Gender Role In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
For the most part people who read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad may feel that the novella is strictly a story of exploration and racial discrimination. But to Johanna Smith who wrote “’Too Beautiful Altogether’: Ideologies of Gender and Empire in Heart of Darkness” it is much more than that. Johanna Smith along with Wallace Watson and Rita A. Bergenholtz agree that throughout Heart of Darkness there are tones of gender prejudice, but the way that these three different authors perceive and interpret those gender tones are to a certain extent different.
In “Too Beautiful Altogether” Smith points out that even though Heart of Darkness is an especially masculine account, femininity and gender play a deeper role in the story. Smith writes “Marlow’s narrative aims to “colonize” and “pacify” both savage darkness and women” (Smith 189). Furthermore Smith states, “By silencing the native laundress and symbolizing the equally silent savage woman and the company women, Marlow reconstructs his experience of the darkness they stand for. The story’s two speaking European women, Marlow’s aunt and Kurtz’s Intended, perform a similar function. By restricting unsatisfactory feminine versions of imperialist ideology to them, Marlow is able to create his own masculine version to keep the darkness at bay” (Smith 190). For Marlow his story is never meant for a female to read or hear. Marlow feels that his story is far too masculine for and women and because of that the story would be over their head.
To understand Smith’s essay, Smith feels it is important to be aware of her use of the word Ideology. For her the word has two different meanings “to mean not only a conscious system of meaning, either imposed or willingly adopted, but also the unconscious grounding of individual experience”. Smith emphasizes “An ideology works to construct a unified and consensual meaning for contradictory experiences and perceptions, by mystifying or disguising such contradiction”(Smith 190). To recognize ideological contradictions in Heart of Darkness, one needs to be on familiar terms with discourse. “A discourse is a “domain of language-use” (Belsey 5), a specific mode of speaking, writing, and thinking that includes certain shared assumptions” (Smith 190). One-example Smith gives of an ideology in Heart of Darkness is the ideology of gender or empire, written in the words feminine or savage.
Johanna Smith gives many examples of Marlow’s contradictions that his ideological discourse of empire and gender work to mystify. In Heart of Darkness the women are often silenced. Smith points out the example of the laundress: the company’s chief accountant insists that she had to be taught to launder his clothes properly and that she had a strong disliking for the job. But you never truly hear her side of the story; Smith suggests “Marlow’s silencing of the laundress shows Marlow’s authority as the masculine narrator of his...