Heart of Darkness is a novella published in 1899 by Joseph Conrad. The author narrates a voyage up the Congo River into the heart of Africa. The setting provides the frame for Marlow’s story of his obsession with the enigmatic ivory trader Kurtz which enables Conrad to create a comparison between London and Africa as places of darkness.
Heart of Darkness has had an influence that goes beyond the specifically literary. This parable of a man’s “heart of darkness” dramatized in the alleged “Dark Continent” of Africa transcended its late Victorian era to acquire the stature of one of the great, if troubling, visionary works of western civilization.
Joyce Carol Oates
Heart of Darkness (1899) is one of the most broadly influential works in the history of British literature. The novella’s diverse attributes—its rich symbolism, intricate plotting, evocative prose, penetrating psychological insights, broad allusiveness, moral significance, metaphysical suggestiveness—have earned for it the admiration of literary scholars and critics, high school and college teachers, and general readers alike. Further, its impact can be gauged not only by the frequency with which it is read, taught, and written about, but also by its cultural fertility. It has heavily influenced works ranging from T. S. Eliot’s landmark poem The Waste Land (1922), the manuscript of which has as its original epigraph a passage from the book that concludes with the last words of Conrad’s antihero Kurtz, to Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible (1998)
Michael Matsin – Barnes & Noble Classics
(For a particularly good introduction, see the Penguin Group Introduction to this Reading Guide.)
1. Why does Conrad have one of Marlow’s listeners relate the story, rather than make Marlow the narrator of the novel who speaks directly to the reader?
2. Why does the narrator note Marlow’s resemblance to a Buddha, at the beginning as well as the end of Marlow’s story?
3. Why does Marlow want to travel up the Congo River?
4. What is Marlow’s attitude toward the African people he encounters on his trip up the Congo? In describing them, why does Marlow say that “what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” (p. 63)?
5. What does Marlow mean when he says that “there is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies” (p. 49)?
6. Why does Marlow consider it lucky that “the inner truth is hidden” (p. 60)?
7. What does Kurtz mean when, as he’s dying, he cries out, “The horror! The horror!” (p. 112)?
8. What is the significance of the report Kurtz has written for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs? Why does Marlow tear off the postscriptum, which reads “Exterminate all the brutes!” (p. 84), before giving the report to the man from the Company?
9. Why does Marlow think that Kurtz was remarkable?
10. Why does Marlow tell the Intended that Kurtz’s last words were her name?
11. What does Marlow mean when he says that Kurtz “was very little more than a voice” (p. 80)?
12. What does the narrator mean when he says of Marlow’s narrative that it “seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river” (p. 50)?
For Further Reflection
13. Is it possible to distinguish between civilized and uncivilized societies?
14. Is complete self-knowledge desirable? Is it possible?
(Questions issued by Penguin Group publishers.)
The discussion of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad was animated. It was the inaugural for the Electric Book Club (later re-named the Online Book Club. Half of our readers used a print book!) One reader summed up summed up saying we could we could have talked for another hour. I’ll take that plus. This is being written three months after we discussed the book. Suffice it to say the discussion was lively but the details are now vague. The mot important part of the discussion was that everybody was glad to have read this book. Except, for the member who recommended it and another who had started it several times but never finished it, the book was largely unknown to the group. The discussion pretty much followed the book club discussions printed here.
Several suggestions were offered about how we should proceed.
1. In the beginning we should consider shorter books, on the order of 300 pages but this could change.
2. Books should include high quality current fiction, selected non-fiction from any era, biographies, and classics including those we would enjoy reading again.
3. The group should decide on the next book as soon as possible This will start with each member submitting up to three titles. At the conclusion of each meeting we will have the name of the next book and the one to follow.
4. When a book is discussed this will appear online listed as the previous book. Previous. At this time, the title and a brief description of the now current book with study questions will also be available online as wiill the title and description of the next book.
5. A menu bar will offer access to PREVIOUS-CURRENT-NEXT-ALL
With this much accomplished, the first meeting on September 18, 2018 was considered a success.
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