Name: ______Period: ______

Heart of Darkness Unit Packet

Major Themes

Evilness of Imperialism

Africans depicted as innately irrational & violent

Africa as a metaphor for that which white Europeans fear within themselves

Africa/ans as the “other” or alien

The savage within one’s self

ANTICIPATION GUIDE – Heart of Darkness: A for agree, D for disagree

  1. _____ History is factual. You either won or lost, and the facts have been recorded.
  1. _____ History is subjective. The facts are there, but the story is recorded, perpetuated, and retold from the perspective of the survivors, not from the perspective of those who lost power.
  1. _____ A society advances according to its ability to succeed technologically and economically. The evolution of human ethics is irrelevant to success and survival in a culture. In fact, a civilization must be slightly unethical, and sacrifice some of its civility, to advance at all.
  1. _____ People who act on the orders of a corrupt leader are corrupt.
  1. _____ People who act on the orders of a corrupt leader do not have a choice.
  1. _____ When thrown into a completely foreign environment, it is possible to lose sight of one’s humanity, depending on the type of environment.

Opening Pages (77-81)

What is your impression of these opening pages?

Do the Africans seem stereotyped to you? What signs are there that the narrator is sympathetic to them?

Close Reading: Painting the Congo

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

…Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once--somewhere--far away--in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one's past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare to yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention (113).

Giving Voice to Africans

Some readers of Heart of Darkness have argued that the story is racist because Conrad’s African characters rarely speak and have little or no individual identities. Discuss this criticism of the novel. Imaging that you are one of the African characters from the novel and now have the opportunity to write a journal entry describing experiences in the novel from your perspective. Your journal entries should not be retellings of scenes from the novel; rather, create scenes that logically might have occurred during the course of the novel, but that Conrad chose not to depict. Be sure to communicate the feelings of the characters you are pretending to be. When finished, share work in small groups.

Colonial Conditions

King Leopold II’s ownership fo the Congo is certainly not the only example of colonialism. Even the United States began as a group of 13 colonies. Use the library and Internet to learn about other instances of colonization in the world. Your research should include the conditions under which natives lived when rulers from other lands controlled them. Write imaginary dramatic scenes that could have taken place in the colonies you researched (at least one colony with two scenes). The natives’ actions and speeches should reflect the colonial conditions.

End of Novel Activities & Assignments

Rewriting the Ending

1.  Emotional Responses and analytic interpretations of Conrad’s ending for novel from students

2.  Discuss critics’ comments on ending Critics have often written about Marlow’s white lie at the end. Some critics say it illustrates Conrad’s ideas about how we all must be protected from the savagery inside us, just as Marlowe protected Kurtz’s fiancé from the ugly truth about the decline of the man she intended to marry. Other critics, however, call it the novel’s one striking moment of weakness, when Conrad just couldn’t bear to keep telling the novel’s heavy story.

3.  Students will write an alternative scene in which Marlow does tell Kurtz’s fiancé the truth, not only about Kurtz’s last words, but also everything Kurtz had become.

  1. In doing so, students should consider: words Marlow might use in talking to Kurtz’s fiancé, what feelings he might have while he talks to her and how he might show or not show those feelings, how Kurtz’s fiancé might react to what she hears from Marlow, what might happen between Marlow and Kurtz’s fiancé after he discloses the truth
  2. In doing so, students should also be careful to stay with Conrad’s tone and writing style.
  3. Peer edit & revision; share new endings in groups; discuss choices made.

New Endings Should:

·  Revise all loose ends

·  Writing clearly retains Conrad’s tone and style; no errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

Discussion Day

1.  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 statement mean? How can one’s environment affect one’s actions, feelings, and morals? Is this statement believable or not? Have you ever experienced a change in yourself that resulted from 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’ and another “savage” in the eyes of the world? Are these distinctions valid? Do you think that the culture you live in is “advanced” or “civilized”? Why?

3.  In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is depicted as an upstanding European who has been transformed by his time in the jungle – away from his home, away from familiar people and food, and away from any community moral support that might have helped prevent him from becoming such a tyrant. There was nothing and no one, in essence, to keep him on the straight and narrow. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Was there ever a time in which you felt alone, in a strange environment, or different from everyone else around you? How did that experience affect you or change you? Did you find yourself pulled toward base, cruel instincts as Kurtz was? What did you do to cope with those feelings?

4.  Kurtz’s dying words a cryptic whisper: “the horror, the horror.” What “horror” could Kurtz have been talking about? Is there more than one possibility? Why do you think Conrad made this scene so ambiguous?

5.  Some readers claim that Heart of Darkness is strictly a political novella. Others, however, say it’s really a story about the human condition. Can a work of fiction be interpreted in different ways? Should readers consider the author’s intent when analyzing a story? Which of these two themes do you think is most prevalent? Why?

6.  Heart of Darkness can sometimes seem to readers like an incredibly dark, depressing story that paints civilizations in a very negative light. Did it seem this way to you, or did the story contain any positive moments? If so, what are they? Why did they seem positive?