Okay, this is the longest part of the site. Hopefully. Also the
most useful. Hopefully. But at any rate, it’s here. Some Close-Reading
Questions to help you find things to write about in your essay.
(A note: Close-reading questions are questions which,
according to our English teacher, you should have been
thinking about as you read the book. However, many of these
questions cover topics we never even recognized NEEDED any
thought. And some of it seems so inconsequential, we question
including it, but we feel that if it may help, then all the better.
As with many of our other essay help pages, if you think of
anything you feel should be added, e-mail us below and we’ll
probably add it. Oh, BTW, the page numbers included refer to
a copy of Heart of Darkness that also has The
Secret Sharer in it. Actually, before it. In it, HOD starts
on page 65. Well, that’s about it really- on to the
- How is England made to parallel Africa on page 69?
How, then, to England and Africa become symbolic? Of
Both were considered barbaric by the more "civilized" nation,
and those "civilized" countries sent people to "civilize" the
barbarians. (Rome to England, England to Africa). They
symbolize the "salvation" of the countries (England and later
Africa), perhaps of man’s soul. (We have very little idea
where this answer came from, but there it is.)
- What does Marlow mean when he says that a
conqueror’s “strength is just an accident arising from the
weakness of others”? (p. 69)
A conqueror can’t conquer unless those he’s conquering are
weaker than him. When that is true, he appears to be strong to
the subjugated lands; to someone stronger than he, he would
appear weak and he could not conquer them.
- How does Marlow imply that men justify “the
conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away
from those who have a different
He implies that people decide that someone “different” from
them must not deserve the land.
- What might be symbolized by the flames in the river
on page 70? For what concept are flames often archetypical?
For what concept is water archetypical?
Fire is often used to signify destruction or hatred. Water often
signifies life, or renewal and peace.
- What is the equation Marlow establishes between
blankness and darkness? (p. 71)
He suggests that blankness, once filled, becomes darkness.
The unknown “blank spaces” on his map are “good” things,
sources of childish wonder, but once they become known and
filled in, they become sources of darkness.
- What are the implications of comparing the “mighty
big river” to “an immense snake uncoiled”? (p.
It becomes dangerous, a threat, an ominous
- What does Marlow imply about human nature that he
is not surprised that Fresleven, “the gentlest, quietest creature
that ever walked on two legs,” had brutally attacked a native
during a quarrel about two black hens? (p. 72)
He implies that men, though seemingly gentle, can have a
double-sided nature and that the uncivilized side of that nature
will dominate when the veneer of society is
- What significance can you attach to the colors on the
map in one of the Company’s offices? (p. 73)
Red is the area that is “civilized,” signaling the white man’s
bloody (violent) nature. The others (purple, blue, etc.) are
various degrees of civilization. Yellow isn’t civilized. The
yellow part of the map (yellow signifying fear, sickness, etc.) is
contaminated by the ivory trade. Green=growth, new things.
(Most of these are in mentioned in our Symbolism
- How does the Company map suggest Conrad’s
perception of humanity? (p. 73)
The Map shows what Marlow thinks humanity’s perception of
life is- removed and ordered.
- What does the dim light in the Company office
It suggests the “darkness” of the Company and perhaps of
- What images suggest to Marlow that the two
Company women are “guarding the door of Darkness”? (p.
Through his description of the two women, Marlow portrays
them as similar to the Fates, who spin the thread of life and cut
it when time is through- in essence, controlling (and guarding)
the “door” to death (here, darkness). The older “Fate” would
know the fate of all who pass through the room, and the
younger introduces them to the Company’s darkness. (Yeah,
sure... Something like that.)
- What are the implications of the doctor’s behavior in
measuring Marlow’s head? (p. 75)
The doctor has a theory that when people go to the Congo,
their brains change, perhaps a bit of foreshadowing the fact
that the Congo, the removal of society and civilization, changes
- What evidence does Marlow provide for believing
that women are “out of touch with truth”? (p.
He uses his Aunt as an example of women, and states that they
should be kept in their own little worlds.
- Edward Weeks writes that Conrad’s “sentences are
etched with acid” as Marlow describes the two women at the
Company. (p. 74) What does he mean? How does it
foreshadow Marlow’s disillusionment?
We’re working on this one. If you have something that even
resembles a good answer, e-mail us below please.
- Clarify the metaphorical implications of Marlow’s
observation that “the oily and languid sea, the uniform
somberness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the
truth of things.” (p. 78)
Marlow is isolated from everything, not a part of the other
men. He is different from them, and unable to see the truth
because of his isolation from them and the world in
- What are Conrad’s implications about civilization
when Marlow observes the French man-of-war “shelling the
bush” when “there wasn’t even a shed there”? (p.
He implies that civilization is just a facade behind which man
hides his violent nature, and that without it, man will search for
and use any excuse to unleash that violence.
- How does Marlow’s description of the water suggest
his opinion of the man-of-war as “incomprehensible, firing into
a continent”? (p. 78)
The water is described as “oily, languid” to represent the
greasy, slimy state of humanity and as such, the
- How does Marlow use tone and diction to suggest his
opinion as a French crew member refers to “a camp of natives
as ‘enemies’”? (p. 78)
His sarcastic tone clearly indicates that he finds it ridiculous.
- How does Conrad suggest the relativity of progress/technology
by the description of the railway project? (p. 80)
The railway truck is “dead” and the “civilized” white men blew up the
cliff for no apparent reason. The implication is that for a place to be
civilized, you have to blow things up and bring in railways, regardless of
what you destroy, which does not seem to fit into the common perception
of the purpose of civilization.
- Discuss the irony in the following description: “Behind this raw
matter [the abused native criminals] one of the reclaimed, the product of
the new forces at work, strolled despondent, carrying a rifle by its
middle.” (p. 80)
One of the natives is helping the white men destroy his culture, even
though the white men still don’t think of him as a person... He is called
“raw matter,” like an object, rather than a human being.
- Discuss the irony of Marlow’s observation that white men are
“alike at a distance.” (p. 81)
The white people think that the black men look alike- his observation that
white men look alike creates an interesting
- Identify the bestial images used to describe the dying natives. (p.
“crouched,” “drinking from the river on all fours,” “blind white flicker
[the eyes, which aren’t even recognized as part of a human being, but
included as in the description of an animal], the natives “crawl
- what are the implications of the bestial images used to describe
the dying natives? (p. 82)
The white men have treated them so badly, and been destroying their
culture so much, that neither they nor it are recognizable as human.
(Although we wouldn’t recommend using the phrases “so badly” or “so
much” in an essay- it might be a problem, depending on the teacher. It
would have with ours.) (Oh, adding the bit about the cultures might not
make much sense at times-what does make sense in this
literature stuff-but it sounds good if you phrase it right.)
- Identify the ghostlike images used to describe the dying natives.
“sunken eyes,” “”phantom,” “black shadows,” etc.
- What are the implications of the ghostlike images used to
describe the dying natives? (p. 82)
The natives are spiritually dead; their spirits are crushed under the white
men’s greed and callousness.
- What does Conrad accomplish by the contrasts between the
dying Blacks and his description of the Company’s chief accountant? (p.
He gives English teachers something to babble on about, and their
students to BS about in their essays. And he emphasizes the contrast
between the blacks and whites. Consider the above descriptions of the
blacks as opposed to the accountant, who is clean, privileged, more
polished and authoritative, and dressed in white- an outward show of good
(white) that hides the blackness of the white man’s soul?
- How does the description of the accountant’s office suggest the
values of the Company?
The Company is in Africa for money. They don’t want to spend money to
patch holes in the walls, they want to use it to get the most ivory they can
the cheapest way they can. The Accountant is more concerned with
paperwork than the sick man. The bugs in the room that stab are an
example of the Company and what it is doing to the natives, stabbing the
life out of them, spreading the disease of greed more
- What does Marlow reveal about his own values when he finds it
“annoying, you know, to hold your own coat like a parasol over a man’s
head while he is coming to”? (p. 86)
Like the accountant, he does not want to be inconvenienced by anyone.
Marlow doesn’t care any more about other people than the Company does.
Also, it suggests to the reader that such callousness on behalf of the
Company and its employees, perhaps the white man or even humanity as a
whole, is not limited to one ethnic group.
- Why does Conrad call attention to the old doctor’s observation
during Marlow’s “two-hundred mile tramp”? (p. 86)
Marlow felt like he was going crazy, according to the doctor’s thought on
what the Congo does to a man.
- What is the “real significance,” which Marlow professes to have
missed, of the wrecked steamer? (p. 87)
If the steamer hadn’t been wrecked, Marlow wouldn’t have had the
chance to focus on individual people and the natives. He wouldn’t have
been able to learn what he did wind up learning. On a different aspect, it
also is one of the signs of the political struggle amongst the Company’s
employees for position- if the steamer hadn’t been wrecked, Marlow could
have reached Kurtz much quicker and perhaps he could have lived... Kurtz
was to take the job of the Manager, and the Manager didn’t want to lose
his sense of power. (A good thing to consider- was the steamer wrecked
by accident, just ignorance of what would happen, or was it sent out in
complete knowledge of the risk, and a hope that it would wreck, making it
impossible for Kurtz to be “rescued” quickly?)
- What details does Marlow use in his description of the Manager
to characterize the Company, and the colonization of Africa? (p. 88)
His eyes are “remarkably cold,” in much the same way the Company is
indifferent when looking upon the natives they are abusing. Just as the
Company looks upon the Africans as less than human and crush them
mercilessly, so can the manager’s glance “fall on one as a trench-and and
heavy as an axe. Everything else about him “disclaims the intention,”
hides it behind a veneer of... civilization, perhaps. His smile, “something
stealthy... was unconscious,” and served to make his speeches “appear
absolutely inscrutable. The Company used fine language, clothes, and
technology to uphold its own evil and confuse the natives into working
with and for it, just as the manager’s smile does to his speeches.