European Humanities
Spring 2017
Mr. Spragins

Heart of Darkness (Reading Six)

Paragraph Eight: Whose ending should we believe, Marlow's or Conrad's?

Kurtz's Essay, Kurtz's Death, Marlow'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?


Marlow in Brussels (88-96)

  • In Brussels, why does Marlow find it difficult adjusting to the sight of people going about their normal daily routines? (70)
  • What does Kurtz's old newspaper buddy believe his true occupation should have been? (116)

Having dispensed with nearly all of Kurtz's papers, Marlow makes one last visit, to Kurtz's fiancée. He has come to return some letters. Waiting in her beautifully apportioned parlor, Marlow looks about and his glance lingers on the ivory keys of the grand piano.

  • What are Kurtz's fiancée's memories of him? (120-122) (92-93)
  • What does Marlow remember when he observes, with a pang of compassion, that this woman's grief is still fresh despite the passage of a whole year since Kurtz's death? (73) 
  • What is so ironic and terrible about her memories of Kurtz? (Notice her gesture on page 75. Of whom does that remind you?)
  • Why does Marlow lie to her about Kurtz's final words? (123) (96)

The Final Paragraph (96)

In the novel's famous final paragraph, the un-named narrator describes Marlow just after he has fallen silent, having ended his strange tale. 

  • How does the un-named narrator describe Marlow?
  • Why does the narrator describe him as like 'a meditating Buddha'? What does the Buddha teach us is the meaning of all existence?
  • How has the novel gone full circle?