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SocraticSeminarDiscussionPointsforHeartofDarkness

1.

Discuss the function of the frame story in the structure of Heart of Darkness. Be sure you
explain the role of the listeners as well as the narrators in that frame.

2.

What is the meaning of Heart of Darkness as a metaphor? What does the title as a term (or a
metaphor) mean?

3.

Using specific textual references, show that Heart of Darkness is an indictment of the brutal
rapacity with which European colonialism exploited Africa.

4.

Discuss Heart of Darkness as existential literature, focusing on Conrad's delineation of


absurdity and alienation through vivid images.

5.

Marlow claims that he hates, detests "and can't bear a lie." He goes on to say that "there is a
taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies." Yet he lies to the "Intended" at the conclusion of
the story. Examine the process which brings Marlow from one conviction to the other.

6.

Explain and analyze the dualism in Kurtz's character.

7.

Analyze the role of the harlequin Russian.

8.

Inner restraint is a major theme in Heart of Darkness. Analyze the cannibals on the boat, the
Pilgrims, Kurtz, and Marlow in relation to this theme.

9.

Discuss Conrad's view of women as revealed through the aunt, the Intended, and Kurtz's
mistress.

10.

Discuss Conrad's use of irony of language to contribute to the absurd in Heart of Darkness.

11.

Discuss Conrad's use of color, particularly of black and white. Does he always follow the
traditional use of black for evil and white for good? To what degree is there reversal? Are
both symbols of evil? You might also write an essay on other colors excluding black and
white.

12.

Justify the paradox that the greatest illumination comes from the moment of greatest darkness
in Kurtz's career.

13.

Discuss the meaning of Kurtz's final cry, "The horror! The horror!" and its relations to
Marlow's final understanding of his Congo experience.

14.

Discuss Conrad's skillful use of parallels--scenes, images, and characters--as a structural


device. You will need to limit and focus, but provide insight into character and theme as well
as plot structure. The two Brussels scenes are crucial ones in the novel. You might, for
example, consider how they are utilized in the plot to provide character and thematic insight.
More than one person may choose this topic provided different parallel scenes, images, or
characters are discussed.

15.

There are several clusters of images that Conrad uses in Heart of Darkness--images of
brightness, gloom, isolation, madness, disease, sterility, physical decomposition, diabolism,
and violent death. Pick any one of these and show how it relates to a theme in the novel. For
this topic you should incorporate as many references from the text as possible for the cluster
you choose into your essay. (This topic has a total of 9 topics.)

16.

Discuss the theme of conflict between illusion and reality in Heart of Darkness. What is
Conrad teaching us by using this theme?

17.

Kurtz's last cry, "The horror! The horror!" takes the reader to the meaning of the whole
African venture for Marlow. Discuss one of the following:
a. the cry is the story's ultimate comment on the European "civilizing" of Africa
b. the cry is understood to mean Kurtz's actions have been horrible
c. the cry is understood to mean all existence is horrible

18.

Discuss the theme of work in Heart of Darkness. What is Conrad suggesting or teaching us
about work? How do his views mirror or contrast his peers in Victorian England.

19.

Frederick Karl writes: "Behind Huckleberry Finn and Heart of Darkness there is a basis of
similarity and a general kinship of idea. . ." How do these two literary works compare? You
might consider
the river as a structuring device and symbol
the sobering depiction of a society's hypocrisies
human degradation and potential for evil or moral growth through confrontation
with evil.

20.

Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, in a 1975 lecture at the University of Massachusetts,


attacked Heart of Darkness as "racist" and had this to say about the novella:
"(Conrad) projects the image of Africa as 'the other world,' the antithesis of Europe and
therefore of civilization, a place where man's vaulted intelligence and refinement are
finally mocked by triumphant bestiality. . . . (Conrad is) a purveyor of comforting myths
(and) a bloody racist . . . That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work
is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that
its manifestations go completely undetected."
He renewed his attack in 1980 in Times Literary Supplement saying that Conrad's humanity of
Africans was "totally undermined by the mindlessness of its context and the pretty explicit
animal imagery surrounding it."
To what extent do you agree or disagree with Achebe's conclusions? Support with specific
references from the novel.