HEART OF DARKNESS: SETTING Setting Heart of Darkness opens on the deck of the Nellie, an English trade ship docked on the Thames River, outside of Lon...
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HEART OF DARKNESS: SETTING Setting Heart of Darkness opens on the deck of the Nellie, an English trade ship docked on the Thames River, outside of London. On board are five members of an English trading company: the director, the lawyer, the accountant, Marlow, and the narrator. All are waiting for the tide to ebb, which will allow the Nellie to sail down the Thames and out to sea. But of these men, only Marlow still follows the sea, so we can assume that the others will not be on the voyage. The men are in a meditative mood, brought on by the placid Thames and the exquisite sunset. The narrator begins to think about the role the River Thames has played in the civilization of the world. He patriotically recalls how the Thames carried the English “knights-errant” of the sea (navigators like Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Franklin) and their “sacred fire” (English civilization) to the dark corners of the earth. The narrator, himself a small cog in the engine of English colonialism, view Drake and Franklin as heroes and probably supports his country’s colonization of Africa. Marlow, though, seems to have a different opinion. As if reacting to the narrator’s thoughts, Marlow interrupts the silence by suggesting that even England has been one of the dark places of the earth. To prove his point, he makes the other men imagine how England must have looked to the Romans who landed there in the first century B.C. A Roman legionnaire, Marlow points out, would have seen a savage land and a savage people. What Marlow may be implying is that England should not bask in its own sense of superiority—it too has an uncivilized past. Marlow’s attitude From here, Marlow takes over the narrative duties. He is a mysterious figure, sometimes very sarcastic and cynical, while very earnest at other times. How should we read his next remarks? “What save us [the English] is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps [the Romans] were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect . . . What redeems it [English colonialism] is the idea only; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to . . .” (4).


HEART OF DARKNESS: SEPULCHRAL CITY Marlow the storyteller Very early in Heart of Darkness, Marlow begins his own story of his voyage up the Congo River. This story within a story technique is called a frame structure (think of the picture within a picture feature on some television sets). Within the story told by the narrator—that of five men gathered on the deck of the Nellie waiting for the tide to ebb—lies the story told by one of those men named Charlie Marlow. Joseph Conrad employs this technique in Heart of Darkness and in some of his other works. What are some advantages and disadvantages of using the frame structure? Marlow begins his story by telling how he secured a position in a Belgian ivory trading company. Though Marlow never actually mentions Belgium, his description of his eventual destination, the Congo River, makes it clear that he is headed toward the Congo, a Belgian colony. Furthermore, we notice that the company is located in continental Europe, and the director speaks French. We also know that Heart of Darkness is based on Conrad’s own experience in the Belgian Congo. So, the “sepulchral [tomb] city,” is most likely Brussels, the capital of Belgium. In securing his position, Marlow comes across several interesting characters. Describe the following characters with two or three words or phrases from the text. §

The aunt (6,9)


The three secretaries (7- 8)


The director (8)


The doctor (9)

Marlow is a good storyteller. He knows how to keep his listeners interested in the yarn he is spinning. So, he loads the first part of his tale with foreshadowing. For example, the horrid death of Fresleven, Marlow’s predecessor, makes us wonder what will happen to Marlow when he finally reaches the Congo. The strange indifference of the knitting secretaries and the peculiar warnings of the company doctor may also indicate that Marlow is in for some trouble. Marlow and colonialism What do the following quotes reveal about Marlow’s opinion on colonialism? “There was a vast amount of red—good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done there . . .” (7). “It was just as though I had been let into some conspiracy—I don’t know—something not quite right; and I was glad to get out” (8). “I ventured to hint that the company was run for profit” (10).


HEART OF DARKNESS: OUTER STATION The first leg of Marlow’s journey takes about thirty days. He travels on a French steamer, dropping off and picking up French soldiers and officials all along the northern coast of Africa, heavily colonized by France. There is something terribly futile about French colonialism, best symbolized by the French ship firing aimlessly into continent while those aboard died of the fever. Marlow notes, “There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding . . .” (11). When Marlow finally makes it to the Outer Station, a small outpost thirty miles up the Congo, he makes several startling discoveries that tell him a great deal about the company he is working for. For the purpose of this assignment, examine one of the following passages with your group: The Swedish captain (12) The chain gang (13) The grove of death (14) The accountant (15) Each group should assign the following roles to group members.

Use the space below


Illustrator: Draw a small sketch of the scene


Wordsmith: Find five challenging words and defines them


Quote master: Find one important quote and explain its significance


Connector: Writes one paragraph about the passage’s connection to the rest of the book


HEART OF DARKNESS: CENTRAL STATION Who is Mr. Kurtz? After walking for fifteen days through the jungle, Marlow and his caravan (sixty native porters and one white man) finally make it to the Central Station, a small outpost some two hundred miles farther up the Congo River. Here Marlow meets the strangely indefinable manager who is remarkable only in his ability to remain healthy, and here Marlow begins to learn more about Mr. Kurtz, the manager of the Inner Station. First mentioned by the accountant at the outer station, Mr. Kurtz seems to have made quite an impression on all those he knew. For the purpose of this assignment, describe what each of the following characters think about Mr. Kurtz by using direct quotes from the text, with page numbers. Don’t forget to include your own opinion.

The accountant (Outer Station) One quote:

The manager (Central Station) One quote:

The young brick maker (Central Station) One quote:

Marlow Two quotes:

Your own opinion One descriptive paragraph:

One of the listeners on the Nellie What might he think of Kurtz? One descriptive paragraph:


HEART OF DARKNESS: CONSPIRACY AT THE CENTER Marlow believes that “there is an air of plotting” about the Central Station. Can you put the following clues together to determine what, if any, conspiracy exists at the Central Station? 1) A burned down shed . . . the “unfortunate accident” (20). 2) “I could see the coming of Kurtz had upset them both not a little” (23).

3) A sunken steamer 4) “He [Kurtz] is an emissary of pity, and science, and progress . . .” (22). 5) Missing rivets . . . but buckets of rivets at Outer Station 6) “I was curious to see whether this man, who had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort, would climb to the top after all . . . “ (27).

7) “He [the young brick maker] don’t you see, had been planning to be assistant manager by and by under the present man” (23).

8) “Rivets were what Mr. Kurtz really wanted . . . There was a way—for an intelligent man (25). 9) “No man—you apprehend me?—bears a charmed life” (25) What is going on at Central Station?


HEART OF DARKNESS: JOURNEY TOWARD KURTZ Marlow and crew finally leave Central Station on the rickety steamboat. Accompanying Marlow are at least twenty cannibals, three or four pilgrims, and the manager of Central Station. It is important to remember that all aboard are part of the Belgian colonial machine. The manager and the pilgrims are taking a business trip, seizing an opportunity to make money and advance themselves in the company. The cannibals are forced laborers, paid only in useless brass wires but responsible for cutting wood, a crucial element in the success of the expedition. As for Marlow himself, he is the conscience of the group, an unwilling but complicit participant in the dirty work of the Belgian Empire. All in all, the steamboat is a microcosm of the Belgian colonialism. At a speed of about two miles per hour, it will take the steamer two months to reach the Inner Station, leaving Marlow plenty of time to think. It soon becomes apparent that the trip up the Congo is more than just a physical journey: Marlow is engaged in the deepest speculation about himself, humanity, the surrounding jungle, and most importantly, Kurtz. By now Marlow is obsessed with Kurtz—it is as if Kurtz holds the answers to all of the questions Marlow raises. In this sense, the journey up the Congo is a journey toward truth itself. To complete this assignment, read the excerpt that your group has been assigned. Each group member should assume one of the roles listed below, and the entire group should work together to form an opinion on a theme of the novel thus far. The savage who was fireman (33) An Inquiry into Some Points of Seamanship (34) The essentials of this affair lay deep under the surface . . . (35) A very loud cry, as of infinite desolation . . . (35) Something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability . . . (36-37)

Each group should assign the following roles to group members. §

Illustrator: Draw a small sketch of the scene


Wordsmith: Find five challenging words and define them


Quote master: Find one important quote and explain its significance


Connector: Write one paragraph about the passage’s connection to the rest of the book or material in this class


Theme finder (all group members): Write one paragraph about the theme(s) you see emerging in Heart of Darkness? Explain how your passage fits into this theme.

Use the back of this sheet to complete your assignment


HEART OF DARKNESS: THEMES AND STYLE Heart of Darkness can be a difficult book to grasp for many reasons, not the least of which is Conrad’s elusive style. As we read, we sometimes feel like we’re in a fog or a dream, not quite understanding the significance of what Marlow is telling us. To help us along, here are a few major ideas (or themes) to think about as we make our way into the heart of darkness. I would suggest that the book can be read on three different levels: Political: Heart of Darkness seems to be a critique of Belgian colonialism. List four or five pieces of evidence from the text that support this idea.

Is there anything that confuses or complicates the book’s anti-colonial message?

Philosophical The novel also seems concerned with two more philosophical questions: the nature of man (humanity) and the nature of truth itself. First, what do you think the story says about human nature?

More difficult is the question of truth. What, if anything, does Heart of Darkness suggest about what truth is and how we discover truth?

Psychological Heart of Darkness may also be read as a fascinating study of the human mind. One could even argue that the entire story is a dream that the reader must interpret to understand the minds of both Marlow and his creator, Joseph Conrad. Have you had any psychological insights into Marlow or even Conrad thus far? What about Kurtz?


Style: The stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. As we have mentioned, Conrad has a very unique style that can also be very challenging. His style has a few distinguishing characteristics: §

loads of abstract nouns, many of them derived from Latin (look for -tion endings) Here are a few examples: devastation, luminosity, intention, existence, inspiration, acquisition, inheritance, humanity, essentials, probability


loads of adjectives with negative prefixes. In effect, these adjectives describe what things “are not” rather than what they are. A few examples: improbable, unknowable, intangible, incomprehensible, implacable, inscrutable, impossible, unfathomable, inexplicable, inconceivable


an indirect or oblique approach. That is, Conrad never comes right out and says things. He approaches matters indirectly. For an example, look at Marlow’s description of the “attack” right below Kurtz station (40).

Some critics have attacked his style, labeling it difficult, vague, and wordy. Others, though, have found it the perfect vehicle for describing the dream/nightmare of Marlow’s Congo experience. In other words, Conrad uses deliberately fuzzy language to convey the fuzziness—or unreality—of the whole experience. What do you think? For tomorrow, “de-Conrad” the following passage: Yes, I looked at them as you would any human being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities, weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity. Restraint! What possible restraint?. . . But there was the fact facing me—the fact dazzling, to be seen, like the foam on the depths of the sea, like a ripple on an unfathomable enigma, a mystery greater—when I thought of it—than the curious, inexplicable note of desperate grief in this savage clamor that had swept by us on the river bank, behind the blind whiteness of the fog (37-38).

Yes, I looked at them as you would any human being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities, weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity. Restraint! What possible restraint?. . . But there was the fact facing me—the fact dazzling, to be seen, like the foam on the depths of the sea, like a ripple on an unfathomable enigma, a mystery greater—when I thought of it—than the curious, inexplicable note of desperate grief in this savage clamor that had swept by us on the river bank, behind the blind whiteness of the fog (37-38).

I looked at them frankly and wondered what they would do when they were forced to find something to eat in order to stay alive. How could they possibly restrain themselves from killing us? I was more confused by their restraint than by the eerie cry we had heard in the fog. Hunger must of been torturing their stomachs, having gone so long without a trace of meat. It was a surprise to me that they never went after us, having far greater numbers. The restraint they showed was more amazing then the cry heard through the thick fog and forest. I looked at them, wondering how they would behave when they were nearly starving and why they didn't eat us. How could they restrain themselves? It was something i simply could not grasp, even more so than the cry in the fog I heard earlier. I looked at them, amazed at how they restrained themselves from eating us. They must have been starving, and they out numbered us greatly. This restraint was more mysterious to me than the great cry we heard come from amidst the fog.

What do we lose in these paraphrases?

HEART OF DARKNESS: KURTZ, CONTINUED As they approach Inner Station where Kurtz resides, Marlow and crew are attacked by natives. The attack is not particularly fierce, but it comes quickly, killing the cannibal who steers the ship. This hostile reception convinces the Europeans and Marlow that Kurtz must also be dead. And while Marlow feels some grief over the death of the helmsman, he is “cut to the quick at the idea of having lost the inestimable privilege of listening to the gifted Kurtz.” Marlow is soon to discover that Kurtz is alive, and he flashes forward in his story to describe some of his conversations with Kurtz. This gives his listeners on the Nellie and the reader of Heart of Darkness a more complete picture of the man who has become the focal point of Marlow’s existence. What do the following quotes both by and about Kurtz tell us about him?

Marlow: “You should have heard him say ‘My ivory.’ Oh yes, I heard him. ‘My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belong to him . . . The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own” (44).

Marlow: “All of Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by and by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had entrusted him with the making of a report . . .” (45).

Kurtz: “We must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity” (45).

Kurtz: “Exterminate all the brutes!” (46) Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now


THE HORROR, THE HORROR! In the last section of Heart of Darkness, Marlow finally meets Kurtz face to face. The manager and pilgrims take the crazed and desperately ill Kurtz aboard the steamer, while his African mistress and native worshippers look on ominously. Sensing danger, Marlow plans to stay only one night at Inner Station. During the night, Kurtz sneaks away to try to rejoin his followers. Marlow prevents him from doing so, finally carrying him back to the steamer. Marlow and crew leave the next day. The pilgrims open fire into the crowd of natives gathered to watch the departure. During the return trip, Marlow finds himself isolated with the dying Kurtz in the pilot house. It is here that Kurtz whispers his famous last words: “The horror! The horror!” The purpose of this assignment is to try to define the “horror” that Kurtz speaks of in his last breath. Do so by finding five quotes from Heart of Darkness that you think help to define what “the horror” is. After recording these quotes below, write one paragraph explaining your choices. It may be that the “horror,” like the novel itself, can be understood on different levels—the political, psychological, and philosophical.


The horror! The horror! Philosophical horror: The horror is the unguarded truth about human nature. Human beings have infinite capacity for evil and will revert to evil if given the opportunity. The Congo is ultimately irrelevant: the heart of darkness beats within us all, wherever we go.

Political horror: The horror is the brutal reality of the colonial Congo, where human beings display their very worst behavior: greed, deceit, and cruelty. Kurtz is giving voice to everything he has seen and caused. Death is everywhere.

Psychological horror: Kurtz is horrified at what he has become. He has lost everything that distinguishes him from an animal: morality, restraint, and rationality. Like an animal, Kurtz has gratified all of his desires. In Freudian terms, his id has overruled both ego and superego.

Discussion questions: 1. According to your group, what is “the horror” that Kurtz speaks of in his last words? (20 min) Wait for answers Use names Avoid value statements Other clarifying questions: A. Does Kurtz see the horror on the inside, or the outside, or both? External horrors

Internal horror

B. Does this book have to be set in the Congo in order to “work?” Could Heart of Darkness communicate its message if it were set in Europe?

Follow up questions: How does Marlow indicate his loyalty to Kurtz? Why does Marlow choose to be loyal to Kurtz? Why does Marlow lie to the Intended? Marlow believes that the meaning of a story is on the outside, not the inside. How does this apply to Heart of Darkness?

The Jonestown Massacre The first reports out of Guyana on November 18, 1978 were that Congressman Leo J. Ryan and four other members of his party were shot and killed as they attempted to board a plane at Port Kaituma airstrip. Within hours, came the shocking announcement that 408 American citizens had committed suicide at a communal village they had built in the jungle in Northwest Guyana. The community had come to be known as “Jonestown.” The dead were all members of a group known as “The People’s Temple” which was led by the Reverend Jim Jones. It would soon be learned that 913 of the 1100 people believed to have been at “Jonestown” at the time, had died in a mass suicide. According to the official report submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15, 1979, the chain of events leading to Leo Ryan’s death in Guyana began a year earlier, after he read an article in the San Francisco Examiner on 13 November 1977. The article entitled “Scared Too Long” related the death of Sam Houston’s son, Bob, in October 1976. Houston had decided to speak out about his son’s death because he believed that the reason Bob had died, beneath the wheels of a train, was because he had announced his decision to leave the People’s Temple the day before. Houston was also concerned that his two granddaughters, sent to New York for a vacation, had ended up in “Jonestown,” Guyana and never returned. Over the ensuing six to eight months, Ryan would hear more about the People’s Temple through newspaper articles and from direct requests for assistance from concerned families whose relatives had disappeared into the Guyana jungle to join the “Jonestown” community. There were claims of social security irregularities, human rights violations and that people were being held against their will at “Jonestown.” In June 1978, Ryan read excerpts from the sworn affidavit of Debbie Blakey, a defector from “Jonestown,” which included claims that the community at “Jonestown” had, on a number of occasions, rehearsed for a mass suicide. After meeting with a number of concerned relatives, Ryan’s interest in the People’s Temple became widely known and the reports about the group, both favourable and unfavourable, began to pour in. He hired an attorney to interview former People’s Temple members and the relatives of members to determine whether there had been any violations of Federal and California state laws by the group. In September 1978, Ryan met with Viron P. Vaky and other State Department officials to discuss the possibility of Ryan making a trip to “Jonestown” in Guyana. This request was made official on 4 October. Permission was granted and the trip was planned for the week of November 12-18. Ryan’s intention to visit “Jonestown” soon became widely

known and the numbers wishing to accompany him had grown substantially. By the time of his departure there were nine extra media people and 18 representatives from a delegation of Concerned Relatives who would go with him, at their own expense. The official party, or Codel, consisted of Ryan, James Schollaert and Jackie Speier, Ryan’s personal assistant. In the days of preparation for the trip to “Jonestown,” Ryan contacted Jim Jones by telegraph to inform him of his intention to visit the settlement. Through the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, Ryan learned that agreement for the visit was conditional. Ryan would have to ensure that the Codel was not biased, there would be no media coverage of the visit and Mark Lane, the People’s Temple legal counsel, would have to be present. On 6 November, Lane wrote to Ryan and informed him that he would not be able to attend at the time they wanted, and claimed that the Codel was nothing more than a “witchhunt” against the People’s Temple. Lane responded with a declaration of his intentions to visit the settlement anyway and that he would be leaving on 14 November. Problems began for the group as soon as they arrived in Guyana at midnight. Ron Javers, from the San Francisco Chronicle was detained overnight at the airport, as he did not have an entry visa. The group of Concerned Relatives, despite having confirmed reservations, had to spend the night in the lobby of the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown, because there were no rooms available for them. Over the next two and a half days, Ryan met with Embassy personnel and organised a meeting with Ambassador Burke and the Concerned Relatives. He and the family members attempted to speak with a representative of the People’s Temple at their headquarters in Georgetown, but could not gain entry. In addition, Ryan was unable to negotiate successfully with Lane or Garry, another legal representative of the People’s Temple, resulting in the postponement of the scheduled flight to the mission until Friday 17 November. The negotiations still had made no headway on Friday morning, so Ryan informed Lane and Garry that he and his party would be leaving for “Jonestown” at 2:30 pm. There were two seats on the plane if Lane and Garry wished to leave with them. The plane left as scheduled at 2:30 pm that day. On board were Ryan, Speier, Deputy Chief of Mission, Richard Dwyer, Lane and Garry, all nine media representatives, four representatives of the Concerned Relatives group, and Neville Annibourne, a representative of the Guyanese Government. At the Port Kaituma airstrip, Corporal Rudder, the Guyanese Regional Officer of the Northwest district, met the plane. His instructions from “Jonestown” were that only Lane and Garry were to be allowed to leave the plane. Negotiations as to who would be allowed entry into “Jonestown” then ensued between Ryan and “Jonestown” representatives who were at

the airport. Eventually it was agreed that all but one media representative could go. Gordon Lindsay, consulting for NBC on the story, was denied entry because of an article he had written in the past that had criticised the People’s Temple. Upon their arrival at “Jonestown,” the delegation was served dinner and entertained by a musical presentation by People’s Temple members. As the evening progressed, reporters interviewed Jim Jones while Ryan and Speier talked to People’s Temple members whose names had been provided by relatives in the U.S. During the course of the evening, a “Jonestown” member passed a note to NBC reporter Don Harris indicating that he and his family wished to leave. Another member made a similar verbal request to Dwyer. Both requests were reported to Ryan. At 11:00 pm, the media and family representatives were returned to Port Kaituma as Jim Jones refused to allow them to spend the night on the compound. Ryan, Speier, Dwyer, Annibourne, Lane and Garry were the only ones who spent the night of Friday, 17 November at “Jonestown.” Back at Port Kaituma, local Guyanese, including one police official who told stories of alleged beatings at "Jonestown", approached media representatives. They complained that Guyanese officials were denied entry to the compound and had no authority there. They also described a “torture hole” in the compound. The media and relatives were not returned to “Jonestown” until 11:00 am the next day, several hours later than planned. Ryan had continued interviewing members since early in the morning, during which time more individuals told of their desire to leave. By 3:00 pm there were a total of 15 People’s Temple members climbing into the trucks with the delegation to drive to Port Kaituma airport. Ryan had intended to stay but was attacked by People’s Temple member, Don Sly, with a knife. He was not hurt but Dwyer insisted that Ryan leave with them. Dwyer planned to return to “Jonestown” later to resolve a dispute with a family who was split on the question of leaving Jonestown. The party arrived at Port Kaituma airport at about 4:30 pm but the two planes did not arrive until about

5:10 pm. The delay had been caused by the unexpected request to the US Embassy for a second plane to carry the extra fifteen passengers. Soon after its arrival, a six-passenger Cessna was loaded and ready to leave. As it began to taxi to the far end of the airstrip, one of the “Jonestown” defectors on board, Larry Layton, opened fire on the other passengers. At the same time, as Ryan’s party were boarding the other plane, a twin-engine Otter, occupants of a tractor and trailer owned by the People’s Temple, opened fire. Ryan, three members of the media and one of the defectors were killed. Speier and five others were seriously wounded. The shooting lasted between 4-5 minutes and the larger plane was disabled. The Cessna was able to take off and reported news of the attack to controllers at the Georgetown tower. They in turn notified the Guyanese officials. The attackers left the airport soon after, while survivors of the attack sought cover and protection for the night. According to the official report, the mass suicide began at about 5:00 pm as the shooting was beginning at the airport. At about 6:00 pm, Ambassador Burke was informed of the shooting. He, in turn, informed the US State Department at 8:30 pm by cable. At approximately 7:40 pm, Guyanese police told Sherwin Harris, a member of the Concerned Relatives Group, that his ex-wife Sharon Amos and three of her children were found dead at the People’s Temple headquarters in Georgetown. Word of the deaths at “Jonestown” reached Port Kaituma at about 2:00 am on Sunday morning when survivors, Stanley Clayton and Odell Rhodes, arrived there. At dawn, Sunday, 19 November, the first contingent of Guyanese Army rescue forces arrived in Port Kaituma. More soldiers arrived within the hour. Their arrival later in the morning at “Jonestown” confirmed earlier reports of the mass suicide. The first Guyanese rescue aircraft landed at Port Kaituma, without medical supplies or personnel, at about 10:00 am. All of the wounded and most of the survivors were airlifted from Port Kaituma before nightfall and transferred to US Air Force medical evacuation aircraft in Georgetown.

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