Joshua Bryant 3/22/11 of Heart of Darkness Notes

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Joshua Bryant



Heart of Darkness Notes:

Part II

  • The Author

    • Joseph Conrad

      • Born in 1857 in Poland

      • Both parents were dead by his 12th birthday

      • Spent youth as a merchant seaman 1898 and 1899 wrote Heart of Darkness. This was after his journey into the Congo

  • Themes

    • Is man a free agent or is he subject to forces beyond his control?

      • According to Heart of Darkness, man cannot control his own destiny. Fate and the surrounding environment dominate and change a person. This is exemplified by the “darkening” of Marlow’s thoughts as he spends more time away from civilization. He considers killing Kurtz at one point and ends up despising “civilized” people by the end of the book. He is forever changed by his experiences

    • Every soul has its dark truth and its light truth

      • You have to decide if Conrad is evaluating this dark and light

        • Evaluation is deciding whether it is positive or negative

        • Is he saying that dark and light are good and bad

        • We all have the potential for darkness and the removal of civilization given the right situations

      • If we all have the propensity for the darkness, then we all have the potential for light

      • “Life inevitably finds out who you truly are by placing one in a situation which most severely tests his values.”

        • Marlow is tested and is an emissary of light and finds out that none of the emissaries of light are necessarily bringers of light.

        • Marlow is “placed” and “tested” by his journey in the Congo. He finds himself in the expedition and learns that he is not a truly “good” person.

    • When Society’s restraints are removed, and one is forced to rely upon one’s own emotional and spiritual resources, a person is often times proven to be “hollow at the core.”

      • From a Freudian perspective, we would all give into our ID given that all of our restrictions/restraints of society are taken away.

    • The greatest sin that a man can commit is his INHUMANITY to man.

      • The Africans were treated as a subservient race of people by the British. They were actually referred to as a subspecies of the white man. They were brutalized and forced into slavery for many years. Africans were often shown to be more civilized than the white people.

      • Cannibals were shown as a stark contrast.

    • Is there anything in which to believe?

      • According to the story in Heart of Darkness, the only thing that can be believed is that people are capable of any atrocity. Their religious beliefs and basic “goodness” is just a by-product of society’s rules and laws that have conditioned them. When they are removed, as in Marlow’s case, so are any beliefs that one might have.

      • Put a man into isolation and his true nature will be revealed.

  • Symbols

    • Grass

      • Grass covers up men’s mistakes and accomplishments and enhances the idea that no matter how great or good or evil a man’s deeds are they are transitory.

    • Ivory

      • Symbolizes the sick and putrid reason that the white man has lost all trappings of civilization

      • Ivory is the motivating force for every white man who is there, ESPECIALLY KURTZ

        • Willing to kill other white men for ivory: “My ivory”

      • His head is described as almost looking like a ball of ivory

    • Kurtz’ Painting

      • The painting of the blindfolded woman holding the torch out into the darkness could represent one of three things.

        • Kurtz’ intended and the truth about the darkness

        • Or Europeans stumbling into Africa

        • Or in our interpretation, it could represent man’s blindness to himself

          • Man’s inability to see his own heart of darkness

    • Jungle

      • The jungle represents two things

        • Truth and reality

        • The psyche and the twisted torturous and tangled route a man must take for self-enlightenment

    • Pairings of twins

      • Through juxtaposition, Conrad attempts in a process of misdirection to convey subtle meanings

    • Whiteness

      • In the map when Marlow was being “interviewed” by the company, the part he was going to was blank and white.

      • He thought this meant it was full of something, and secret.

      • However, it was only filled with Darkness

      • White means the opposite and Darkness may be the real, the pure part.


    • Darkness is present throughout the novel as a symbol of desolation and isolation

      • It is present in the beginning of the book in describing the estuary the boat sits in

      • Marlow tells his story in darkness

      • The lady in the painting holds a light in the darkness.

  • Literary Terms

    • Diction

      • The use of words in written or oral discourse.

      • Conrad uses Marlow as a means of both.

      • He writes as Marlow, and makes the reader feel as if the story is being told instead of read.

      • He writes to us in the voice of Marlow because he is “like” us to make us feel connected to the novel

    • Point of View

      • Conrad is a master of using Marlow’s point of view as storyteller to lead the reader down the dark journey into his soul.

      • He uses the point of view to confuse the reader and make one pay attention to the story.

      • By using Marlow’s point of view, Conrad also shows the psychological changes that take place during the expedition.

    • Pathos

      • The quality in literature, which stimulates pity, tenderness, or sorrow in the reader or viewer. Implies helpless and unmerited suffering

      • In Heart of Darkness the treatment of the blacks by the British is discussed

      • They are used for slave labor and are fed little and when they cannot work anymore, they crawl off and die.

    • Motif

      • Is a simple element which reoccurs

      • In Heart of Darkness, there are several motifs

        • The baseness of the English

        • How the English are the true “savages”

        • Constant travel

        • Darkness and Light

        • Searching

    • Primitivism

      • The doctrine that primitive man, because he had remained closer to Nature and had been less subject to the corrupt influences of society, is nobler and more nearly perfect than civilized man.

    • Personification

      • Conrad often referred to the Jungle on either side of the river as a beast that breathed and waited.


  • Narrative Techniques

    • Misdirection: Conrad uses Marlow as a master of indirection. Much is left out of the story on purpose so that the reader must decide for himself what has occurred. The timeline is also distorted b this misdirection. Future and past become intertwined and the trip seems to take years instead of months.

    • Foreshadowing

      • Perhaps the best example of this is when Marlow is examined by the Doctor, who alludes to the “changes in individuals” that have been out in the Congo.

      • After Marlow visited his aunt he also had “a startled pause” at going to Africa. He was very wary of this because, being a seaman, he left his temporary “land” home all the time.


  • Major Project

  • Another in class timed writing next Friday (April 1st)

  • You will be working in partnerships ONLY to create a map that illustrates Marlow’s journey through the Congo to finally meeting Kurtz and returning to England

  • You will need to use textual evidence to support all of your findings.

  • You must identify ALL of the following

    • Places visited

      • How are they described?

      • What do these places represent?

      • ALL PLACES

      • Minimum of two to three quotes per place

    • Characters Met

      • How are they described?

      • What do these characterizations represent?

      • Minimum of two quotes per person

    • Major Symbols

      • How are they relevant to any of the themes discussed?

      • Minimum of two quotes per symbol

  • Additions

    • You must include visual aids to represent your findings.

    • You must include textual evidence

      • This includes page numbers and relevant book sections

  • Partners

    • Choose your partners carefully

    • A rubric will be assigned that will detail how much either individual participates in the entire project

    • Each partner will be asked to write a private letter to me of 1 page detailing how they felt their partner contributed. Along with my observations, these letters will contribute to the final grade of each partner.

    • If you would rather not rely on another student to assist you, please understand that you will still be responsible for the entirety of the project.

  • Time Line and Due Date

    • This project will represent 2 major grades for the 5th cycle.

    • I will be allowing you 1 full week of in-class time to work on this project.

    • The remainder of the work must be completed on your own time.

    • Final projects will be due April 8th. You are being given enough time and notice that absolutely no excuses will be accepted.

    • I will not accept a single element of this project late.

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