European Humanities
Spring 2018

Mr. Spragins 

Heart of Darkness (Reading Five)

The Inner Station:

Paragraph: Describe the Inner Station. What has happened to Kurtz there?

Kurtz's Court Jester:

Upon arrival at the Inner Station, Marlow talks with a young and ragged Russian who came to Africa on his own and then lit off into the jungle in search of adventure, only to be drawn into Kurtz's infernal cult.

  • What is wrong with this guy? (48-52) (64-69)
  • With what dreams did Kurtz charm him? (49-50) (67)
  • Why does Conrad choose this man to be the lens through whom we see the final image of Kurtz before he actually enters the stage of the action? (Remember that when Conrad himself was a young man, he too ran away from home and joined the merchant marines to see the world.)

The Fool on Kurtz: (51-52) (69-70)

Marlow learns from the Fool that Kurtz has assembled a personal army of headhunters (51-52) (69-70) who worship him like a god. Marlow also learns of their brutal marauding expeditions in search of ivory and their bizarre rituals in which human sacrifices were offered to the great white god. The Fool speaks rapturously of Kurtz's genius and vision. He still believes that Kurtz's actions are justified because they have given him the power to transform the jungle into an enlightened realm.

  • Is Kurtz a new type of jungle warlord, or has his kind held sway over regions of the world since the beginnings of human society?  Is Conrad's point that Kurtz has just 'gone native'?
  • Which philosopher would have agreed with the Fool's defense of Kurtz: "You can't judge him as you would an ordinary man"? 
  • What did Kurtz scrawl at the end of his unfinished report (45-46) (61-62) to the "International Society for the Suppression of Native Customs"? (Marlow told us of this report just after he had described tossing his bloody boot into the river.)
  • What does Marlow understand about Kurtz when he discovers that the 'ornamental balls' on the posts of the stockade are human skulls (52-53)? What effect (53) has absolute power had on Kurtz's character?

The Heart of Darkness: (54-61) (73-83)

A huge cry rings throughout the clearing, and Marlow watches in fear and wonder as hundreds of natives spill out and around a figure being drawn in a stretcher towards the steamer. Marlow looks through his binoculars and sees Kurtz for the first time.

  • Does Marlow realize the danger he is in at this moment?
  • How does Marlow describe the figure he sees through the binoculars?
  • Describe Kurtz's voice (54-55) (74). (What twentieth century dictator also possessed extraordinary oratorical powers?)
  • What disease (53) (72) is Kurtz dying from?  Has Marlow caught the same disease?
  • Why has Kurtz decided to go back with the Company men?

Once Kurtz is aboard the steamboat, an extraordinary woman (55-56) (75-76) approaches, dressed in wild and gorgeous finery. Who is she? What gesture does she make? What is its meaning? 

What is the Manager's comment upon Kurtz's unique business practices, despite the huge haul of ivory (fossilized!) that has been loaded on to the steamer?

Marlow Wrestles with Kurtz: (58-61) (79-81)

That night Marlow awakens to find the boat completely quiet, the guards fast asleep, and Kurtz himself gone! Kurtz's tribe has built a huge fire in the distance, and Marlow can hear the sounds of drums and chanting. He is suddenly seized by 'sheer blank fright' unlike the sense of 'commonplace deadly danger' (63). He gets off the boat (for the first time) and goes off alone in pursuit of Kurtz.

  • Why is Marlow terrified when he realizes that Kurtz is gone? 
  • When Marlow catches up with Kurtz (60-61) (81-82) and cuts off his approach to the fire, what does he tell him? (65)  
  • What is the real danger that Marlow faces at this moment?

Kurtz's Death, Kurtz's EssayMarlow's Illness, and the Return to Civilization

As the steamer slips out on to the river, Marlow blasts the whistle to frighten the natives away and to prevent the agents from opening fire with their rifles. The only person who does not flinch is the 'barbarous and superb woman' (66) who gestures with outstretched arms as the boat rounds the bend. Heading quickly down river, Kurtz still fantasizes about his eventual return and the final accomplishment of his dreams, but downriver the boat breaks down and must pull up to the bank for repairs. Only then does Kurtz realize that everything is lost.

  • With what does Kurtz come face to face during the final moments of his life?
  • What are Kurtz's last words? 
  • Who says, "Mr. Kurtz- he dead!"?
  • How has his encounter with Kurtz nearly killed Marlow?
  • How is Kurtz Marlow's 'double', his secret self? 
  • How does Marlow's own struggle with death teach him the meaning of Kurtz's last words?