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

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

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Portrayal of Women in Heart of Darkness

    In his novel, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad exposes the evil lurking in the soul of mankind; but this corruption is hidden from the innocent European women. Conrad?s novel depicts women simplistically in black and white ? without any confusing shades of gray. There are the innocent white European women who must -- for society's sake -- be misinformed, and the black African she-beast ? the antithesis to civilization's order.


Those exposed to the corruption either embrace the wickedness, as does Kurtz, or resist it and become enlightened.  But the innocent European women swallow the lies of the colonial administration.  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 rhetoric by the innocent European women. Yet Marlow, enlightened during his unpleasant sojourn in the Congo, does not opt to tell the truth and destroy the female naiveté. 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" (Conrad 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 listeners that


[women] live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, an...

... middle of paper ...

...e is mother of savages.


    Thus, Conrad paints a male world torn between 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 and Consulted:

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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