Study Questions, Activities, and Resources: Joseph Conrad

Study Questions and Activities

  1. What is irony (cf. Glossary)?  Find three examples of irony in Heart of Darkness.  Explain how and what each example adds to the meaning of the story.
  2. Find three examples of symbolism (cf. Glossary) in the novella and explain the symbolic significance of these objects or entities.
  3. To whom does Marlow tell his story, why does he tell his story to these men, and what does he want these men to learn from his account of his experience in the Congo?
  4. Compare and contrast the River Thames with the Congo River, as Conrad describes them in the novella.
  5. Compare and contrast Kurtz’s fiancée with the African woman who does not want Kurtz to leave the Inner Station.
  6. What does Marlow learn about human nature and about colonialism as a result of his voyage up the Congo River to rescue Kurtz?
  7. Explain the meaning of the story’s iconic line, Kurtz’s dying words, “The horror! The horror!”

Writing Assignments

  1. Do you agree with the critics who claim that Heart of Darkness is a racist and a sexist work? Support your response.
  2. How does Conrad’s use of imagery and symbolism in Heart of Darkness augment the themes of the story?
  3. Explain and describe the historical and biographical context that helps readers understand and appreciate Heart of Darkness.
  4. Compare and contrast Heart of Darkness with Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of the book.


Figure 1
Joseph Conrad by George Charles Beresford ( is in the Public Domain