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TERM PAPER IDEAS
1. Not only does Marlow survive an ordeal and live to tell the tale, he also thinks his tale needs to be heard. He thus resembles several similar narrators: Lemuel Gulliver of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift; the title character in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"; Ishmael in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Compare Marlow to any of these figures, or to a similar narrator.
2. Examine the theme of self-restraint, paying particular attention to the contrast between the manager and Kurtz, and between the cannibals and the pilgrims.
3. The primary narrator says that to Marlow "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"; and further, "we were fated... to hear about one of Marlow's inconclusive experiences." How well do these statements describe the story Marlow tells?
4. Kurtz's savage mistress and his Intended are linked by a gesture at the end of the novel. Explain what these two women stand for. Be sure to consider both their positive and their negative aspects.
5. Examine Conrad's use of light/dark and white/black symbolism. Make sure
you include instances where he reverses the expected associations, as
in the "whited sepulchre" of Brussels and the fog that's "more
blinding than the night."
6. Analyze Conrad's use of the frame-the device that places Marlow and his audience before us at the beginning, the end, and (a couple of times) in the midst of the novel. What function does it serve? Disposing of the frame would simplify the novel; do you think it would improve it?
7. "And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth." Before his main tale, Marlow speculates about what it would have been like for a Roman sailing into the wilderness of England 1900 years earlier. Relate this opening monologue to the rest of the novel.
8. Throughout his tale Marlow treats the jungle as if it were another character in his story: "The high stillness confronted these two figures with its ominous patience, waiting for the passing away of a fantastic invasion" (II, 1); "It looked at you with a vengeful aspect" (II, 2). This technique of giving human characteristics to something inhuman is called personification. Examine Conrad's personification of the jungle. What effects does he achieve with it?
9. Examine the attitude of the various characters toward Kurtz: the chief accountant, the brickmaker, the manager, the Russian, the Intended. Trace the way Marlow's initial conception of Kurtz changes into ultimate knowledge.
10. Explain why the choice between loyalty to Kurtz or to the manager is "a choice of nightmares" for Marlow, and why he chooses to be loyal to the more obviously evil of the two men.