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

Women have taken an increasingly important role in literature. Only recently have authors portrayed women in a dominant, protagonistic light. Sophocles and other classical writers portrayed women more as reactors than heroines. Since the ancient Greeks, however, a trend has been established that gives women characters much more substance and purpose. A definite shift from the antediluvian ways can be seen, and the overall complexity of women characters has increased exponentially. In Conrad?s Heart of Darkness, however, the portrayal of women takes a backwards step and is reverted back to the primitive, more demeaning viewpoint. Conrad employs characters that reflect the archaic perspectives concerning women. The main character, Marlow, generalizes all women and depicts every woman as living in a dream-like state merely ?going through the motions? of life.

In his descriptions of the various women characters, Marlow either implies or directly states that women are not mentally equipped to survive in society, and can only function in a dream-like state. He also conveys that it is the responsibility of men to save women and preserve their naïveté. This point of view is reflected often, and stems from his English upbringing and the British society of the day. Marlow speaks utilizing many lewd words and racial slurs. Many of the Victorian ideals still remain within English culture, and this fragility towards women is a prime example of the fragmented set of beliefs. Nevertheless, Marlow views women as mindless pawns, his stance is evident when he goes to speak with the Intended. While speaking with Marlow, the Intended praises Kurtz and speaks of his many goo...

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...viewed as mere symbols and not real characters. There are no quoted in the entire story where a woman says something intelligent, meaningful, or important. Conrad only used the women in the story as symbols for his thematic metaphors. The women represented large facets of society or nature, but were not given much personality on individualism. By the end of the story, the reader knows a tremendous amount of information about Marlow and Kurtz, and Conrad?s novel could be called a case study for either of them. No new information is known about the psyche or inter-workings of the women of Heart of Darkness and even though the females in the story represent vast societies, their personal anonymity could leave the reader empty and searching for substance.

Bibliography

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