If you liked 'Heart of Darkness', you'd also like this [poem, cartoon, and/or informational video].
April 9, 2012 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest interesting, engaging possible short readings related to Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' for a high school AP English class seminar, to be facilitated by an undergraduate student with some workshop-creation experience. It should be readable in a single homework assignment and possible to cover during a single class seminar. Other than that, it can be anything (poem, short story, etc).

I'm volunteering-- well, I'm an observer at an alternative high school's small AP English class, and they're nearing the end of their 2+ month reading of Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' (note: I've never read it, though I can if absolutely needed). I'd started observing as a practicum for my college class, but am continuing until the theme class I started with finishes up in a few weeks. The teacher, Mr. H, has been mulling over how I can be more involved for the last two months, and suggested I facilitate a seminar on a short work in some way related to 'Heart of Darkness'.

Whatever the selection is, it should be 'fun' enough for these (relatively artsy and engaged) students to get into and to help me to get over my stage-fright. Normally I do okay talking and asking questions if I have genuine thoughts and opinions about material and can't focus on 'oh my god, they're all watching me!'.

I personally am open to interdisciplinary-type stuff that covers historical context, anthropology, and so on. I'm interested in Conrad's own experience captaining a Congo riverboat, but I'm unsure if I could somehow make it English-relevant. I'm a bit afraid a poetry piece would be a non-starter, given I have no existing rapport with the students. Of course, if all else fails, I can still back out, but I don't want to do it simply 'cause I'm intimidated by high schoolers (that's just embarrassing, plus I think these are easy-going, thoughtful kids).
posted by reenka to Education (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but Chinua Achebe wrote a pretty powerful critique of Conrad that I enjoyed reading alongside Heart of Darkness when I was in high school.
posted by el chupa nibre at 7:13 PM on April 9, 2012

I think a lot of modern criticism of Heart of Darkness has been strongly impacted by Chinua Achebe's essay. If you don't read anything else, I think skipping a look at Conrad through the eyes of an African is too important to miss.

It's worth pointing out that Marlow, the narrator, also shows up in other Conrad works - Lord Jim, most notably as both a character in the action and as the main narrator towards the end.

There's also the Apocalpyse Now tie-in, which might have the most draw for a high-school student. You could pull a few clips of the movie that are closest to scenes from the book (assuming they're classroom friendly).

For what it's worth, I think you should read it, actually - it's not particularly long and it's a great introduction to Conrad. Follow it up with The Secret Agent, a book considered by many to be the first modern spy novel.

What fun. In my occasional off-moments, I sometimes dream of enough wealth to be an itinerant teacher of Conrad, drifting from place to place according to the ebb and flow of the tide...
posted by jquinby at 7:13 PM on April 9, 2012

Something related to Apocalypse Now?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:14 PM on April 9, 2012

There was an excellent documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse which went into some of the more explicit connections between the film and Conrad's novel (The infamous collapse of Orson Welles' attempt to make a film version of Heart of Darkness is covered in it as well).
posted by KingEdRa at 7:24 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Langston Hughes, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
posted by nicebookrack at 7:52 PM on April 9, 2012

You should check out the contextual materials in the back of the Norton Critical Edition. I haven't used this specific edition myself, but the NCEs usually have good historical materials in the back and it sounds like this one should be a good fit for your interest in "interdisciplinary-type stuff."
posted by Orinda at 8:15 PM on April 9, 2012

I'd second the Norton Critical Edition recommendation and the Apocalypse Now angle. Also check out the Approaches to Teaching... series; those books are great and I'm sure there's one on either Conrad or Heart of Darkness. When I taught this book to college freshmen I mostly focused on the postcolonial angle (see other recommendations: Achebe, Hughes, maybe Fanon?).

But also, you should really, really read the book if you're going to be teaching it. It's not long. (Especially if you're training to be an English teacher--Conrad is required reading.)
posted by désoeuvrée at 9:39 PM on April 9, 2012

Oh something else I just thought of, a poem or something by Rudyard Kipling might be a good pairing. Or slightly more fun/accessible, maybe an excerpt from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried? There are some shared themes to do with the experience of being in the jungle, encountering the other, questioning what is human, who is civilized, etc.
posted by désoeuvrée at 9:49 PM on April 9, 2012

As a counterpoint, perhaps, "The Man Who Liked Dickens" by Evelyn Waugh. Here's an article that discusses it to an extent.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:11 AM on April 10, 2012

Seconding Apocalypse Now.

Also, probably too long for your class but interesting, the movie (and more the book) The Beach is basically the same story/theme.
posted by bluesky78987 at 7:54 AM on April 10, 2012

169 pages is probably too long to make it a required reading for HS students, but please please please suggest that they check out Season of Migration to the North. Western cultures loves heart of darkness, and I think that a book where an African interrogates some of that love is really invaluable.
posted by kavasa at 9:37 AM on April 10, 2012

I know you said no poetry, but Eliot's poem The Hollow Men is a standard companion piece. It's not too hard though. It also provides the final lines for the film version (This is how the world ends...)

The wiki entry also mentions Kipling. And sidenote, you should totally read Conrad. One of my all-time favorite books.
posted by Brittanie at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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