Heart of Darkness Sample Essay Outlines
by Joseph Conrad

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Sample Essay Outlines

  • Topic #1
    Marlow’s conflicting feelings toward Kurtz depend on a number of things. Sometimes he admires him, other times he denounces him. Write an essay analyzing these opposing feelings.

    I. Thesis Statement: Based on Kurtz’s actions and ideas, Marlow’s feelings toward him alternate between admiration and reprehension.

    II. Feelings of admiration
    A. Kurtz’s talents
    1. Obtained ivory
    2. Organized the natives to work for him
    3. Wrote of his experience and honestly evaluated them
    B. Idolatry for Kurtz
    1. Natives performed sacrifices in his honor
    2. The Russian worships him
    3. Marlow honors Kurtz’s memory to protect him

    III. Feelings of reprehension
    A. Kurtz abandoned morality
    1. Killed people who opposed him (heads on poles)
    2. Threatened to kill the Russian over ivory
    B. Kurtz shows little restraint
    1. Covets ivory and its importance
    2. Regards the natives as inferior people—“Exterminate all the brutes” he wrote in his report
    3. His methods are “unsound”

    IV. Conclusion: Depending on what aspect of Kurtz Marlow considers, his feelings vary from one extreme to the opposite, from respect to revulsion.

  • Topic #2
    Who is the main character in Heart of Darkness, Marlow or Kurtz? Develop an argument showing how each one can be viewed as the main character.

    I. Thesis Statement: Marlow and Kurtz each can be considered the main character. One cannot exist without the other.

    II. Kurtz is the main character
    A. He is Marlow’s goal
    1. Marlow becomes obsessed with meeting Kurtz along the journey
    2. Kurtz represents a side of Marlow that he is afraid to become
    B. All the people and action revolve around Kurtz
    1. The chief accountant, manager, and other company workers deal with Kurtz
    2. All the ivory trading goes back to Kurtz

    III. Marlow is the main character
    A. As narrator, Marlow’s story is more important
    1. Marlow’s feelings and judgment govern what the reader knows
    2. The story shows his change after the journey
    3. Marlow is in the entire novella, Kurtz isn’t
    B. Marlow makes Kurtz a great figure
    1. Only Marlow admires Kurtz in an extreme way
    2. After Kurtz’s death, Marlow keeps him alive by preserving his memory

    IV. Conclusion: An argument can be made for either Marlow or Kurtz as the main character.

  • Topic #3
    Heart of Darkness shows how the forces of nature control man. The jungle exposes man’s weakness. Write an essay showing how nature dominates all the people in the jungle.

    I. Thesis Statement: The jungle influences everyone’s behavior. It not only affects them physically, but also mentally. It exposes man’s weakness in many ways.

    II. Nature’s power
    A. The forest’s trees and heat
    1. Makes it difficult for the boats to sail
    2. Blocks the natives and seamen from each other
    B. Affects men physically and mentally
    1. Causes the helmsman’s death
    2. Marlow’s fever
    3. Kurtz’s insanity

    III. Man’s weakness
    A. Man must adapt to survive
    1. Lack of food and water affects their behavior
    2. Breakdown leads to violence

    IV. Conclusion: Nature’s power overwhelms man, exposing many weaknesses. Either mentally or physically, all the characters in Heart of Darkness succumb to nature’s force.

  • Topic #4
    The title Heart of Darkness refers to Africa as well as a psychological side of man. Develop these two meanings of the title.

    I. Thesis Statement: Heart of Darkness is both a metaphor for an internal side of man, and a literal allusion to Africa. It simultaneously suggests a physical and mental reference.

    II. It is a literal place
    A. Africa is the dark continent
    1. Savages live there
    2. Dense jungle shades the land
    3. It is separated from the civilized world
    B. Inequalities of power
    1. Whites control the natives
    2. Abuse of power for ivory and wealth
    3. Marlow despises the whites and empathizes with the natives

    III. It is a psychological reference
    A. Suggests man’s dark side
    1. Kurtz’s irrational acts
    2. Marlow’s illness after meeting Kurtz in Africa
    3. Natives’ extreme devotion to Kurtz, a mad god

    IV. Conclusion: Heart of Darkness refers to both physical and mental...

(The entire section is 1,276 words.)