Heart of Darkness Essay Prompts

Requirements

  • Avoid mere plot summary. Make arguments & be analytical.
  • In supporting your claims, include ample direct text evidence from the novella.
  • Cite correctly, using MLA style.

Essay Prompts

  1. The significance of a title is not always easy to discover. For some novels, the full significance of a title becomes apparent to the reader only gradually. What is the significance of Conrad’s title Heart of Darkness, and how does that significance reveal itself? Consider structure, style, literary devices, and/or figurative language.
  2. Many literary works use contrasting places to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the thematic meaning of the work. Heart of Darkness compares and contrasts two such places. Write an essay considering one or more of these place contrasts; discuss how the places are both similar and different, what each place represents, and how their contrast and comparison contributes to one or more meanings of the work (this means you need to discuss theme).
  3. The most important themes (messages, morals, or lessons) in literature sometimes surface through scenes in which a death or deaths take place. Demonstrate and explain how specific death scenes in Heart of Darkness help to illuminate the meaning of the novella as a whole. Dive deeply into the imagery, literary devices, and/or figurative language that give depth to these scenes.
  4. In many works of literature, a physical journey (the literal movement from one place to another) plays a central role. In Heart of Darkness, a physical journey is an important element. Discuss how the journey adds to the meaning (the deeper theme or themes) of the work as a whole. You may wish to consider some or all of the following questions: In what way is this journey more than just a physical one? How does the journey connect to archetype? Does the journey situate this story as a classic adventure tale?
  5. Some novels and plays seem to advocate changes in social or political attitudes. Using Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, find within the text references to the particular attitudes that the author apparently wishes to modify. First, briefly present and explain these attitudes as they appear within the text. Next, discuss and demonstrate the ways in which they are challenged; in this essay, you must consider the language and literary techniques the author uses to influence readers’ views.
  6. Does Heart of Darkness simply reflect prevailing 1800s attitudes about women, or not? Are there ways in which the novel questions or rejects those attitudes? Develop an argument that considers each of the three important female figures in the text: Marlow’s aunt, Kurtz’s Intended, and the native woman who lived with Kurtz. You will need to include outside research to lay out the common attitudes and beliefs about women back in the late 1800s.
  7. How does darkness serve as a symbol in Heart of Darkness? Discuss the various ways Conrad uses and presents the word and concept. Explore “darkness’s” various meanings and consider, as well, its juxtaposition with light.
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