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The Role of Women in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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The Role of Women in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness


Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is more than a mere exploration of the harsh realities of European colonialism in Africa during the late nineteenth century. In fact, it is rich in symbolism as demonstrated by his negative portrayal of women. Conrad chooses his language well, for his prejudice towards women is easily recognizable. To him, women were nothing more than soft, delicate, and naive. However, Conrad's condemnation of women is no longer a valid interpretation of women in the 21st century; thus, we must overlook Conrad's invalid judgment of women and take a modernistic approach in scrutinizing the women's actual representation in Heart of Darkness. When looking at the role of women in Heart of Darkness through a twenty-first century perspective, it becomes apparent that these women represent parts of the European societies that were in the dark about the brutalities of colonialism. Conrad used Marlow to demonstrate his attitude towards the obliviousness of women, who paralleled the unawareness of the European society as a whole.

The Europeans' obliviousness was first seen in Marlow's aunt. Before Marlow departed from London, he visited his aunt, who talked about "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways" (16). His aunt strongly believed that the Company's mission was to enlighten the Africans. Her knowledge about European colonialism was based only on her own assumptions. Marlow's aunt believed only what she chose to believe instead of seeing the real reasons for colonial pursuits. Marlow then goes to criticize women's mentalities: "It's queer how out of touch with the truth women are! They live in a world of their own [.....


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...ialist pursuits and trusted the integrity of those who carried out its mission. Revealing the reality of nineteenth century colonialism would have lead to the destruction of the economy. The only way to preserve it was to conceal all scrupling facts about European colonialism.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Brantlinger, Patrick. "Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?"  Murfin 277-298.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Murfin 17-95.

Murfin, Ross C., ed. Heart of Darkness: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. 2nd ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's P, 1996.

Smith, Johanna M. "'Too Beautiful Altogether': Ideologies of Gender and Empire in Heart of Darkness." Murfin 169-184.


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