Category Archives: Midterm

Midterm Question Bank

Midterm instructions: choose two of the following topics, but not both #2 and #3.

Write a cogent, well-argued 500 word essay on each of the questions you choose. Think before you write – review the texts and the notes, and perhaps mull it all over for a day or two so that you have a clear argument in mind when you begin to write.

Be sure you can back up what you say with concrete evidence from the texts, and feel free to narrow the questions down (they are intentionally broad, so that you can take up the aspects of them which best fit your specific interests).

Feel free to refer to other texts we have examined, but remember that this exam focuses most squarely on Conrad and Sarmiento.

1. Hypothesis: if we consider that both “modernity” and modern colonialism began in 1492 with the discovery of America – with industrialized slavery and the creation of transnational corporations following closely on its heels – we could then say that the “savagery” of the “primitive” world, brutalized by colonization, is one side of the coin, and the spiritual emptiness of the modern / civilized world, sterilized by industrialization, is the other. Refine this hypothesis and discuss it in relation to Conrad and Sarmiento.

2. To what extent does and/or does not Heart of Darkness endorse or reproduce the discourse of Kipling’s 1899 poem The White Man’s Burden? Explain, citing specific examples from the texts.

3. To what extent do you and/or do you not agree with Torgovnick’s reading of Heart of Darkness, and why? Be specific.

4. How are the jungle and the pampas represented in Conrad and Sarmiento? In what terms are they described? Are they always dark or desolate? What else are they? What emotions are attached to them? What do they appear to represent? How can we tell? How do the descriptions of the land and the people work in the broader context of each narrative? How do the ideas of the civilized and the primitive play off against each other and/or intertwine themselves with each other?


1. What is the importance of Kurtz’ amazing voice?

2. At what point in his narration does it become clear to Marlow that he is going “to the heart of darkness”? Is this significant? How?

3. Go to our resources page and read some of the material on “Orientalism.” Then consider: is HD participating in “Orientalist discourse?” How? [This is a good question to choose because we are going to talk about Orientalism in connection with BOTH Sarmiento and Carpentier.]

4. [Relate Carpentier’s novel and Torgovnick, chapters 3-6 and 8.]

5. Look up two different, and ideally contrasting scholarly articles comparing HD and Apocalypse Now. What questions seem to drive the comparisons? Do you agree with them? Why? As a start toward this, check out my post on one such article, and the study questions in it.

6. Are there differences between the experience and attitude of Marlow and of Herzog in Burden of Dreams and/or of Willard in Apocalypse Now? Explain. What do these differences reveal and/or conceal about tropes such as the primitive, the voyage upriver, and the construction of the Western self in relation to the primitive? [Note that all three characters are agents, not originators or directors of colonial enterprises: Herzog is an artist who intends to do good, Marlow is on a job, and Willard is on a military mission for someone else. What does their positions as intermediaries enable them to see or to reveal, and to evade and conceal, which another position would not? And on second thought, is it Les Blank, who observes Herzog, and not Herzog himself who, in BD, occupies the Marlow/Willard position?]

LAST. Feel free to think up other good questions, including questions on Tarzan and The Jungle Book, and post them in the comments section here!

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Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Ideas, Midterm, News, Plans