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Expectations of Women in "Heart of Darkness"

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Beautiful, quiet, devoted, naïve: these are the characteristics men seek in a woman. This Idealistic image is noted in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” which reinforces the fact that men expect so much out of women that they set themselves up for disappointment. Women are very beautiful creatures, but they also have a mind, a soul, and the senses with which they can experience the world, that for years, men have denied them. Through his book, Conrad, a very masculine writer, presents a story of a world where males dominate everything and thus find it justifiable to take advantage of women. His story consists of, predominately, three women playing major roles—Marlow’s aunt, the presumed mistress of Kurtz’s, and Kurtz’s intended. Playing less than significant roles, Conrad also introduces two women, who clearly reflect an allusion to the Fates of Greek mythology, knitting black wool in the Company’s office in Europe, and, among Kurtz’s possessions, a most controversial painting of a blindfolded woman holding a torch.

To be a woman in these days is to be strong, devoted, and intelligent; however, in the days of imperialism, the characteristics expected of a woman were much different. A woman was most cherished for her obedience, usefulness, and silence. In other words, a great woman would be one that was seen rather than heard. Evidence of this fact is first noted in Marlow’s description of what he saw in the picture of Kurtz’s Intended. When Marlow found a picture of her among the packet of letters left by Kurtz, he states that, “[s]he struck [him] as beautiful…she had a beautiful expression. [He knew] that the sunlight can be made to lie, too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed th...

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... presented is that, “[i]f Conrad does not altogether renounce this fantasy of the feminine in his writings, there is an extent to which he repeatedly attempts to demystify it: to expose the masculine egotism that demands the illusion” (483). Contrary to this statement, Conrad’s entire book focuses on the journey of a man, Marlow, who is constantly objectifying women. By making the painting of a lady instead of a man, Conrad establishes the idea that women are ignorant to the world around them and no amount of light that they try to shed on a situation could ever be enough to allow them to understand. If this isn’t reflective of egoism then what is egoism? , “blindness and light is somehow bound up with women and femininity[,]” Schneider states that “[n]o comparable image in Conrad’s writing directly associates men with synchronous blindness and light-bearing” (476).
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