- After reading the lecture, answer one of the main questions, which will appear in bold type. This question is due no later than Thursday, May 3. Following that will be other questions, in black, which you should read and think about--they may help you answer the main question. However, you are not required to answer these questions in writing.
- Your responses to other students' answers are due by midnight on Sunday, May 6. Remember: in order to get the full 20 points, you MUST respond thoughtfully to at least 3 or 4 other people's postings. This set of discussion questions is worth a possible 20 points.
- Late answers and responses receive 0 points, so post early :)
We will be using the Canvas Discussion Board for this class. Click on the link below to get to the Canvas portal, sign in, and then click on the box for this class. You will find the "Discussions" link on the left side of the screen:
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
1. Marvin Mudrick argues that Conrad's ability falls short of his desire to create a sense, for the reader, of absolute evil. He complains that, when Conrad doesn't know quite how to express his idea, he falls back on melodramatic abstractions ("It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention"). Do you find Conrad's prose melodramatic, or do you think he is able to create a sense of absolute evil?
2. When Kurtz says, "'The horror! The horror!" what does he mean?
3. What (and where) is the "heart of darkness"?
- Why not name the people introduced at the beginning of the novel: the Director of Companies, the Lawyer, the Accountant?
- Who is the narrator?
- Why do you think Conrad chose not to make Marlowe the narrator?
- What does the narrator's description of Marlowe ("Marlowe sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzenmast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands turned outwards, resembled an idol") suggest about Marlowe?
- How does the narrator describe their surroundings at the beginning of the story? How does he describe them at the end of the story? How has his perception changed by the end of the novel?
- What icons of civilization does the narrator invoke at the beginning of the story? How does he feel about them? Has this perception changed by the end of the novel?
- The narrator says that, to Marlowe, "the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze..." Ho does this relate to the rest of the narrator's story? How does it relate to the structure and technique of the novel?
- Why is Marlowe thinking of the time when the Romans first came to England? In his mind, how is it related to the tale he tells of his African journey?
- How does his description of the Roman commander relate to himself and his story?
- When Marlowe says that what redeems the conquest of the earth is "the idea at the back of it," what does he mean? How does this relate to himself? To Kurtz? To the colonizers?
- Why does he compare the river in the Congo to a snake?
- Why include the story about Fresleven, the captain Marlowe replaced? What point(s) is Conrad making with this story?
- Why does Marlowe repeat the word "glorious" so often? Is his tone the same each time he says it?
- What does the description of the Company's office reveal about it?
- Why does Conrad include the passage about Marlowe's visit to his aunt? How is her attitude toward his journey revealing of European attitudes toward Africans?
- How does Marlowe's description of the coastline of Africa create the tone and mood for the rest of the story?
- When Marlowe arrives at the Company's station, what does he see? How is the decaying machinery symbolic?
- Why is Marlowe so upset by what he sees of the treatment of the Africans by the whites? How is their treatment symbolic?
- Why does Marlowe automatically find himself allied with the Europeans he meets? How does he feel about this?
- How does the appearance of the Company's accountant contrast with the appearance of the Africans Marlowe sees at the station? Why does Marlowe say he "respected" him?
- When Marlowe is waiting at the station, a sick man is brought into the accountant's office to wait to be sent home. What is the point of this incident?
- Marlowe gets to the Central station and discovers that the steamer he was to take upriver is sunk. He says, "I did not see the real significance of the wreck at once. I fancy I see it now, but I am not sure--not sure at all." What does he mean?
- What is the goal of the Europeans at the station? What product do they crave? Why does Marlowe call them "pilgrims"?
- Why is everyone so awed by Kurtz? What do they say about him?
- What imagery and allusion does Conrad use to associate the Central station with Hell?
- Marlowe says he hates lies--yet he allows the men at the Central station to believe he is something he is not. Why?
- What does Marlowe say about his foreman? Why does he like him?
- What is the point of the episode describing the Eldorado Exploring Expedition?
- Marlowe says that when you are attending to the "mere incidents of the surface, the reality--the reality, I tell you--fades. The inner truth is hidden..." What does he mean?
- Marlowe talks, when traveling up the river, about how he begins to feel a kinship with the Africans they encounter. He says it allows him to see "the truth." What does he say about "the truth," and what does he mean?
- Marlowe finds an old book at an abandoned station. Why does he keep it?
- When they are nearly at Kurtz's station, a mist rises, isolating them. What is the significance of this? What other images of or statements about isolation are made in the novel?
- Why did the cannibals they hired to help them get upriver not eat Marlowe and the others? What does their restraint reveal about them? About the Europeans on the boat?
- How does Marlowe describe the death of his helmsman? Why is he so anxious to get his shoes and socks off?
- Why does the thought of Kurtz's death upset Marlowe so much, when he has never met him? How does he descrive Kurtz's "voice"?
- How has the wilderness "gotten into" Kurtz? What does Marlowe mean when he says Kurtz "had taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land"?
- Marlowe says, "The earth for us is a place to live in, where we must put up with sights, with sounds, with smells, too, by Jove--breathe dead hippo, so to speak, and not be contaminated." What does he mean?
- Was Kurtz "contaminated"? Explain.
- What was Kurtz's failure? What was his greatness?
- What does Marlowe mean when he says, "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz"?
- Why can't Marlowe remember the words of Kurtz's report?
- How does Marlowe describe Kurtz's station?
- The Russian they meet at Kurtz's station tells Marlowe, "I went a little farther, then still a little farther--till I had gone so far that I don't know how I'll ever get back." What does he mean?
- According to the Russian, how did Kurtz get all his ivory?
- According to Marlowe, why was the wilderness able to "invade" Kurtz?
- Marlowe despises Kurtz, in one way. In another, he reveres him. Why?
- Why does Marlowe take Kurtz's side and protect him and his memory against the Company? What does he mean when he says, "Ah! but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares"?
- How are the two women in Kurtz's life the same? How are they different?
- What does Marlowe mean when he says of Kurtz that he had "kicked himself loose of the earth"?
- Kurtz says, "Live rightly, die, die..." What does he mean?
- Why does Marlowe say that Kurtz's last cry ("The horror! The horror!") was a victory?
- Why does Marlowe go to see Kurtz's fiancee? Does he find what he expects?
- Why does Marlowe allow her to keep her illusions about Kurtz?
- Why does he lie to her about Kurtz's last words?
1. Of the World War I poems by Brooke, Owen, and Sassoon, which do you find the most effective at conveying its message? Why?
2. The Wasteland was published between World War I and World War II, in 1922. Is it still relevant today? Why or why not?
- In Sassoon's poem, "They," what does the Bishop say? What do the soldiers say? How do they feel about what the Bishop says?
- What is the "cause" the soldiers are supposedly fighting for? Do the soldiers feel they have been fighting for this cause?
- What is the poem's message(s) about the war?
- Who are "They"?
- How is the tone of Wilfred Owen's poem, "Dulce Et Decorum Est," different from the tone of Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier"?
- Why did Owen choose this title for his poem?
- How does Owen describe the soldiers? Is there anything noble about their lives?
- Some readers object to the vivid details Owen uses; why do you think he chose such grim details?
- In Yeats's "The Second Coming," what is the opening image? How does it describe his view of what is happening in the world?
- Yeats says, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold." What is the "center"?
- The note in your book says that lines 4-8 refer to the Russian Revolution; but they have also been interpreted by various critics to refer to the Irish Revolution and World War I, or all of them. In any case, what do they reveal about what is happening in the world? Are the good guys winning?
- The "Second Coming" traditionally refers of the return of Christ to the world. What images of the Second Coming does Yeats give? Does he make this sound like the coming of Christ?
- What does Yeats see for the future?
- In "The Circus Animals' Desertion," Yeats writes, "I must be satisfied with my heart." What does he mean?
- What are his "circus animals"?
- When he says, "What can I but enumerate old themes..." what does he mean?
- When he says, "...Starved for the bosom of his faery bride..." what does he mean?
- Yeats says, "...and yet when all is said / It was the dream itself enchanted me: / Character isolated by a deed / To engross the present and dominate memory." What does he mean?
- Where, according to Yeats, did his beautiful images come from? Is he saying that they are, therefore, all illusions and useless? Or is he saying that beauty can be created out of trash?
- What do the last three lines of the poem mean?
- Some critics interpret this poem to be about Yeats' feeling that, as he aged, his creative powers were waning. Others interpret it to be about what has happened, in Yeats's view, to the world. What do you think?
- Why does T. S. Eliot begin The Wasteland with the quote from the Satyricon? How does this help set the tone and introduce the themes of the poem?
- "The Burial of the Dead" comes from the Anglican burial service, which emphasizes rebirth into immortal life. What images of rebirth do you see in this section of the poem?
- Why is April the "cruellest" month? Why is winter preferable? Does this speaker want to be reborn?
- In line 8, a different speaker appears; what can you tell about this person from his/her conversation?
- A new speaker appears in line 12; what is revealed about this person?
- Another speaker begins talking in line 13; who is this?
- In line 17, a new speaker begins talking; is this yet another person, or one we have heard before?
- Are any of these people responding to each other? Do we hear full conversations or just fragments? What is Eliot's point in switching from speaker to speaker so quickly? And why not use quotation marks?
- In line 19, yet another speaker appears; have we met this one before?
- What images are you given of nature in this section of the poem?
- What are the "broken images" (line 22)? What is Eliot implying about the power of those images?
- What solace does this speaker offer to the reader? How comforting is it?
- Why does Eliot include the lines from Tristan und Isolde? What feeling do these lines convey? How do they contribute to the tone/themes of the poem so far?
- In line 35, there is a new speaker; and then in line 37, yet another--the person to whom she is speaking. This is the first "conversation" we have seen with two partners. Yet, is it a conversation? How do these two fail to understand each other?
- Why does he include yet another line from Tristan und Isolde in line 42?
- Is there any regular form, rhyme scheme, or meter to the poem?
- What does Madame Sosostris tell her client? Do we hear what her client says? What does her reading predict? What are the images she gives?
- Who are the "crowds of people, walking around in a ring," that she sees?
- Does Madame Sosostris herself understand the significance of her reading?
- Who is the speaker in the last stanza of "The Burial of the Dead"?
- By alluding to Dante's "Inferno," what is Eliot implying about London, and about all of the people he sees walking there? How does this refer back to the "crowds of people" seen by Madame Sosostris?
- Why does the clock have a "dead" sound?
- What is the meaning of the "conversation" the narrator has with Stetson? How does it parody the theme of rebirth? Why does he include the line from Baudelaire as the last line of this section?
- What images does Eliot give of life in the 20th century? Is there a God? Is there any meaning to life? What has happened to the power of religion?
- What is Eliot's point in giving the reader so many fragments, without ever completing the picture? So many broken-off or one-sided conversations?
*Note: I have provided "black" discussion questions about only "The Burial of the Dead," since that's all you are required to read. If you want more guidance on the other parts of The Wasteland, feel free to contact me.