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Unit 2: Introduction to Critical Theories through Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Contemporary Essay: Critical Lens


Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness


Literary Unit: Driven Learning and Teaching in a Flat, Flipped, Mastery-Based Classroom

Autonomy.  Mastery.  Purpose.  Technology.  Differentiation.  Choice.  R.O.W.E.

Teacher as Facilitator in a Flat Classroom.



Roles of the driven 21st-century student:

·         Researcher

·         Technology user and expert

·         Thinker and sense maker

·         World changer

·         Self-teacher

Teacher’s roles as facilitator and partner:

·         Coach and guide

·         Goal setter and questioner

·         Learning designer

·         Context provider

·         Rigor provider and quality assurer


Primary Outcomes

            After examining a variety of types of literary criticism and reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for deep detail, you will choose a critical lens from which to write your own critical essay of the text.  The essay will follow MLA guidelines over two pages (minimum five paragraphs), and it must reference and “converse with” another literary criticism of Heart of Darkness written with the same lens in mind.  Support from another critical paper must be included, in addition to direct support from Conrad’s text.  The essay should address many of the essential questions of that lens.  In order to facilitate effective use of the point-evidence-analysis format, you will also compose a single, 11-sentence paragraph earlier in the unit.

            New Criticism

            Feminist Criticism

            Reader-Response Criticism

            Marxist Criticism



Create an explanative or symbolic piece representative of what it means to write and analyze from “a different perspective.”  In other words, you will summarize and represent your chosen critical lens through a creative piece of choice.  A student writing with the Feminist lens might create a powerful art piece showing the primary elements of this lens.  Another who chooses the Marxist lens might create and record (use SMART Recorder on school computers to make a short video that can be shared with future students; see example from last year in Hall of Fame) a short PowerPoint or Prezi explaining the key elements of this style of criticism.  This piece may be created alone or with a partner.

            This Multiple Intelligences piece will be scored out of ten points for one of your three marks in the Multiple Intelligences category in the gradebook.

*Multiple Intelligences choices include spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalistic, and existential.





ü  Effective collaboration

ü  Literary criticism through analysis, interpretive, and evaluative strategies

ü  Logical arguments that distinguish fact from opinion and address audience appropriately

ü  Effective application of MLA conventions


Big Ideas

Critical Thinking, Inquiry, Perspectives, Reasoning, Evidence, and Language


Understandings and Questions

ü  Researchers examine and reveal perspectives.

ü  Reasoning must be supported by evidence.

ü  Formal conventions are very important for writing after high school.

ü  Domain-specific language should be used in formal writing situations.

ü  What is the relationship between research and perspective?

ü  How do my preconceptions influence my research and writing?

ü  What does it mean to write through a literary lens?

ü  How do I use available resources to plan, prioritize, collaborate, research, write, and revise?




Literary Journal entries, when completed well, are guaranteed to boost reading comprehension and prepare you to write an effective paper.  The Critical Commentary option might be particularly helpful in prepping to write from a chosen critical lens.  At least three of your entries must be Critical Commentary paragraphs that address questions specific to your chosen lens.  From the reading sections of ten pages from Heart of Darkness, choose five for which to complete Literary Journal entries.  For example, you might complete five Quotes and Notes for Literary Journal #1 about pages 1-10.  Literary Journal options are described in detail online, and entries should be handwritten.


Blogging with Students in Africa

Working alone or with one or two partners, answer ONE of the following questions with two to three thoughtful paragraphs.  Respond by posting on our class blog, and stay tuned for responses from peers in Africa.


  1.  What were the immediate impacts of colonialism in Africa?  Discuss more than one aspect of life, and include at least one excerpt from Heart of Darkness and one from a source of your choice (include MLA citation).
  2. What relics of European colonialism still exist in Sub-Saharan Africa?  Discuss more than one aspect of life, and include at least one excerpt from Heart of Darkness and one from a source of your choice (include MLA citation).
  3. What do you and your partner(s) think about colonialism and its lasting effects?  In your answer, refer to the attitude(s) of one or more character(s) in Heart of Darkness, and include at least one textual reference with citation.
  4. View Patrick Awuah’s compelling TED Talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/patrick_awuah_on_educating_leaders.html .  What do you think of his message?  How is his plea related to (or not related to) lasting effects of European colonialism?


You will need to become a follower at www.macybritlit.blogspot.com to carry out this process; please chat with your teacher if you encounter issues in becoming a follower or posting.



Name___________  Period_______


The following items should be scheduled according to the best personal fit.  Please keep the overall schemata of the unit in mind!  How do things fit together?  What should you do first to maximize your learning and preparation?

Student           Teacher

___/5               ___/5               Check in with teacher about previous paper after you have gotten it


___/5               ___/5               Literary Journal entry #1.  Pages___________  Type___________

___/5               ___/5               Literary Journal entry #2.  Pages___________  Type___________

___/5               ___/5               Literary Journal entry #3.  Pages___________  Type___________

___/5               ___/5               Literary Journal entry #4.  Pages___________  Type___________

___/5               ___/5               Literary Journal entry #5.  Pages___________  Type___________

___/20             ___/20             Working alone or in a small group, find, print, and code a literary

criticism written in the framework (lens) of your choice.  Mark and be able to defend four to six excerpts from this text that illustrate or evidence it as representative of your chosen framework.  You might want to think about using these quotes in your paper.  Recommendation: use the databases document on the class site and/or the Gale Literature Resource Center accessible through the Jeffco Public Library home page to guide your research.  You may use Mr. Macy’s library card number in class, if needed, to access the resources on the Jeffco site.
Recommended literary criticisms for use on this activity and for quoting/internal reference in your paper are attached at the bottom of this page in pdf form. 


___/20             ___/20             Blog posts (details above).



These notes will be turned in with your checklist.

___/5               ___/5               Heart of Darkness background film

___/5               ___/5               Vodcast: Literary Criticism Introduction / New Criticism

___/5               ___/5               Vodcast: Feminist Criticism

___/5               ___/5               Vodcast: Reader-Response Criticism

___/5               ___/5               Vodcast: Marxist Criticism

___/5               ___/5               Heart of Darkness background information class lecture

___/5               ___/5               Composing a Thesis Statement Vodcast







___/                 ___/                 TOTAL TASKS SCORE






The following items are pre-scheduled by teachers.  Use the information below to track your progress and make your calendar.


9/21 or 9/22     QUIZ Vodcast: Lit. Crit. Intro (covers New Criticism)

9/26                 QUIZ Vodcast: Reader-Response Criticism

9/27                 QUIZ Vodcast: Feminist Criticism

9/29                 QUIZ Vodcast: Marxist Criticism

*These quizzes will be basic; as long as you view the lesson and take notes, you will be fine.


9/28 or 9/28                 Reading quiz through p. 25                             

10/3                             Reading quiz through p. 50                             

10/6                             Reading quiz through end of book     


10/6                             Literary Lens chosen for your paper

Options: Marxist Criticism, New Criticism, Reader-Response Criticsim, Feminist Criticism


9/29                             Integrated Formative Assessments reading comprehension quiz (in class)

10/6                             Integrated Formative Assessments reading comprehension quiz (in class)

10/20                           Integrated Formative Assessments reading comprehension quiz (in class)

                        *No preparation is required for these Integrated Formative Assessment quizzes;

they will cover short texts presented in the quizzes rather than Heart of Darkness materials.


9/23                             Vocab 3 Test

10/14                           Vocab 4 Test


10/4                             Whopper paragraph D1

10/7                             Whopper paragraph final


10/10                           Lit. Crit. Paper D1

10/13                           Lit. Crit. Paper D2

10/18                           Lit. Crit. Paper D3

10/20                           Lit. Crit. Paper Final


10/11                           Multiple Intelligences Creative piece D1

10/21                           Multiple Intelligences Creative Piece Final



Summative Assessments

(20) Vocab 3

(20) Vocab 4

(30) 11-Sentence “Whopper” Paragraph

(60) Lit. Crit. Essay

(10: MI Category) Multiple Intelligences Piece


New Criticism Questions

·         What is the relationship of the title to the rest of the text?


·         What words need to be defined?



·         What word histories (etymologies) need to be scrutinized?


·         What relationships or patterns do you see among the words in the text?



·         What are the various connotative meanings words in the text might have? Do these shades of meanings help create or illustrate relationships or patterns in the text?


·         What allusions might exist in the text? How do their origins clarify broader meanings?



·         What symbols, images, and figures of speech are used? Do relationships develop between these elements?


·         What is the tone of the work?



·         From what point of view is the content of the text being told from?


·         What tensions, conflicts or paradoxes arise in the text? Are they resolved or left unresolved?



·         How do all of these elements work together to create meaning.



Reader Response Critique Questions

·         What are the reactions and thoughts of those who read the text when it was first published?


·         Examine and consider your understandings and feelings about the text’s subject matter and thematic ideas.


·         What do others think about the text? Multiple views from our social group help us prune away “radical” interpretations and come to common and accepted ideas.


·         How does the interaction between text and reader make meaning?


·         What does a phrase-by-phrase analysis of key portions of the text tell us about the reading experience built into the text.


·         How is a particular kind of reading experience an important theme of the text?  For example, does Conrad intend to generate a certain experience in order to support one of his main points?


·         Considering the author’s biographical data, what seems to be the author’s identity theme, and how is that theme expressed in his or her literary output?


·         What does the body of criticism about a text suggest about the text?


·         How do your own peers/colleagues respond to the text?  What type(s) of reading experiences do they have?





Feminist Critique Questions

·         Is the author male or female?


·         Is the text narrated by a male or female?



·         What types of roles do women play in the text?


·         Are the female characters the protagonists or secondary and minor characters?



·         Do any stereotypical characterizations of women appear? What are they?


·         What are the attitudes toward women held by male characters?



·         What seems to be the author’s attitude toward women in society?


·         How does the author’s culture influence his or her attitude?



·         How much voice do the female characters possess? Do they have agency (power to change their own circumstances)?


Marxist Criticism Questions

·         In what ways does the text support the dominant class structure? Is Socialism outrightly rejected in the work?


·         Does the text critique or support a bourgeois society? (powerful vs. powerless)



·         Does the author illustrate a fair view of all society’s members and institutions? What is emphasized or ignored?


·         How much does the fate of the main character (characters in general) rely on the forces of society?


·         What are the conflicting forces in the work?


·         What are the values of each social class in the work? What is valued most? Sacrifice? Assent? Resistance?


·         Does the protagonist defend or defect from the dominant values of society?




Heart of Darkness

Whopper Paragraph


Using the outline below, compose a solid, 11-sentence body paragraph that explains how a key theme is present in three specific instances in the text.  You may choose the theme, and you may want to think about using a theme that connects to the literary lens you will use for your primary paper later on.


Draft one consists of completing this template by hand.  The final draft will include the rubric (below), D1, and a typed final draft.


Create a powerful, well-supported, 11-sentence body paragraph that follows the point-evidence-analysis format by using the template below.  Each number below represents one sentence.  Be sure to follow MLA conventions (see vodcasts for a refresher) for introducing and citing quotes and paraphrases.  In a nutshell, this paragraph includes a topic sentence; three ideas that each feature the introduction of an idea (point), supporting quote or paraphrase (evidence), and detailed explanation of the evidence (analysis); and a transition sentence that hints at the next paragraph.  Many students find it helpful to print this template and handwrite a draft of the paragraph in the space provided.  To be clear, every sentence in the paragraph should support your topic sentence, which, in turn, directly supports your thesis statement.



            1.  Topic sentence: introduce the paragraph and what you will discuss.

EXAMPLE: Conrad presents the inherent evil of human nature as a central theme in Heart of Darkness as seen in Colonialism’s impacts, Marlow’s actions, and Kurtz’s downfall.
EXAMPLE (NEW CRITICISM):  In order to establish significant themes, Conrad repeatedly presents select words and phrases; three of these are "sepulchral city," "heart of darkness," and "his intended."
EXAMPLE (READER-RESPONSE CRITICISM):  Various groups have reacted to Conrad's text in accordance with their perspective cultural backgrounds as seen in readers in the 1900s in England, WWII-era readers in Western Europe, and present-day readers in America.
EXAMPLE (FEMINIST CRITICISM):  Conrad presents women as characters who lack agency as seen in Kurtz's fiance, Kurtz's mistress, and the women in the company's office.
EXAMPLE (MARXIST CRITICISM): As evidenced in the rambling pilgrims, the powerless natives, and the sepulchral city, Conrad exposes the evils of a bourgeois society in late 19th century Western Europe.
Please note that Conrad is not identified as a literary critic in any of these examples.



            2.  Introduce first idea (POINT/CLAIM).






            3.  Quote or paraphrase that supports the first idea (EVIDENCE/DATA).  Include introduction and citation.






            4.  Detailed explanation and analysis of the preceding quote/paraphrase related to first idea (ANALYSIS/WARRANT).






            5.  Introduce second idea (POINT).






            6.  Quote or paraphrase that supports the second idea (EVIDENCE).  Include introduction and citation.






            7.  Detailed explanation and analysis of the preceding quote/paraphrase related to second idea (ANALYSIS).






            8.  Introduce third idea (POINT).






            9.  Quote or paraphrase that supports the third idea (EVIDENCE).  Include introduction and citation.






            10.  Detailed explanation and analysis of the preceding quote/paraphrase related to third idea (ANALYSIS).





            11.  Conclude the paragraph and transition to the next paragraph.





Nice work!  This structured writing format has been proven effective at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels.





  • Works Cited not required, but correct internal references are needed.




Student           Teacher

___/6               ___/6               Effective, powerful, topic sentence with active verb.


___/6               ___/6               Effective use of point/evidence/analysis structure.


___/6               ___/6               Quote choice, introduction, and citations.


___/7               ___/7               Conventions (-1 per error).                        


___/5               ___/5               D1 complete on time, Final Draft turned in on time with complete

                                                rubric and D1.



___/30             ___/30             TOTAL (Summative Assessments in Gradebook)
A reading of "The Yachts" by the poet.

Help, I Need Some Structure! Lit. Crit. Example Outlines.doc


HOD- Thesis Statement

Heart of Darkness FedEx Day

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