Heart of Darkness Discussion Questions

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

This lesson will include some discussion questions related to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. These will be divided by topic, and some will include a brief note, in order to better expand the intended discussion.

Background

Joseph Conrad's classic Heart of Darkness is densely packed with many themes, some more obvious than others. Imperialism, colonialism, and racism are some of the more readily visible themes. Others, such as nature, infidelity, and heroism take a bit of digging to find.

Here, we will examine some of these themes, and come up with some discussion points which will help expand and explore them. Hopefully, this will prompt your students to dig deeper for themselves, and further examine these still relevant themes.

Racism

  • The esteemed Nigerian-American writer Chinua Achebe calls Heart of Darkness offensively racist. Discuss whether or not you feel this is true, and why.

Considering the subject matter, some may see racism as necessary in order for Conrad to make his point. After all, the book is a condemnation of imperialism and colonialism, and racism played a big part in both of those ideals.

Others don't really see any racism at all, only a reflection of the elitist Edwardian England. Does racism mean the same thing today as it did in early 20th century Europe?

  • Discuss Conrad's use of the term darkness in the book, including the title. How many different meanings does it have? Do they all essentially have the same meaning in the context of the book? Or are some more symbolic than others?

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