially polar opposites, act in similar ways in this novella. Both operate not as individuals but as members of a group, and as such they are not identified by name. They feel group emotions, such as bloodlust or fear.

  • 2

    Which literary devices in the novella are proto-Modernist?

    Answer: Conrad uses an unreliable narrator, a hallmark of Modernist writing. The narrator is not by his nature a liar, as in some Modernist fiction, but rather put under great pressure by his environment. As we learn at the beginning of the novella, Africa has driven mad a great many men. Themes of alienation, confrontation of the other, and disjointing of man from the natural world are also proto-Modernist.

  • 3

    What effect does introducing the idea that Kurtz has a fiancee create at the end of the novel?

    Answer: Kurtz is presented throughout the novella as an other. He is half Englishman, half native, and it is strongly suggested that he has an African lover. It comes as a shock, therefore, when the reader finds that he has a fiancee. It reattaches him to the material, hierarchical world of England.

  • 4

    What might Conrad's intentions have been in beginning with one narrator and, de facto, switching to another? Which is a more reliable source of information?

    Answer: The framing narrative is a literary device dating back to Victorian novels, and it usually works to provide some truth-claim to the novel (the narrator finds a packet of papers or a diary to support the story, for example). In Heart of Darkness, however, the narrator listens to the other storyteller in real time.

  • 5

    Water is a constant presence in this novel. Freshwater and saltwater do not play quite the same role. What is the difference in the way that they are regarded by the narrator and by Marlow?

    Answer: While the unnamed narrator remains neutral on the question, Marlow is originally drawn to the saltwater. He thinks that it will set him free from the constraints of England. He finds himself mired, however, in the freshwater rivers of Africa, which are even more stifling than even the land of his home country.

  • 6

    What is the overall impression of the natives that Conrad produces?

    Answer: Much ink has been spilled over whether Conrad produces a racist perspective on African natives. The passage in which he identifies natives as a sea of waving disembodied arms is often used as evidence that the perspective is a racist one. This passage and others do illustrate that the narrator views the natives in groups rather than as individuals, and they seem to have very similar--or identical--intentions, but there is not necessarily any racist aspect of that interpretation. Even if there is, whether Conrad agrees or not is another matter. The reader has good reasons to distance Conrad from the narrator (see the Additional Content section in this ClassicNote).

  • 7

    This story begins as a quest. What sort of difficulties does the protagonist face? Is Kurtz a worthy "grail" figure?

    Answer: The grail is technically reached: Kurtz is found. But he is not the glorious panacea that the narrator has imagined. Rather, he reenforces the complexity of life in Africa. The protagonist must deal with some of his own shadows before he can reach Kurtz.

  • 8

    What effect does having a double audience (those listening to the narrator as well as the reader) create?

    Answer: Building an audience into his narrative builds up the narrator's importance and credibility. By creating a rapt audience on the river in London, Conrad implies that his own readers should be similarly enthralled by his story.

  • 9

    Sound is the primary sense associated with Kurtz. Why is his voice so powerful and important while his appearance seems less so?

    Answer: Sound is the sense most bound up with Africa, where the fog, metaphorical and physical, may be dense. In darkness, one still can hear. The Africans themselves respond strongly to sound, with all but one running away in fear from the ship's whistle. This may help to explain Kurtz's powers over them.

  • 10

    Identify places where Marlow expresses distance from his reader. What parts of his experience does he think they will be unable to relate to and why?

    Answer: Marlow stops at several junctures in his narrative to comment that the listener (and, by extension, the reader) will be unable to identify with his experience. The sights, smells, and sounds of Africa are outside their range of experience, so he does not expect them to be able to empathize. He thus makes himself an authority as well as an Other who is no longer able to feel fully integrated in his home country.

  • Heart Of Darkness Response Assignment

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    “They were dying slowly-it was clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confused in the greenish gloom”. (page 14 para. 3, line 1).

    The quote is coming from Marlow, upon arriving at the outer station, and first witnessing the devastation the Belgians have caused the native peoples. He is speaking about the black men, who have been enslaved, dying all around him. He can see the work they are being made to do, and finds it a great horror, similar, perhaps, to what hell must be like. This quote also shows Marlow’s first recognition to an epiphany, he will later realize, as imperialism. He says clearly, these men can not be viewed as criminals, for the only function they seemed to be carrying out was dying, and die they did, in great numbers, and at the hands of the “enlightened” Europeans. I believe his conscience was getting the better of him, first seeing the death, disease, starvation, and chaos all around, allusions of a modern day genocide, which righteous people can not stand to watch, but are helpless to do anything about it.

    Descriptions of Africans dying, or more precisely, being killed, are common stories surrounding imperialism. Heart of Darkness, finely details the worst kind of African imperialism, the Belgian kind. Millions of people, in what today is called the Congo, were forcefully enslaved, and then made to gather ivory tusks, and rubber plants, all the time being treated as animals, for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of the Belgian monarchy. These scenes shock the more caring, and kind hearted reader, in today’s world, and leave questions swirling in the mind about how atrocities, similar to the ones described in Heart of Darkness, could have been carried out, by a supposed more enlightened society. Surprisingly enough, European imperialists do not hold the sole rights to death and destruction. In fact, simply by reading a history book of the last 2000 years, the reader may come to the conclusion that imperialism was a natural part of empire expansion. Just look at the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Huns, the Moslems, the Christians, and finally the British. What did they all have in common, first they all conquered territory, and usually to do this they needed to kill indigenous people, so that they could use newly conquered land, for their needs.

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    Secondly, these civilizations never seemed to have qualms about the murder, of sometimes millions of people, and destruction they caused in their quest for riches.

    The question begs to be asked were all these conquering civilization barbarians? A brief definition is people that are uncivilized, cruel, inhumane, lacking moral insight. So, do the colonial Europeans fit into this category of barbarity? It would seem so. I mean, it has been estimated that 10 million Africans died under Belgian rule. What a paradox that the people, who were supposedly the most enlightened, the most religious, and the torchbearers of humanity, were they same people causing so much despair to Africa. So what caused the Europeans to act so cruelly towards the Africans, and how could they have discarded their own belief system of religion towards other humans.

    In Europe, employee rights were being passed in government that gave protection to workers when accidents occurred. Families were close knit, with the old parents often living in the care of their children. Churches provided spiritual release to the masses, and finally the King and Queen, of most European nations, were devoutly religious. These facts disprove the notion that European imperialist were heartless creatures. How could a people that cared so much about life around them, expressed through their arts and music, be total barbarians? The answer lies with those same beliefs that allowed such deep insight into nature, and humanity, and unfortunately, twisted some otherwise humane systems of civilization. These beliefs extended only to European people, who were believed to be a civilized society, and it was their duty to bring barbarian hordes to the light of spirituality, and walk in the way of God. However, the imperialists had twisted these religious ideals into a form a racism that would benefit them economically. They viewed the Africans in a light of inferiority, as subhuman species, ready to be used and discarded when the situation deemed it necessary. The imperialists therefore, used these people as packhorses, and when the Africans would stumble, and not be able to continue with the forced work, the Europeans would leave them to die, as they would a packhorse. No moral qualms, or even words of protest would be spoken, why should they be, nobody cries when millions of ants are crushed to death, by a giant foot, living in their home, minding their own business. At most, a person like Conrad will write a story about the atrocities he has seen, and people we will read, and then view it as fiction because they can not believe their people are capable of these actions. “How very touching”, a few may murmur, but then they will be out the door, and on the bus to work, and never think about the desolate again, until tomorrow’s paper.

    These people can not feel the pain of those that suffer. Their hearts have not turned to stone by choice, but molded by the dye a society value has cast the unfortunate “sub- races” into. Not until, the Europeans of the 19th century have walked in the African’s shoes, or they start to open their third eye will they every have been able to see that the law’s of nature take precedence over the economic laws.



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