Heart of Darkness Writing Assignment
You should have Heart of Darkness read by Tuesday, March 8. Please come to class
with two pages, typed, double-spaced on one of the following topics. Try to be as
specific as you can. You will share your writing in a small group for discussion before
an all class discussion during the last part of the class period.
Topic A. This story makes a rich use of symbolism. Probably the most significant is that
of "light" and/or darkness." Usually, the difference is that light is a symbol of goodness,
innocence, and knowledge, and dark is a symbol of badness, evil, and death. Explore how
Conrad uses dark and light by considering the following:
What ways are these concepts are deployed ironically: instances in which, for
example, “flashes of light” are actually (in some sense) “dark.”
Identify moments in which the concept of “introducing someone
to [or into]” a darkness is invoked. If the same notion is applied in several situations,
one effect is to prompt the reader to consider each of these situations in the light of
the other. Does it happen that doing this causes us to understand one or more of
these situations in a new way?
And what are the senses of "dark" that are being conjured
within a given case: evil? ignorance? the undeclared? [more
than one of these?]. In each case where you see one of
these implications at work, it would be essential to say
something about the specific ways in which it applies. (What
does the evil in question [etc.] consist in").
A different idea you could make the subject of your analysis might be the
notion of "the darkness" as paradoxically threatening and inviting. Think
Cohen’s Theses 5—The monster polices the border of possible and 6—
Fear of the monster is also a kind of desire.
Topic B. The story is constructed around series of foils. What do you turn up if
you pursue the following agenda of curiosity?
How are the "harlequin" and the manager (from the Central
Station) differentiated from each other?
What do they have in common?
How do they function to highlight important defining qualities of
Kurtz? How is Kurtz used, by comparison and contrast, to define
Marlow? Do they help the reader to identify who is the hero and who is
the monster? Have the harlequin and the manager crossed that “line in
the sand” referred to in Cohen’s Thesis 5?
Topic C. What is the role. in Marlow's mentality, of women, in civilized
society? At the time Conrad is writing, women are considered to be “outsiders”,
“others”, and therefore, “monstrous.” What might seem to make women seem
monstrous? Which of Cohen’s 7 Theses would apply and why? Among the
questions it would make sense to take up are the following:
How do Marlow's views about women's natures and roles show up in
the contrast between the situation in which he tells the story we
eventually read and the situation in which, he tells his hearers, he
completely misrepresented it?
Is Marlow's conduct with Kurtz's "Intended" (and
with his aunt) an instance of proper moral restraint?
Or are we expected to see it as an instance of
failure of moral restraint?
Is it an instance of moral respect for the other (the
"Intended")? Or is it a symptom of limits on moral
respect for that other?
Are some lies genuinely morally necessary? Are we
meant (by Conrad) to see his lie to the “Intended” as
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