Heart of Darkness Study Questions
1. The setting of the story begins on the Nellie, a ship. The turn of the tide is significant because it gives the men on board extra time to talk, and Marlow begins telling his story. In addition, symbolically, the turning of the tide conveys a change, and perhaps, foreshadowing of the story. The author spends a lot of time dealing with light because it is the main symbol in the novella. Light and darkness are universal symbols that represent good and evil. Although not explicitly stated, those who have the light are those who are “civilized”, and those who have the darkness are those who remain “uncivilized”, particularly the people living in Africa. 2. Marlow appears different from everyone else on the ship because of how the author describes Marlow’s character. Conrad describes Marlow as having “sunken cheeks”, a “yellow complexion”, and resembling that of an “idol”. Marlow seems ill through this description. Sunken cheeks convey a lack of nourishment, as well as exhaustion. The color yellow in literature has two meanings: happiness and sickness. In this context, one may infer the color yellow to symbolize Marlow’s sickness, or corruption, as it correlates to the rest of his description. Lastly, an “idol” connotes a phantom. Marlow appears to be different from everyone on the ship through his description. The audience is civilized. All of the men have jobs, a lawyer, an accountant, the director, and the outside narrator. The story also explains how Marlow remained the only one out of the men to still follow the sea. He also portrays how he did not “represent his class.” This suggests that Marlow may not be as “civilized” as the other men. As Marlow begins to tell his story, the narrator explains how Marlow is about to embark on another “inconclusive” experience. The word inconclusive suggests not fully answering doubts and questions. In addition, Marlow begins to remark the “weakness of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would best like to hear.” This conveys how Marlow hopes to interest, or intrigue, his audience. Marlow feels inclined to share his story so that his audience better understands him. 3. The Roman reacted to England, a dark place, by “civilizing” it, or conquering its territory. At that time, England looked like the “very end of the world.” It possessed “sand banks, marshes, forests, savages.” The story conveys how there was little to eat for a civilized man and only the Thames water for drink. England was a dark place at that time because it was uncivilized. 4. According to Marlow, what redeems the conquest of the Earth is the idea only; the idea that men will unselfishly sacrifice themselves for. Marlow explains how conquering land, and the land’s people, really is not a pretty thing. I think Marlow breaks off because it is a sensitive subject for him to discuss, and maybe only something he truly understands. 5. Marlow keeps comparing the river to a serpent. The comparison is interesting because a serpent symbolizes evil, corruption, and temptation. Similar to the story of Adam and Eve, a snake, or the river in this case, tempts the protagonist. 6. Aside from knitting, the two women in the office appear to be secretaries, or receptionists, for the doctor. Both women appear to symbolize fate; they are the fates who spin, measure, or cute the thread of life. This symbol is an allusion to Greek mythology. As Marlow is progressing toward his journey to Africa, it is in the Company’s office that he meets these two women. 7. Fresleven went insane because he had spent so much time in the jungle. After attempting to stab the village chief, Fresleven was killed. The conflict began with an argument over a couple of hens, which cost him, his life. The village became abandoned because the natives became superstitious; they were all very afraid to kill a white man. 8. Marlow’s Aunt calls Marlow an “emissary of light” because she...
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