Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Polish-born writer Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski). Before its 1902 publication, it appeared as a three-part series (1899) in Blackwood's Magazine. It is widely regarded as a significant work of English literature and part of the Western canon. This highly symbolic story is actually a story within a story, or frame narrative. It follows Marlow as he recounts, from dusk through to late night, his adventure into the Congo to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary. The story details an incident when Marlow, an Englishman, took a foreign assignment as a ferry-boat captain, employed by a Belgian trading company. Although the river is never specifically named, readers may assume it is the Congo River, in the Congo Free State, a private colony of King Leopold II. Marlow is employed to transport ivory downriver; however, his more pressing assignment is to return Kurtz, another ivory trader, to civilization in a cover up. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region. (From feedbooks.com)
Curriculet Details
50 Questions
55 Annotations
3 Quizzes

In this free digital curriculum, geared toward 11-12th graders, students can read Joseph Conrad’s famous story of imperialism with the support of rich media annotations and Common Core questions and answers that keep them grounded in the book. Annotations in this curriculet include images and maps of the setting, translations of key phrases, and discussions of symbolism, hyperbole, and the motif of darkness. This free online unit highlights Conrad’s imagery and contains Common Core aligned questions and interactive quizzes that support reading comprehension and increase student engagement.

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I | Heart of Darkness

Based on context clues, we can infer that The Nellie is ______________. 
Gravesend is a town in northwest Kent, England, on the south bank of the Thames River. 
The Thames is a river that flows through southern England. 
By now you're probably wondering what's going on. That's because this book starts "in medias res". To learn more about what this means, watch the video: (This annotation contains a video)
What literary device is being used in the highlighted text? 
Here is a striking photograph of the Thames River. (This annotation contains an image)
The narrator is referring to imperialism, which is the policy of extending the rule or authority of a nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies. The narrator is describing the spirit in which imperialists ventured out from England in search of new conquests. Click below to watch a short video about imperialism: (This annotation contains a link)
As you read, notice the ongoing references to light and dark. The title, "Heart of Darkness," highlights the importance of the concept of darkness (and its opposite, lightness) in the book. What associations do you have with the concept of “darkness”? List them here. Write freely; your answer does not have to be in a complete sentence. 
"Spin yarns" is a metaphor, and an idiom, meaning "to tell stories." 
Which of the following sentences does NOT contain a simile? 
Which of the following statements is TRUE? 
What is the snake being used as a metaphor for? 
"By hook or by crook" is an English phrase meaning "by any means necessary." 
In the highlighted text, "arid as a desert" is 
This line contains allusion. An allusion is a reference to another work, usually another work of literature. Here, the doctor makes an allusion to Plato, a Greek philosopher.  
This one line expresses a great deal about Marlow's attitude towards women! 
Please give your interpretation of what Marlow means by "for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the center of a continent, I were about to set off for the center of the earth." What does this expression say about his feelings towards what he's about to do? 
The highlighted line contains 
This illustration depicts a man-of-war, which is a type of warship. (This annotation contains an image)
Hopefully you've noticed by now that Conrad uses a lot of similes! In doing so, he creates a rich text, full of imagery and description. 
To whom is Marlow talking? 
Here again, Conrad is using black and white as a metaphor. The details of this paragraph also showcase Marlow's shock at what he encounters -- the harsh treatment of slaves, the inhumanity.  
Notice how this description sounds like it's referring to objects rather than human beings. 
In your own words, please explain how the accountant's attitude is inhumane.  
The highlighted phrase contains _______________. 
This line supports the point that 
Why is Marlow so irritable in this scene? 
The word “ivory” has both literal and figurative significance. It is, quite literally, the tusk of an elephant, but it also represents money and economic freedom. Watch the video below to learn more about literal and figurative language. (This annotation contains a video)
This is an important and profoundly honest statement. It's easy to get lost in Marlow's flowery language, but this pithy comment cuts to the heart of these men's intentions: money. They are here to make money off ivory, plain and simple. 
In your own words, please explain what this figurative description tells us about the fellow's character. 
This is an interesting commentary on darkness. Marlow speaks of not seeing here, and asks us, his readers, to consider this concept. He goes on to compare the stories we hear about other people or places, including this one you are reading, to dreams (which happen in the unconscious, in the dark of night). 
Darkness and mystery -- all that can't be seen and is not known, ignorance -- all of these go hand in hand. 
The moon appears over and over, in contrast to the darkness of night. 
Here we are back in the "present" moment, on the boat, where Marlow is "spinning his yarn." 
A rivet is a mechanical fastener, and Marlow needs rivets to fix his ship. 
The pronouns "she" and "her" tell us that Conrad is using __________________ here to refer to the ship. 
What literary device is exemplified in the highlighted text? How do you know? 
A boiler-maker is a trained craftsman who produces steel fabrications from plates and sections.  
Why do this group's possessions looks "like the spoils of thieving"? 
"To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land" is a 
If you found Part 1 a bit confusing, click below to watch this video for some helpful explanations!  (This annotation contains a link)
Part 1 Quiz 

II | Heart of Darkness

A theme is emerging in the Heart of Darkness; watch this video to learn more about identifying the theme of a book.  (This annotation contains a video)
Still having a hard time figuring out what is going on in Heart of Darkness? Click the link below to watch this quick overview and gain a little clarity... (This annotation contains a link)
This passage gestures towards the _____________ of the book. 
Ivory is a hard, white material derived from the tusks and teeth of animals. It consists of dentine, a tissue that is similar to bone, and has been important since ancient times for making carvings, false teeth, fans, and even dominoes. Elephant ivory has been the most important and controversial, and is the source of the ivory being referenced in the book. The trade of elephant ivory is controversial because it has contributed to declining elephant populations. (This annotation contains an image)
Half-caste is a category of people of mixed race or ethnicity. 
This sentence contains both personification and a simile. Below, please explain the personification and identify the simile. 
These lines contain tons of imagery. If and when you feel lost, focus on the descriptions... they will help anchor the text in your imagination. The setting is something that's pretty easy to access in this book. To learn more about imagery, watch the video below.  (This annotation contains a video)
The Congo River is a symbol; click below to learn more:  (This annotation contains a link)
The drums describe 
Which of the following is Marlow describing in the highlighted text? 
This is a metaphor for the "blow" the boat took. Here a relationship is being made between the damage done to the boat and the damage done to a captain when he makes an awful mistake. 
According to the text, what made Marlow think of the Africans he encountered as inhuman? 
Here is an example of an ornamental face scar, sometimes called tribal marks. One can identify which tribe someone is from just by looking at the marks. Sometimes people are given these marks at birth, and other times, they are given during rituals or feasts. (This annotation contains an image)
To be written "in cipher" is to be written in a secret code. 
Marlow seems uncertain about the point of the mission. To find out why this is significant, watch the video: (This annotation contains a video)
What is everyone so surprised about? 
Which of the following statements summarizes what can be inferred from the highlighted passage? 
In your own words, please explain what Marlow is saying here. 
This is a good question; Marlow is wondering why the slaves don't try to overpower them, since the slaves outnumber the English thirty to five. What do you think? 
This simile is probably meant to _________________ Kurtz because it compares him to a princess. 
In Marlow's estimate, what internal emotion torments the savages? 
Here is an image of the Congo River. Remember the image of the Thames River (which is in England) earlier in the text? How do these two rivers differ, based on what you can tell by the images? (This annotation contains an image)
A scow is a flat-bottomed boat used for transporting goods. 
Is this literal or figurative language? Please explain. 
This line contains hyperbole. Hyperbole the use of exaggeration as a figure of speech. It may be used to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally. (This annotation contains a video)
This is an important moment. To find out why, watch the video:  (This annotation contains a video)
What does this mean, and what impression does it give you of Kurtz? 
Kurtz wrote a report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, who trusted his "guidance." What does this tell you about Kurtz's character? 
"A tree swayed by the wind" is a _________________ comparing Marlow's late helmsman and Kurtz to a tree, exemplifying their shared wishy-washiness. 
Below is an image of a harlequin. This character is referred to as "the harlequin" henceforth because he dresses in colorful patched clothing, though this reference is an exaggeration; he doesn't dress as colorfully as the character in the image below! (This annotation contains an image)
The highlighted text contains 
Part 2 Quiz 

III | Heart of Darkness

A motif is a recurring element in a text. Watch this video to hear more about motifs, as you consider the possible motifs in this novel.  (This annotation contains a video)
This description of the harlequin may remind you a little of Marlow when he first decided he wanted to be a captain upon a ship in the wilds of Africa. 
Upon first impression, which of the following describes the harlequin's estimation of Kurtz? 
We are getting ________________________ Marlow's character in this scene. 
Learn more about Conrad's characters by watching this illuminating video. Click the link below: (This annotation contains a link)
A shrunken head is a specially prepared human head that is used for trophy, ritual, or trade purposes. The practice of headshrinking has only been documented in the northwestern region of the Amazon rain forest.  (This annotation contains an image)
According to the harlequin, how do the native Africans regard Kurtz? 
Please explain how Marlow feels about Kurtz after hearing the harlequin's account of him, and provide one quote from the text to support your response. 
This line contains 
Watch the video below for an exploration of one of Conrad's themes: Imperialism. (This annotation contains a link)
This native African woman has a strong presence. There are very few women in this book; pay attention to how the characters, tone, and plot are impacted by the appearance of this "stately" woman. 
Most of what we've experienced of Kurtz has been through the second-hand accounts of other characters. Here, Kurtz speaks aloud, and refers to saving the ivory. This, again, supports the impression we have of him as concerned about ivory (and money, by extension) above all else. 
The company and Kurtz are at odds. Kurtz's methods are too "vigorous" and not cautious enough, in the manager's opinion. 
The manager states plainly here what he thinks of Kurtz. 
Explore the absurdity of evil in the short video about theme below: (This annotation contains a link)
The harlequin's departure signifies a change in the book; the focus now shifts to the dynamic between Marlow and Kurtz. 
Watch this video to explore the motif of darkness in depth:  (This annotation contains a link)
A "drubbing" is a beating. 
In this scene, Marlow describes himself as 
In your own words, please describe what "had driven [Kurtz] out to the edge of the forest"? 
This is a metaphor meaning Kurtz has lost his grip on reality. 
What does the "heart of darkness" refer to in the highlighted text? 
Notice this reference to darkness. Kurtz represents the ultimate dark and evil character, and this image has him in a crevice where no sun shines, where he exists in Marlow's imagination. 
This is one of the most famous lines from "Heart of Darkness." What do you think Kurtz is referring to when he cries out "The horror! The horror!"? 
Sounds play an important role in this book. Click below to watch a video discussing this recurring motif.  (This annotation contains a link)
"Life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be" is a ________________. 
Who did Marlow give Kurtz's report to? 
Conrad uses ______________ here, as Marlow recounts some details about Kurtz's character. 
This beautiful description (with yet another reference to darkness) contains a 
Kurtz's fiance has a very different impression of her lover than we have been given thus far by Marlow. What do you think accounts for this discrepancy?  
Marlow is comparing this current image of Kurtz's fiance with the image of another woman in the book. Who? 
Now that you're done with the book, watch this video for a review of the plot:  (This annotation contains a link)
Part 3 Quiz 
How did Marlow change over the course of the book?