The Portrayal of Women in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

The Portrayal of Women in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

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Women have gained equality with men over the many centuries of the evolution of the modern western civilization. Hence, it cannot be overlooked that there still exist many literary examples of social disregard for woman potential. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" exemplifies the Western patriarchal gender roles in which women are given the inferior status.

Not only are women portrayed as being inferior to men, but Marlow's (the protagonist's) seldom mentioning of them in his Congo adventure narrative symbolizes his view of their insignificance. There is a total of five women presented in Marlow's narrative but only three of them are significant minor characters: Marlow's aunt, Kurtz's African mistress, and Kurtz's "Intended." The following essay will examine how the presentation of each of these three women in Marlow's narrative contributes to connecting events in the story.

Despite the generalized view of women of his time, Marlow's narrative indicates a more specified view of the value of women which suggest that they are all naïve but with culturally dependent personas. In presenting female characters, Marlow may have intended to add more essence to his narrative. Nonetheless, each of their appearances and his descriptions of them served to be metaphoric, yet powerful contributions to the story line.

From the beginning, Marlow sends a clear message to the reader regarding his position on the image of women. He relates how he "tried the women" after he found no man to help him achieve his travelling and trading ambitions. He did something out of the ordinary for his time; he went to a woman for financial aid. Because this woman is actually his aunt, one might argue that perhaps Marlow is not thankful enough to his...


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...he associates her with having powerful qualities, she is still considered naïve for not having expected departure from Kurtz. She displays sorrow and grief as she throws her hands to the sky as the steamboat pulls away. Finally, Marlow uses Kurtz's Intended to support his view of women as being accurate. In order to save their fantasy worlds, Marlow argues that men can stoop as low as lying. In unique ways the three significant female figures influence the development of Marlow's story but they do not influence the theme of the story; which is Marlow's exploration of the darkness of the human soul. Preserving the "beautiful world" of women as Marlow suggests denies women journey into the Darkness. Their role is therefore limited to their cultural environment and their own world because they might not have the strength to handle all the difficulties and temptation.

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The Portrayal of Women in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

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