Feminisim in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

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Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a landmark in the history of English literature since it is one of those novels where Modernism declares its arrival. Heart of Darkness is more special in that it has become a subject to the study of different branches of literary theory such as feminism, colonialism and post-colonialism, reader-response criticism, archetypal criticism, deconstruction, new historicism and what not. As feminism has become one of the commonest issues of our present day, it will not be irrelevant to make an inquiry as to how Conrad treats women in the novel.
Needless to say, the male characters in the novel are much more powerful than the female ones. That’s why Conrad is accused of portraying his female figures. Moreover the description of female characters in Heart of Darkness is limited. However, the issue becomes more complex when we inquire as to whether Conrad has presented them as, to borrow Patmore’s phrase, ‘Angel(s) in the House’ or, he brings them out of the house.
Let us take it for granted that Marlow’s attitude to women is Conrad’s attitude to women in the novel. The woman who is first to appear in the novel is Marlow’s aunt. She appears at a moment of crisis: Marlow had cherished the idea of going to Congo for a job, but he fails to get it on his own accord; when all his attempts fail, his aunt’s influence solves the problem. In Marlow’s words:
I tried the women. I Charlie Marlow set the women to work – to get a job. (Conrad 29)
But the portrait of her character smacks of irony : she is ‘a dear enthusiastic soul’(Conrad 29) living in her own world. She is ‘ready to do anything’ (Conrad 29) for Marlow in the name of a ‘noble cause’ (Conrad 33) that is enlightening the nat...

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...ecause she is intended for someone else, not for herself? Again the women are also reduced to mere possessive cases. Their identity depends on males : Marlow’s aunt, Kurtz’s Intended, the Company’s two women, etc. In our modern world, both the men and the women have equal responsibility to and equal dignity in the society. The term ‘Angel in the House’ has lost its relevance. So the way Conrad presents the women appears shocking to us.

Works Cited

Bose, Brinda. Joseph Conrad :Heart of Darkness, New York : Oxford University Press, 2001
Bloom, Harold. Joseph Conrad’ Heart of Darkness, New York : Chelsea House Publishers,1987
Cox, C.B. Joseph Conrad: The Modern Imagination, 1974
Ray, Mohit K. Joseph Conrad’ Heart of Darkness, The Atlantic Critical Studies
Moser, Thomas. Joseph Conrad: Achievement and Decline, Cambridge, Massachusetts : Havard University Press,1957

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