Can you make a suggestion for an essay topic concerning the study of Conrad and Kipling? (Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, If, The White Man's Burden)
I'd offer an attempt at a one word topic: schism.
Cultural division, at its most terrible, occurs within the individual. Dealing with internal intellectual, cultural and identity division is one potential through-line for these texts.
What strikes me most about Conrad is how he can make you feel the human psyche. He throws his characters into fascinating moral quandaries, and as we watch them struggle out we learn something about ourselves and about human nature. Although I think the common denominator might be adventure, that is what sets Conrad apart.
Kipling and Conrad had differing views of imperialism. Discuss the effects of British imperialism on the cultures of the native people who were forced to colonize. Did these colonies fulfill the perceived obligation felt by the Europeans to rule non-Europeans? Were the motives altruistic or selfish? How are the personal viewpoints of the authors revealed?
The biggest topic you could write about would be the understanding of colonialism and how the different authors express this in different ways. As Kipling's title suggests, colonialism was seen as a moral responsibility, whereas the writings of Conrad undercut this and present it in its full horror.
If you interested in author stylistics, you might examine the writing of both to determine the stylistic differences that create the disparate effects the writers have on the reader: specifically many readers report that Conrad is far more depressing than Kipling. Does this effect relate to the topics they write about or only to the differences their authorial styles [diction, vocabulary, tone, mood, figures of speech, images]?
How did contact with the "primitive" affect the "civilized?" While both authors wrote from very biased perspectives (though also highly typical of their time) they are fascinated by the collision of cultures, a theme that interests historians and anthropologists as well. Both men are deeply ambivalent about the consequences of this exchange.
These two authors, comparable superficially, have some very different ideas of what could be learned by 19th c. colonialism. While Rudyard Kipling dealt with the social structure of both the colonialized cultures and his own, Conrad was more interested in the “raw” and the cooked” – that is, the refinements of civilization itself, as opposed to “primitive” cultures. Another serious difference is the nautical mise-en-scene of Conrad’s novels; the land portions were almost peripheral to the ships and sea-bound actions--for example, note how quickly Conrad disposes with the business of Kurtz's betrothed. So, an interesting critical area might be how European cultures similarly divided into two camps regarding their attitudes toward colonialization. For example, Conrad's views on slavery were quite different from those expressed in Kipling.
A common theme in these stories would be that of civilization versus savagery, specifically the misconception of these terms. For instance, in most cases with these texts, white "civilization" is commonly developed as the more savage and cold of the book: this is in stark contrast to the native society, which is often portrayed initially as primitive and backwards, but develops as more caring, spiritual, and generally more advanced emotionally. This concept of emotional maturity seems to be better appreciated by the authors, as the main characters--the medium through which the author speaks--often displays wistfulness for the simpler, kinder, and less violent ways of the native society. Identifying three or more examples of this in the text would be a sufficient thesis for such a paper.