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

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In the 1900s novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the protagonist often encounters women at landmarks of his life. Charlie Marlow is a sailor and imperialist who sets out along the Congo River to “civilize” the “savages.” The novella begins with a crew on the Thames waiting for the tides to change. During their wait, a character named Marlow tells of his exploits on the African continent. In his recounted travels, Marlow meets other imperialists such as Mr. Kurtz, a man who is obsessed with the pursuit of ivory and riches. Like Mr. Kurtz, Marlow embarks across the African continent in hopes of earning both money and respect. One early critic of the novel, Edward Garnett, wrote in his review that “[Heart of Darkness] is simply a piece of art…the artist is intent on presenting his sensations in that sequence and arrangements whereby the meaning or meaninglessness of the white man in uncivilized Africa can be felt in its really significant aspects,” (Garnett). What Garnett fails to observe is that Heart of Darkness is not only an observation of “the white man,” but the white woman as well.

Throughout the entirety of his story Charlie Marlow seems unaware of the importance of female interactions within his travels. Though he mentions women on vague occasions—as in the case of his aunt and the multiple mistresses of Kurtz—he treats them as if they were secondary citizens. In much the same way he regards the “savages,” Marlow approaches women with extreme prejudice. He notes “how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether…” (Conrad, 10). He refers not only to the women from his young adulthood, but...


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...ost themselves in the rush to keep it alive; or it could be the imperialists themselves as the fire’s burn touches them as well.

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. New York: Wylie Agency, 2006. Print.

A. Michael. Matin. Introduction to Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2008. Print.

Bloom, Harold. Heart of Darkness, Bloom's Guide. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. The New Review Dec. 1897. Print.

Garnett, Edward. Review. Academy and Literature 6 Dec. 1902. Print.

Nadelhaft, Ruth L. Joseph Conrad, Bloom's Major Short Story Writers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000. Print.

Stewart, Garrett. Lying as Dying in The Heart of Darkness. New York: Facts on File, 2009. Print.


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