What’s in a title?

Here is some advice from the most recent examiners’ report:

The key word, ‘How’ usually features in good tasks, allowing candidates to engage with authorial craft. … The best responses came from candidates who were able to study sections of text closely and relate them convincingly to the whole.

So you want to find an aspect of the work that you find interesting, and make that the focus of your task: perhaps something prompted by the questions in your study guide. Then frame a question that asks about how Conrad explores or expresses that focus.  Then find probably no more than two to four sections of the text that illustrate that aspect, and analyse them in depth.

Feel free to discuss your questions and approaches here.

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19 Responses to What’s in a title?

  1. Philippa Kennedy says:

    Well, I was thinking something along the lines of…
    “How has Conrad used imagery and other linguistic devices to promote his views on racism?”

    I think that title would still need tweaking – but I don’t know where!!

  2. Manu says:

    me and Fred were talking in calss, we decided to try and explore the significence of Mr Kurts. so we came up with something like

    ‘how does the presece of Kurts in the novel affect the actions and intentions of Marlow.’

    something along those lines…dno…

  3. Tom says:

    ‘To what extent does Conrad use language and structure to show Marlow’s changing views on race’

  4. Mr Heald says:

    Tom: simple straightforward idea, though this is perhaps a question where ‘How…’ makes more sense than “To what extent…” The latter is usually used for a discussion where there are conflicting views, but I don’t think you could easily argue that Conrad doesn’t use language and structure.

    Manu & Fred: I like yours a lot, though it’s always a good idea to have an elemnt in the title that forces you to remember it’s art not reality, so how about: “How does Conrad present Kurtz in the novel as affecting the actions and intentions of Marlow?”

    Philippa: I’m not sure about ‘promote’ it makes it seem a bit too much like a work of propoganda. How about “What techniques does Conrad use to explore the issue of race in ‘Heart of Darkness’?” You may even wish to identify a section or sections to concentrate on to give your discussion focus. EG: “When Marlow first arrives in Africa, when describing the people on board his steamboat, and when he arrives at Kurtz’s station”

  5. Tom says:

    Oh, I just thought that if i stated the question with ‘To what extent…’ i could lead on to other methods that Conrad uses to show views on race so i could draw in other factors e.g. ‘However, Conrad also uses the background of the novel…’

  6. Mr Heald says:

    Tom: that would of course have been an excellent way of dealing with the question as you phrased it. I hadn’t thought of that. An alternative that might fit your approach even better, then, would be “What methods does Conrad use to show Marlow’s changing views on race?” But word it in the way you feel most comfortable responding to.

  7. Adam says:

    I’m not sure if I actually want to do this, but maybe something about the repetition of the word ‘brooding’?
    I’m not sure there’s actually enough significance to write a full essay on that though…
    perhaps opening it up a bit more, though, and saying the affect of repetition in general or something?

  8. Mr Heald says:

    Adam: I think that’s a great idea.

    The word is used nine times, which is high enough in such a short work to be very significant, but low enough that you could cover each of the instances if you wanted.

    I think such a sharp focus can be really effective, though as you acknowledge you would have to use it as a ‘springboard’ for broader discussion; eg. you would be considering how the passages you analyse fit into the structure of the work, into its patterns of imagery, into the development of its themes. You’ll have the assessment objectives covered then I’d say.

    Neat idea, Adam.

  9. Mr Heald says:

    I have just been asked for ideas on a title about the ‘race’issue by email. I dashed off a quick reply, but thought there may be others who might find it useful, so I’m reposting it here. Aplogies if it contains any mistakes or awkward expression – I haven’t time to draft it more carefull as I have a small child tugging at my arm!

    The most straightforward title would be something like “To what extent is Heart of Darkness a racist book?” But you would, of course, have to remember that anything you say must rooted in analysis of the text int terms of language, structure, imagery & characterisation, in the context of some awareness of the cultural / historical background. It’s up to you whether you want to focus more on some aspects than others, and therefore put them in the title.

    Eg. Language — “To what extent does Marlow’s use of language when referring to Africa and its inhabitants suggest that Conrad was racist?”


    Setting — “Does Conrad’s description of the African river, compared with the River Thames, suggest he regarded European civilisation as superior?”


    Structure — “How does Conrad’s framing of Marlow’s African journey by the narrative of Marlow on the Thames and in Europe contribute to our understanding of the issue of race?”


    Characterisation — “Compare Marlow’s depiction of the white and black people he encounters. What does this suggest about Conrad’s views about race and colonisation?”


    Imagery — “How does Conrad use imagery of light and darkness to explore attitudes to race? What other ideas are suggested by such imagery?”

    etc. etc.

    You get the idea

  10. Mr Heald says:

    For any night-owls (or early birds) out there, here’s an edited version of a resonse I made after more email enquiries:

    The question itself doesn’t have to mention all the marking criteria, but obviously the answer does. By that I mean that you need to cover all four of those bullet points I took you through on Monday, but you don’t need to do them all equally (that was the point I was making in my last reply on the blog – so you can focus on , say, language & imagery, and then bring in plot/structure, character, background & theme as appropriate).

    For example, you could go for a question like: “How does Conrad present the character of Kurtz, and what values do you think he represents?”

    That will allow you to discuss Conrad’s technique (language / structure / characterisation), as well as the main focus of the issues or themes he represents, linking this to the background of the book (eg. Conrad’s own experiences that fed into the writing of the story).

    Notice how all we know about Kurtz comes through Marlow’s narration, though some of it is in the words of other people reported by him. Whose ideas does Conrad make us more likely to accept, do you think?

  11. Emma says:

    “Explore the issues brought up in the heart of darkness including the disposition of the explorers, the attitudes of the natives, and the image of Kurtz”

    I think you approved this in class already so I thought I’d put it up here to give people some ideas. =]

  12. manu says:

    thanks for the reply sir.
    even though i think it would be quite and interesting question to do, im not sure how i should apporach it?
    help please..

  13. Mr Heald says:

    Look for quotations about Kurtz.

    Analyse them closely, examining the language and imagery used.

    Consider how Marlow reacts to what he hears about Kurtz, and when he sees him, and when he reflects on him at the time of his death, and after his return to Europe.

    Consider how these things link to the wider themes and issues of the novel.

    Having done all this, feel satisfied at a job well done, and a high grade in the bag.

  14. Luke says:

    I thought a good title would be “How does Marlow’s attitude towards Kurtz change as he ventures futher into the “Dark Continent”, and what may this signify?”

    This would be, to me an ideal title because my standing point on Kurtz is that he is someway evil. The “the horror, the horror” quotation would fit into this is Kurtz saw all the evil he commited flash back as he died. Perhaps the evil has some supernatural form of corruption power, as Marlow appears to witness more and mroe corruption the further upriver he ventures. Also, there is a massive change in the attitude of Marlow himself, from the “Hang Kurtz. I thought” in the second mention of Kurtz, to the “If I had rendered Kurtz that justice which he was due” in the closing page.

  15. David says:

    I like the idea of comparing the Thames to this river Marlow travels up on (#9), so I was thinking something along the lines of:

    ‘How does Marlow use/compare settings in England to describe to us, and the listeners on the boat, what he experienced in the heart of Africa, and what is the significance of Conrad’s thought provoking title?’

    This covers both of the topics that I wanted to talk about, including references to Kurts.

  16. Emma says:

    One of the things I find myself struggling with is this idea of racism in the book. It’s difficult because it’s not brought foward into the spot light in the book, it’s just sort of… this constant thing that gets underlined every now and again. And I know that the characters in it might have these attitudes and stereotypes about black people, but this isn’t a racist book is it?!

    It just seems through all this imagery we’re presented with about how the natives are to be feared because they are unknown outsiders, we as readers should look at that again and think “well thats not right… thats like being afraid of the dark when you’re a child and we shouldn’t fear things we don’t know about”.

    But then! Just as Conrad has convinced us that it’s silly to be afraid of the natives, he goes and makes Kurtz say “The horror! The horror!”, and I don’t get it… I mean… Kurtz has first hand experience with these native people. He loves it so much he doesn’t want to leave because we’ve been told he keeps coming back. So why does he say that?

    It makes me requestion Conrad’s motives behind all the imagery and metaphors of being unknown and scary, yet misunderstood. And just when I think I’ve got it sussed, I reread it and realise that actually there could be another meaning that I’ve missed, and I can’t figure it out.

    I want to get past this phase of trying to work out what the book is about and actually write something, but it’s really hard when I keep reading what I’ve wrote and thinking “well actually… this is wrong, because Conrad could also be meaning the opposite to what I’ve concluded”.

    I think the reader see’s it how they want to see it the first time they read it, but when you start to analyse and try and draw conclusions from the thing then the book has you running round in circles! It’s veeeeeeeeeeery frustrating… for me at least… everyone else has probably got a load of ideas on paper. :/

  17. Emma says:

    Maybe I should just write all possible interpretations and meanings instead of sitting here thinking about which one is right eh? Haha.

  18. Mr Heald says:

    Yes, Emma. That’s it!

    In fact that lengthy post of yours when you thought you were saying you didn’t know what to say was actually saying exactly the sorts of things that you ought to be saying.

    It would make the core of a very strong assignment.

  19. Emma says:

    Ok. I think I might abandon my first question all together and go with this other piece I’ve been working on.

    It’s all a bit of a strain pulling together all your notes about the book because it’s such a complex and philosophically deep piece (and usually you don’t have so many options on what to write about)… but I can use these other notes as a guide… I feel really behind on this work because I usually pick up on the books meaning immediately, but this one’s not so simple is it? :/

    Am I really far behind everyone? I’m a little bit worried that this is taking so long for me to write… I’m working on it and approaching it from different angles and all that… but it’s taking so long that I feel I’m just procrastinating by getting all my ideas written as notes before returning to writing the essay, and that I’m falling behind as a result. And I’m going on holiday in a week so I’d really like to get this piece out of the way beforehand. 😦

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