Heart of Darkness Study Guide Questions

Posted on November 23, 2008 by Jessica.
Categories: Uncategorized.

Section 1 pp 65-80 (15)

  1. Describe in detail the setting where the story begins.

A: The story starts off with a ship sitting in a London harbor waiting for wind. It was a “brooding and gloomy” day.


  1. Who is the narrator of the story?

A: One of the men on the ship.


  1. Describe Marlow’s physical appearance.

A: “sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back,” (pg. 10)


  1. The narrator describes the recent history of the Thames. What are some of the activities of the men who have sailed out, from the mouth of the river?

A: The men that sailed in and out of the Thames were pirates, knights, soldiers. Many important people.


  1. How does the narrator describe the River Thames?

A: “The tidal current runs too and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea.” (pg. 10)


  1. What effect does Conrad achieve by alluding to the pirates Francis Drake and John Franklin?

A: He provides a setting and gives an idea of what men on the ship aspire to be.


  1. How is Marlow different from typical seamen?

A: He is a wanderer, compared to seamen who are leaders.


  1. What technique does Conrad start using once Marlow begins to speak?

A: He uses a frame narrative, the crewmember and Marlow.


  1. What simile does Conrad use for the mighty river that Marlow wants to explore?

A: He describes the Congo as a snake.


  1. As he travels on a French steamer to his new post, how does Marlow describe the coast?

A: He described it as a “scene of inhabited devastation” (pg. 224)


  1. On the steamer Marlow observes a French warship firing at the coastline. What does this scene suggest about what the rest of the story will entail?

A: Marlow describes the scene as “insanity” (pg. 222). This foreshadows the insanity he will find at the outer station and more so at the inner station.


  1. How does Marlow describe the scene upon arrival to his Company’s station?

A: He describes random dynamite blasts and naked natives chained and walking up a hill. He finds a group of natives in a grove dying.



pp 81-99 (18)

  1. Why does Marlow call the chief accountant a “miracle”?

A: He calls him a miracle because he manages to wear fine linen while living in the jungle.


  1. What does Marlow learn about Kurtz from the accountant?

A: Marlow learns that Kurtz is a 1st class agent bound for good things and that he is chiefly involved in the ivory business.


  1. How does Marlow get from the first station to the Central Station?

A: Marlow joins a caravan of natives and one white man.


  1. What does Marlow learn about his steamboat when he arrives?

A: That the ship he was to command has sunk.


  1. How does Marlow describe the general manager at the Central Station?

A: He is describes a cold and unimpressionable man who has been given authority simply due to his aversion to jungle diseases.


  1. What does Marlow like about his hard work repairing the steamboat?

A: Marlow likes that the work gives him something to do and it keeps him sane.


  1. How is the Eldorado Exploring Expedition a contrast to Marlow’s mission with the steamboat?

A: The expedition is planning to take goods away from natives and do things by force, whereas Marlow is simply a messenger to the inner station.


  1. What is Conrad suggesting by calling the rival company the “Eldorado” expedition?

A: Conrad is suggesting that the exploits of the EEE are less than innocent.


  1. What does Marlow need to complete the repairs on the steamboat and why is this so frustrating to him?

A: Marlow needs rivets and he is unable to acquire them.


  1. What rhetorical device is illustrated when Marlow says of the Eldorado Expedition, that they were, “reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage” (99)?

A: He uses parallelism in this sentence; the repetition of the word without.


  1. Heart of Darkness was originally published in three installments. On what suspenseful note does Conrad end this first installment?

A: He ends the section with the mysterious arrival of the Eldorado Exploring Expedition.



Section 2 pp 99-128 (29)

  1. On what suspenseful note does this second installment begin?

A: This sections begins with Marlow waking to a conversation between the manager and his uncle who is a member of the Expedition.


  1. What does Marlow learn when he overhears the station manager talking to his uncle?

A: Marlow learns that Kurtz is ill and that he is guarded with those he keeps around him. Also, that the manager is conspiring against Kurtz and is wishing death upon him.


  1. What is significant about the image Marlow begins to develop of Kurtz?

A: Kurtz is a mystery to Marlow. He figures that Kurtz is either psychotic or a highly moral man.


  1. What is the prevailing metaphor Marlow uses to describe traveling up the river?

A: “like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were king.”


  1. How do the African crew members help Marlow?

A: The African members do the hard and dirty work that the pilgrims don’t want to do.


  1. What metaphor is used for the steamboat as it moves up the river?

A: “like a sluggish beetle crawling up the floor of a lofty portico.”


  1. How does Marlow characterize the fireman on his boat? Look closely at the diction, tone and attitude of Marlow conveyed in this description. What is the fireman compared to? What does “a parody of breeches” suggest about Kurtz’s attitude toward this man (106)?

A: Marlow characterizes the fireman as a dog. He uses his tone and syntax to dehumanize a character that he admits that he is similar to.


  1. How is the steamboat attacked?

A: The steamboat is attacked by the natives with spears from the shoreline.


  1. Who is the only person to die and how is he killed?

A: The killed is Marlow’s helmsman. He is pierced by a spear while standing next to Marlow.


  1. How does Marlow frighten the Africans on the shore and stop the attack?

Marlow scares the natives away and stops the attack by blowing his boat whistle.


  1. How does Conrad treat the speech and communication of African characters in the novel? When do these characters speak? To whom? Concerning what? (Track the three distinct occurrences, beginning with the dialog found on page 111)

A: Marlow treats the natives language as a trivial nothing of grunts and clicks, and when they use English he criticizes their use. Throughout the book he speaks to them mostly about food.


  1. Why does Marlow dispose of the helmsmen’s body so quickly?

A: He disposes of it because the cannibals are asking to eat it and he doesn’t want to give them food even though the pilgrims threw their food overboard.


  1. What mysterious book does Marlow find at a station fifty miles below Kurtz’s station?

A: Marlow finds an old book about seamanship that is marked up with what appears to be some kind of code.


  1. Describe the man who greets Marlow at the Inner Station.

A: Marlow meets the Russian trader. This man wears interesting suits and talks a lot.


  1. Marlow thought there were notes written in code in the book he found. What was this “cipher”?

A: This “cipher” was actually Russian notes written by the trader.


  1. Why do the surroundings seem prehistoric to Marlow?

A: The station is overgrown and the natives come and go. Also, there are human heads on top of the fence posts.


  1. The steamboat anchors for the night eight miles below Kurtz’s station. What troubling events happen in the morning?

A: In the morning the ship is attacked in a fog.


  1. What does Marlow mean when he says that women must be helped to “stay in that beautiful world of their own” (121)?

A: He considers women to be emotionally unable to handle most things and that they should be spared from reality.


  1. How does Marlow describe the death of the African helmsmen? How does he characterize their relationship?

A: He describes the incident dispassionately and takes off his bloody shoes and tosses them overboard.


  1. Kurtz wrote a pamphlet for what organization?

A: The pamphlet was written for the “International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs”.


  1. What surprising sentence did Kurtz add to his pamphlet long after he wrote it? What might have motivated him to write it?

A: “Exterminate all the brutes.” This was possibly motivated by his absorption into native life.


  1. On what suspenseful note does Conrad end the second installment of the novel?

A: Conrad ends this section with the arrival of the Russian Trader and information about Kurtz.



Section 3, pp 129-144 (15)

  1. The Russian says, “I had gone so far that I don’t know how I’ll ever get back” (129). What does this mean literally and symbolically?

A: Literally he means he doesn’t know how he will get back to Russia, symbolically it refers to the mindset of the jungle.


  1. When Marlow asks what Kurtz had traded for ivory, what does the Russian reply?

A: The Russian implies that Kurtz had uses a group of natives to get the ivory.


  1. Why did Kurtz threaten to shoot the young Russian?

A: The Russian had a small stash of ivory.


  1. What does the Russian tell Marlow about Kurtz’s recent activities?

A: The Russian informs Marlow that Kurtz has been ill lately.


  1. What does Marlow suddenly realize about the knobs on the posts by the building and the symbolic meaning they may have?

A: He realizes that they are human heads on top of the posts.


  1. As Marlow talks with the Russian, a group of men suddenly appears with a stretcher. What happens next?

A: Kurtz is on the stretcher and a group of natives run out of the forest and are dissuaded by Kurtz from attacking.


  1. Describe the physical appearance of the woman who walks up along the river and describe what she does.

A: She is ornamentally dressed and described as beautiful for a native. She walks along the beach and raises her hands as Kurtz is loaded onto the boat.


  1. How does Marlow characterize the African woman who enters the story on page 138? What relationship does she seem to have had with Kurtz? Why do you think Conrad draws this character in considerably more detail than other African characters?

A: The native woman seems to be Kurtz’s lover. I believe she is used as a contrast to the English intended.


  1. When Kurtz is very ill, Marlow says that the manager “considered it necessary to sigh, but neglected to be consistently sorrowful” (138). What does he mean?

A: The manager is feigning worry but he is really happy that Kurtz is dying.


  1. What does Marlow do when he discovers that Kurtz has left his sickbed?

A: Marlow follows him into the forest and nearly gets himself killed before he persuades Kurtz to return to the ship.


  1. Why does Marlow believe Kurtz’s soul has gone mad?

A: Marlow believes that Kurtz has gone mad because of his intense relationship with the natives.



pp 145-158 (13)

  1. Why don’t the pilgrims want Marlow to blow the steamboat whistle as they take Kurtz and the ivory away?

A: The pilgrims know the natives will come out and they want the chances to kill some of them.


  1. Marlow believes that the dark wilderness has cast a spell over Kurtz. What is the effect of this spell?

A: Marlow believes that the darkness has overtaken Kurtz’s heart and he has gone native.


  1. What shakes Kurtz’s confidence in returning to a glorious welcome in Europe?

A: There was a delay in their return trip.


  1. What does Kurtz entrust to Marlow?

A: He gives him papers and a photo including letters and the pamphlet, it is tied together with a shoestring.


  1. Why does Marlow consider Kurtz’s last words a victory?

A: Marlow believes that Kurtz is realizing his wrongdoing in this world and that he is having a repentant death.


  1. What is the significance of Kurtz’s dying words?

A: That he is seeing his sins and paying for them.


  1. What was the nature of Kurtz’s idealism that the Intended still reveres? How might this explain the significance of his final words?

A: The intended sees Kurtz as an amazing man full of goodness when in reality he went out realizing his wrong doing.


  1. Why do you think Conrad only refers to the woman as “the Intended”?

A: This is because Conrad believes women are unimportant props to hold up society.


  1. Explain what Marlow means when he says, “I have wrestled with death” (148).

A: Marlow means that he has toyed with the darkness of the jungle and all the death experienced and his own near death experience on the return journey.


  1. What are the eerie physical details associated with the Intended and her drawing room?

A: The room is dark and gloomy just like the rest of the book.


  1. When the Intended extends her arms as if after a retreating figure, what does Marlow think of and why?

A:  Marlow thinks back to the native woman on the shore and her similar gesture.


  1. When the Intended asks about Kurtz’s last words, what does Marlow say and why?

A: Marlow lies to her and tells her that Kurtz’s last words were her name because the real truth would have only hurt her more and he is shielding women from reality just as Conrad does.


  1. Compare how Marlow conveys the African woman versus the British woman. What is similar in his treatment of each character? What is different?

A: The women are in the book to represent the duality between Africa and Europe. The women are used as props of symbolism. Both women loved Kurtz and both were sad at his death but the native women is killed by the pilgrims while the intended is spared of Marlow’s last words.


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