Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essays

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essays

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Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a male dominated text in which the majority of all his characters are European men who deny women power, strip them of their names and identities, and instead identify them in relation to Kurtz or Marlow, in relation to men. The word “merely” suggests that the women have been degraded to simple symbols. Marlow’s narration often elevates women to the extent that they are unattainable and unrealistic, the perfect symbols of the society they inhabit and little more. This reduction to mere symbols masks the women’s actual importance within the narrative, as all the women within the novella have a profound effect on the protagonist. Kurtz’s portrait of a women and the Two Knitting Women seem to allude to future events within the novel and fill Marlow with a sense of foreboding whilst the Intended and the Primitive Woman seem to dominate Marlow and his perception of women. Marlow’s Aunt has an effect on the narrative rather than on Marlow himself. Whilst these women are often seen as symbolic, the women of Heart of Darkness are important and influential characters in their own right.
Marlow’s need to reduce the women to mere symbolism can be seen through Kurtz’s painting. The woman is “draped and blindfolded” “carrying a lighted torch” (p.25) representing Justice and Liberty respectively. The amalgamation of Justice and Liberty portrays the woman (and by extension women) as pure, ethereal, and civilized. The woman in the picture could be the Intended who is seen to possess these qualities. Kurtz’s oil sketch further represents the perfect woman. By blindfolding her and making her unable to see the light she emits against the dark “almost black” (p.25) background, he makes her ignorant to her own im...

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...rlow’s Aunt and the Two Knitting Women could represent life and death, safety and uncertainty, they are important characters because their actions influence both Marlow and the narrative.
Although, the women of Heart of Darkness seem to have little or no importance beyond mere symbolism, they all have an effect on Marlow. Each woman within the novella either contributes to the narrative or influences him. His elevation of the women often makes them appear to be too perfect, unrealistic and simple characters. Yet, all the women are actually much more influential and important, altering Marlow’s thoughts and perceptions of the world around him as he fights for dominance over these women. Whilst these women could be seen as merely symbolic and completely “out of it” (p.48), they are in fact as important as the men and should be treated as characters not mere symbols.

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