June’s Book of the Month: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

The Book Of The Month helps the readers to think about what they read. To dig deeper into the story and discover something new about the story and themselves.

“”Heart of Darkness (1899) is a short novel by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, written as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow’s experience as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Central Africa. The river is “a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land”. In the course of his travel in central Africa, Marlow becomes obsessed with Mr. Kurtz. The story is a complex exploration of the attitudes people hold on what constitutes a barbarian versus a civilized society and the attitudes on colonialism and racism that were part and parcel of European imperialism. Originally published as a three-part serial story, in Blackwood’s Magazine, the novella Heart of Darkness has been variously published and translated into many languages. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness as the sixty-seventh of the hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century” (Amazon)

Discussion Questions (LitLovers):

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 flavor 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.)

Southern New Hampshire University:

SNHU students in the MA program. I took LIT-500 and had to use Literary Theories for “Heart of Darkness.” Such has Psychoanalytic, Feminist, Marxist and Deconstructionist Theories.

Literary Theory Responses:

What form(s) of Literary Theory(ies) would you use and why? Use excerpts from the novel to back your theory(ies).

  • Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)
  • Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)
  • Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
  • Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)
  • New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
  • Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
  • Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
  • Critical Race Theory (1970s-present)

[List of Literary Theories from Purdue OWL]

Places to read the story for free:

The American University of Beirut has the story in PDF form.

Greatest Audio Books has the story on YouTube for you to hear.

Page by Page Books has the story online.

Project Gutenberg as the story in the forms of HTML, EPUB (with and without images), Kindle (with and without images and other formats.

Links to articles:

The Telegraph

Illinois Wesleya University

The New York Times


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