I regret that I haven’t had the chance to teach Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a labyrinthine text rich in political, historical and social meaning. During a graduate seminar, I co-planned and delivered a unit on Conrad’s novella – but I don’t need to tell you that a graduate seminar and high school classroom have a few differences.
Here is a rough outline of a process that would need to take place over a few weeks, and not a few days. This basic outline would need to change according to my students’ needs:
Teaching tool: Heart of Darkness (Norton Critical Edition, 2005)
- I have a unit on postcolonial theory that I would teach first so that students are familiar with this concept.
- Closely read and analyze the novella. Students generate text-based questions (as well as larger questions) that we attempt to answer in class. We’d keep a running list of questions on a board, and try to make connections to postcolonial theory.
- Students read and discuss a series of excerpts from letters and articles by figures like Henry Morton Stanley, Roger Casement and King Leopold in order to enhance their understanding of the novella’s context.
- We could then pair segments of the novel side-by-side with letters and articles to compare and contrast.
- Students then raise – and discuss – a host of new questions about the implications of Conrad’s vision of Africa; about representations of Congolese natives and European middlemen; and ultimately about the logic of empire that is revealed through Heart of Darkness.
If you’ve taught this novella, I’d love to hear your ideas: How did it go? How did you make this text accessible for your students?