Study Guide to
Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
-- Part Three --

Note: For this Study Guide to be useful, you will need to print it out.  But if you plan to print this out from one of the KSU public computer labs, be sure first to go into the File menu, choose "Page Setup," and click on "Black Type."  This will ensure that text in color prints out (in black) instead of coming out blank.

A reminder of some business carried over from Part One and Part Two of this Study Guide.

Throughout the story, you want to keep systematic track of the motifs that show up in the work's title -- of "darkness" and "heart," literally and metaphorically.  This means, too, that you'll want to keep track of their various contraries (or supposed contraries) -- of "light," and of such different things conventionally distinguishable from the "heart" as the "intellect," "will," "appetites," "soul." 

Be alert for the possibility that "darkness" (and "black") may take on a variety of connotations (evil? unclarity/obscurity? ignorance?), depending on the specific context, and that "light" (and "white")may not always be able to be trusted to indicate the contraries of these (goodness, clarity, knowledge or insight).  That is, there may be ironic play at work about appearances and reality in connection with these notions.

Other motifs you want to track:  "voice," "eloquence" (and nothing underneath this display), "restraint" (the conditions of its presence and absence, the consequences of its absence), "enlargement of the mind."

The Inner Station [continued].

Conversation continues with the Russian trader (the "harlequin," the "man of patches" [in how many ways, by the way, does this last phrase resonnate, in its possible connotations?).  The subject that comes now into the foreground is Kurtz himself, as transmitted through the lens of this striking character.  Some questions to be alert with:

What are the various ways in which Marlow suggests that this fellow [our lens for the moment] is "unsubstantial"?

What are we able to gather of what the Russian and Kurtz talked about that has so mesmerized the former?

One of the topics, he says (p. 50), is "love."  What is Marlow's reaction to that?  And what is the Russian's reaction to Marlow's reaction in turn?  What is our reaction to the Russian's reaction?

What do we learn about how Kurtz has been proceeding after his contact was broken with the Company's stations downriver, from which he would have been supplied with goods to trade for ivory?

How does this connect with what Marlow has already conveyed (near the bottom of p. 45) about the report he (eventually) read that Kurtz was writing under commission from the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs?

How has Kurtz treated the Russian?

How has the Russian responded?

What are we to make of this response?

The Russian/harlequin says (pp. 51-52) "This man suffered too much.  He hated all this, and somehow he couldn't get away?"

What do we take "all this" to refer to?

What clues do we already have as to why "he couldn't get away"?  (What do we come to learn down the line that reinforces or supplements this understanding?)

What does the R/h mean by Kurtz's going off again to "forget himself amongst these people -- forget himself -- you know"? 

What is the "self" he supposedly is undertaking to forget?

Why does Marlow infer that Kurtz must be "mad"?

The R/h vehemently disagrees.  What do you think of his reasons?

What do you think of what you infer Marlow's conclusion that Kurtz is mad?

Supposing Kurtz is "mad," is he "mad" in any sense which relieves him from culpability for his actions?

What does Marlow discover, as he looks through binoculars --

about the woods?  (What motifs does this connect up with?)

about the "round knobs" atop the poles of the "vanished fence"?

What does this tell us about why the fence has been allowed to lapse?  (How is this different from what we supposed when we were first introduced [pp. 47-48] to the fact that the rails that the poles supported have left the scene?)

What does Marlow infer Kurtz has been forced by his life away from the externally restraining forces of civilization to learn about himself, in the jungle, faced with the opportunity to achieve what the civilized world accounts as riches?  (The middle on p. 53 is a key passage in the story as a whole. What are the connections it asserts?)

How does this connect up with the theme of "restraint"?

Reflect on the sentence in the last on p. 53 that begins "Curious..." and ends "...sunshine."

How might Marlow's "not wanting to know" connect with his ambivalent sentiments about lying?  (Cf. pp. 23, 44.)

How does this connect up with the phrase we encountered (back on p. 10, end of 3), about allusion we heard to a journey to the "center of the earth"?

What motif system does the imagery of "sunshine" connect up with?

Marlow's reaction here provokes surprise and defence in the R/h.  What does the Russian trader's defense reveal are the logically immedieate assumptions from which he is working?  (That is, what conditions must be fulfilled if these dead ones are to be categorized as "rebels"?)  Which of these assumptions (all?) does Marlow's remark (not the the Russian, but to listeners of Marlow's tale, on the Thames) tell us he disagrees with?  What deeper disagreements in principle does this disagreement testify to?

What motifs does the second on p. 54 develop?

Kurtz finally appears (p. 54).

[To be continued.]

  Return to Part One of this Study Guide.

  Return to Part Two of this Study Guide.

  Go to the Writing Assignment on this story.

  Suggestions are welcome.  Please send your comments to

  Contents copyright 1997 by Lyman A. Baker

Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.

  This page last updated 28 March 1999.