Essay on White and Black Women of Heart of Darkness

Essay on White and Black Women of Heart of Darkness

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The Civilized, White Women and the Black She-beasts of Heart of Darkness

 
   Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness hints at some prodigious evil lurking in the soul of mankind; but this corruption -- in its simplest form, the brutality and mammon-worship of Belgian imperialism -- is hidden from the "innocent." The "initiated," moreover, either embrace the wickedness (as do men like the "pilgrims" and, most significantly, Kurtz) or resist it and become the enlightened -- truly, "Buddha[s] preaching in European clothes" (Conrad 21). But it is the "innocents" -- represented by European women in Heart of Darkness -- who swallow the lies of a kindly colonial administration and multifaceted salvation for the heathen. If "Conrad was appalled by the 'high-sounding rhetoric' that had been used to mask the 'sordid ambitions' of King Leopold II of Belgium" (Brantlinger 279), he was surely also disturbed by the applause given such eloquent equivocation on the feminine homefront. Yet Charlie Marlow (like Conrad, enlightened during his unpleasant sojourn in the Congo) does not opt to rend the veil of female naiveté. Is the Buddha not compassionate -- a bringer of truth? Why, then, does he withhold the light of dark facts?

    Ignorant of the existence of chain gangs, groves of perishing Africans and the like, Marlow's aunt talks "about 'weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways'" (Conrad 27). Her nephew, about to step into the "heart of darkness," might "venture to hint that the company was run for profit" (27), but she sees only the white man's burden. No, her nephew must be no mere harvester of ivory and rubber. For her, he is a torch-bearer on the vanguard of civilization. Thus -- noting her delusion -- Marlow tells his...


... middle of paper ...


...man is civilizer, she is mother of savages.

    Thus, Conrad paints a male world torn betwixt two feminine poles: the civilized, white woman who must -- for society's sake -- be misinformed, and the black she-beast -- antithesis to civilization's order and trigger of primeval emotions.

 

Works Cited

Brantlinger, Patrick. "Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?"  Murfin 277-298.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Murfin 17-95.

Murfin, Ross C., ed. Heart of Darkness: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. 2nd ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's P, 1996.

Smith, Johanna M. "'Too Beautiful Altogether': Ideologies of Gender and Empire in Heart of Darkness." Murfin 169-184.

 

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