HOD Essay Topics1. Some critics believe that in Heart of Darkness Conrad illustrates how "the darkness of the landscape can lead to the darkness of social corruption." What does this statementmean? How can one's environment affect one's actions, feelings, and morals? Is thisstatement believable or not? Have you ever experienced a change in yourself that resultedfrom a change in your environment? What kind of change was it?2. Heart of Darkness seems to blur the line between the so-called "advanced" society of Europe and the "primitive" society of Africa. What makes one culture "civilized" andanother "savage" in the eyes of the world? Are these distinctions valid? Do you think thatthe culture you live in is "advanced" or "civilized"? Why?3. In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is depicted as an upstanding European who has beentransformed by his time in the jungle-away from his home, away from familiar peopleand food, and away from any community moral support that might have helped preventhim from becoming such a tyrant. There was nothing and no one, in essence, to keep himon the straight and narrow. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Wasthere ever a time in which you felt alone, in a strange environment, or different fromeveryone else around you? How did that experience affect you or change you? Did youfind yourself pulled toward base, cruel instincts as Kurtz was? What did you do to copewith those feelings?4. Kurtz's dying words are a cryptic whisper: "The horror, the horror." What "horror"could Kurtz have been talking about? Is there more than one possibility? Why do youthink Conrad made this scene so ambiguous?5. Some readers claim that Heart of Darkness strictly a political novella. Others, however,say it's really a story about the human condition. Can a work of fiction be interpreted indifferent ways? Should readers consider the author's intent when analyzing a story?6. Heart of Darkness can sometimes seem to readers like an incredibly dark, depressingstory that paints civilizations in a very negative light. Did it seem this way to you, or didthe story contain any positive moments? If so, what were they? Why did they seem positive?1979: Choose a complex and important character in a novel or play of recognized literarymerit who might - on the basis of the character's actions alone - be considered evil or immoral. In a well-organized essay, explain both how and why the full presentation of thecharacter in the work makes us react more sympathetically than we otherwise might.Avoid plot summary.1982 Bulletin #1: "The struggle to achieve dominance over others frequently appears infiction." Choose a novel in which such a struggle for dominance occurs, and write anessay showing for what purposes the author uses the struggle.
1. Why does Heart of Darkness have two competing heroes? Make the case for either Marlow or Kurtz as the true “hero” of the book.
2. Discuss the framing story that structures Heart of Darkness. Why is it important to narrate Marlow in the act of telling his story?
3. 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?
4. Contrast Kurtz’s African mistress with his Intended. Are both negative portrayals of women? Describe how each functions in the narrative. Does it make any difference in your interpretation to know that Conrad supported the women’s suffrage movement?
5. 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?
6. How does physical illness relate to madness? How does one’s environment relate to one’s mental state in this book?
7. Why does Marlow lie to Kurtz’s fiancée about Kurtz’s last words? Why not tell her the truth, or tell her that Kurtz had no last words, rather than affirming her sentimental and mundane ideas?
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Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
Heart of Darkness (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)