Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

ISBN 978-1-60857-044-7

Grammardog Teacher's Guide contains 16 quizzes for this classic novella.  All sentences are from the novella.  Figurative language contrasts civilization with the power of prehistoric nature ("the forest stepped leisurely across the water," "the woods looked with their air of hidden knowledge").  Allusions recall civilizing forces in history (Sir Francis Drake, Romans, Knights, Buddha).

PLOT SUMMARY:  What’s at the core of human nature?  The Horror!  The Horror! The Grammardog Guide to HEART OF DARKNESS features sentences from the novella in 16 grammar, style and proofreading quizzes that reinforce plot, characters and themes.  The story is told in three frames.  The first frame begins with an unnamed narrator sitting with friends on a yacht anchored in the Thames River in London.  The second frame begins as one of the men, a former sailor named Marlow, tells the story of his business trip into the Belgian Congo to search for an employee named Mr. Kurtz.  The second frame also contains a flash-forward, a rare literary device that gets ahead of the story in progress.  The third frame returns to the unnamed narrator in the final paragraph after Marlow finishes his story. 

Marlow takes a job with a Belgian trading company that imports ivory from the Congo.  No ivory shipments have arrived lately so the company sends Marlow to Africa to investigate.  When he arrives in Africa he hears a rumor that Mr. Kurtz is ill.  He hires a crew of natives to take him on a two-month trip up the Congo River in an old steamboat to the Inner Station to find Mr. Kurtz.  As the steamboat nears the Inner Station it is attacked by natives shooting arrows.  A spear kills the helmsman.  Marlow throws the man’s body overboard to keep the native crew from eating the dead man. 

A flash-forward is inserted in the narrative at this point.  Marlow pauses to ask for some tobacco and to assure his listeners that he did continue the voyage up the Congo River and he did meet Kurtz.  Marlow gets ahead of his story, revealing information he learned when he met Kurtz, including that Kurtz had a fiancée back in Belgium whom he called “My Intended.”  Kurtz was bald and very tall.  Kurtz was stealing ivory.  Kurtz had established himself as a king who controlled the natives and participated in their unspeakable savage rituals and ceremonies, implying that Kurtz became a cannibal.  Kurtz’s soul had gone mad in the jungle.  He told Marlow he was lord over all, saying “My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river.”  Kurtz spoke English because he had been educated in England.  The Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had assigned Kurtz to write a report about his experiences as a civilized white man in Africa.  Marlow had read the 17-page report written before Kurtz went “native.”  When they finally found Kurtz, Marlow and his crew loaded piles of ivory on the steamboat.  The fast-forward ends and Marlowe picks up the story where he left off.

When the Inner Station is within sight Marlow sees an eccentric Russian man in colorful clothes waving his arms and urging the boat to dock.  The Russian boards the steamboat and tells Marlow that Kurtz is ill.  Marlow also learns from the Russian that the natives worship Kurtz.  Marlow looks at the Inner Station through a telescope and sees a row of posts topped with human skulls.  Natives appear who carry Kurtz a stretcher.  More natives gather around Kurtz ready to do battle with Marlow’s crew.  Kurtz shouts at the natives in their language and they retreat into the jungle.  Kurtz is brought on board the steamboat.  A beautiful native woman appears on the shore.  She raises her arms and then disappears into the jungle.  The Russian tells Marlow that Kurtz has ordered the natives to attack the boat.  The Russian then escapes in a canoe.

In the night Kurtz sneaks off the steamboat and returns to the Inner Station.  Marlow goes after him and finds Kurtz crawling on all fours toward the station house.  Marlow carries Kurtz back to the steamboat.  The next day the natives, including the native woman, assemble near the steamboat and begin shouting.  Marlow pulls the boat’s whistle which makes all the natives scatter except the woman.  The steamboat takes off with the crew firing rifles into the jungle.

Kurtz becomes gravely ill.  Kurtz gives Marlow papers that include the report he wrote and personal papers.  In his delusional state, Kurtz requests that kings meet him on his return to Europe.  Kurtz’s dying words are, “The horror!  The horror!”  One of the natives on board tells the others, “Mistah Kurtz -- he dead.”  The crew buries Kurtz on the muddy river bank.  Marlow becomes ill.

When Marlow returns to Europe he is deeply affected by his experience in the Congo. He visits Kurtz’s fiancé and gives her letters and a photograph entrusted to him by Kurtz.  When she asks Marlow to repeat Kurtz’s dying words, he lies.  Instead of “The horror!  The horror!” he tells her Kurtz said her name.

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