The Role Of Women In Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness

1042 words - 4 pages

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 good deeds and respectable traits. Hearing these glorifications, Marlow could not bring himself to tell her the truth. Marlow knew that these falsities were the only barrier between the Intended and the darkness of Kurtz and society as a whole. Marlow also described the Native Woman in depth throughout the novel. In one such passage, he gives the reader an illustration by stating ?She was savage and superb, wild eyed and magnificent?she stood looking at us without a stir and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose.? Conrad describes the Native Woman with such exuberance and detail in order to create a conflict between the African Native and the Intended. Later on in the story Marlow describes the Intended by stating: ?She came forward all in black and with a pale head, floating toward me in the dusk?I noticed she was not very young?I mean not girlish?The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me.? By analyzing the differences in these quotes, we can reduce the message down to one of...

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