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10 Inspiring Ideas for Heart of Darkness Essay Topics

In 1857, Joseph Conrad was born in Ukraine. During his teenage years, he became a sailor and started writing novels. With Heart of Darkness, Conrad created one of the first work's of literature that featured colonization. This book focuses on Africa and how colonial powers changed the colonized nations. While this novel uses Victorian values, it is also one of the emerging examples of modernism from that time period.

Preparing for the Essay

College and high school English classes will often assign Heart of Darkness as required reading. Students must read the book and write an essay based on different themes. While some professors have required topics, other teachers will let the student write anything that they want about the book. Since imperialism is at the heart of this novel, it is one of the common assigned theme. It contains themes about the corrupting influence of power and examples of what happens when people live outside of a system of checks and balances.

To get started on the essay, here are ten different ideas. Using the Heart of Darkness, students can find supporting quotes and themes to complete their paper. While imperialism and power are the easiest topics to write about, there are other topic ideas that will also work.

Inspiring Topic Ideas

  1. How does Conrad show the relation between insanity and physical illness? How does this book show the impact of someone's environment on their mental health?
  2. When Kurtz dies in the book, he cries out “The horror! The horror!” What does this mean? In addition, why does Kurtz say these words to Marlow instead of another character?
  3. Is Marlow or Kurtz the real hero the book? Why are there two possible protagonists used in the story?
  4. Why would Conrad choose to introduce the concept of Kurt's fiance only at the end of the novel? Why would he wait to inform readers about her existence?
  5. After the death of Kurtz, Marlow does not tell Kurtz's fiancee what Kurt's actual last words were. Why would he lie and tell her what she wants to hear?
  6. The narrator chosen by an author can be extremely revealing. Why does Conrad choose to have Marlow narrate his story?
  7. Named the Heart of Darkness, this novel has a reoccurring use of the word “darkness”. Why does Conrad choose to use this as a symbol throughout the novel?
  8. What type of impression does Conrad give of the natives in the story?
  9. Conrad uses a literary device known as an unreliable narrator in the story. This is a key feature of modernist writing. What other features of modernist writing are present?
  10. Kurtz has an African mistress and a fiancee in the book. How do these women compare to each other? What are their roles in driving the plot line?
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