Reading Questions: Heart of Darkness

For some background on Conrad and his relationship to the Congo, check the biographical essay at the Victorian Web.

You may want to keep these questions in mind while reading the first two sections of the novella, and return to them again when you complete it. Do you answer them differently after finishing the text?

What does the title, Heart of Darkness, suggest? Why do you think the title lacks an article (“a” or “the”)?

What complexities are generated by the point(s) of view of the novella? Is Marlow a reliable narrator? What do we know about him, and how does that knowledge affect our reading of the story he tells?

Is the novella an indictment of European ethnocentrism? Consider especially the roles of the Company, the manager, and the “pilgrims.” In what ways does Conrad suggest the exploitation of Africa(ns) by Europeans? What blind spots does Marlow–or Conrad–seem to have regarding the relationship between the two continents?

What role do women play in the action of the novella?

What is the nature of truth in the novella? Does any character seem to possess and/or know the truth? Does the text suggest that truth is attainable?

Marlow deploys a number of binary oppositions in his narrative: Romans vs. British, light vs. dark, civilized vs. savage, etc. How fruitful are these oppositions? How rigid?