Essay topics for Heart of Darkness
The essay is due on November 18th. Please, analyze and quote primarily the text of the novel as your primary source. Any secondary references to critical essays available in the book or from carefully selected scholarly essays online, including the film Apocalypse Now, should only be used as additional support to your thesis and your primary analysis of the novel. This essay should be 4-5 pages long. If your essay is longer, that will be fine, as long as it is necessary to complete your analysis. Please, do not submit essays shorter than 4 pages. For the essay format, please follow the MLA guidelines posted in our Files, as well as the essay samples provided in our Files too.
Apocalypse Now, based on Heart of Darkness, is readily available on many online streaming platforms. It is absolutely essential that you view Apocalypse Now carefully as your final assignment for this class. I will not give you a formal final exam, as explained in our last module, precisely because this film will complete your understanding of Heart of Darkness and is, therefore, extremely important.
Choose one of the following topics for your essay.
1. As you read the novel, be aware of how Conrad uses repeated “doubling” patterns of opposition and contrast in Heart of Darkness: light and dark, white and black, “savagery” and “civilization,” outer and inner? What does Conrad accomplish by this contrast, especially of light and dark?
2. Marlow constantly uses vague and often redundant phrases like “unspeakable secrets”, “inconceivable mystery”, “impenetrable darkness”, and “insoluble problem” (for example, in his description of the young Russian explorer). At other times, however, he is capable of powerful imagery and considerable eloquence. Why does Marlow use vague, “inconclusive” language and opposing adjectives so frequently?
3. Analyze Marlow’s use of the terms “the idea” and “the work” in the novel. Why are there so many ironic suggestions to what these terms actually mean in his observations of the colonial practices in King Leopold’s Congo?
4. What is your understanding of Marlow’s references to “the thing” as his journey unfolds through the African rainforest?
5. Why is Conrad’s use of irony, as a narrative strategy, so powerful throughout the novel? In your opinion, what are the moments/events when Marlow’s ironic statements are the most powerful?
6. Interpret Kurtz’s dying words (“The horror! The horror!”). What do they mean? What are the possible “horrors” to which he is referring? Why is Marlow the recipient of Kurtz’s last words?
7. What do women represent in Heart of Darkness? There are three significant women in this story: Kurtz’s Intended, Marlow’s aunt, and the African woman at Kurtz’s station. How are they described? Contrast Kurtz’s African mistress with his Intended. Are both negative portrayals of women? Describe how each portrayal functions in the narrative. Does it make any difference in your interpretation to know that Conrad supported the women’s suffrage movement? What does Marlow mean early in Part 1 when he suggests that women are “out of touch with truth” and live in a beautiful world of their own?
8. Describe the use of “darkness” both in the book’s title and as a symbol throughout the text. What does darkness represent? Is its meaning constant or does it change?
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