Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Each detail to which your attention is drawn by the Study Guide is part of the puzzle of Heart of Darkness. It is important to notice the details, to ponder them, to see how patterns repeat themselves, and to see how the pieces fit together. Marlow's journey and your reading about the journey require constant alertness, discipline, patience, and a willingness to look for what is not immediately apparent.
A. The Thames Setting
1. Notice the descriptions of the tide, river, and ships. Who are the friends of Marlow who are on board the Nellie with him? Do their various occupations signify a subject important to the novel?
2. Marlow is like the setting of the river-the "brooding" nature that he describes. The narrator says he sits like an "idol." What is suggested by his sitting position and his state of mind?
3. As the ship sits at anchor on the Thames, Marlow is reminded of the past. The Thames is a "waterway . . . to the utmost ends of the earth"; the river represents the "spirit of the past." Why has the Thames been 'one of the dark places"? What is the significance of the reference to the invasions of the Romans?
4. What does Marlow mean by his comments on the telling of a story? The "kernal" and "the misty halo"?
5. What effect is created by Marlow's interruption by the first narrator? The narrative technique in the novel is like a series of Chinese boxes-Conrad the author, an unnamed narrator who tells us about Marlow, Marlow who tells about his journey and about Kurtz, the voice of Kurtz who is the innermost voice. Think about what thematic and narrative purposes might be served by this layer on layer narrative voices.
When you finish the novel, come back to these questions and talk about them again.
B. Preparation for the Journey
1. Look at the description of the map that Marlow studies as he contemplates his journey. Why is the river like a snake?
2. In what way do "the women"