Women’s rights are consistently suppressed in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” while in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, the powerful Mother of the Spirits is revered and her daughters beaten and persecuted because of their gender. These authors were vividly depicting the reality of the repression of women during this time period. They exploit the vulnerabilities of women by criticizing all of their stereotypical feminine qualities. To be called a “woman” is among the utmost offensive insults spewed upon the feeble and meek.
In “Heart of Darkness”, the story is told through the voice of Charlie Marlow, a skeptical and prejudicial white man. In fact, all of the characters, including major and minor, narrator and protagonist are all white European men (Smith xx-xx). The underlying limits against women in this society are very evident in the narrator’s lack of understanding and emotional detachment. Ellen Rooney describes these portrayals of women as the “masculine ‘narrative of femininity’” which uses “stereotypes of woman and women” in order to affirm “patriarchy’s many stories” about femininity, masculinity, and power relations (73)(Smith xx-xx).
Without any names recorded in Conrad’s book, women are known only in relationship to man. For example, the semi-important women characters are known as “the intended” and “the mistress”. “The intended”, is so identified because of her relationship to Kurtz’s as his future (or intended) fiancé. “The mistress” is Kurtz’s African lover whom he is cheating on “the intended” with. Marlow doesn’t even grace these women with the simplest of all courtesies: referring to them by name. They are too inferior and insignificant to deserve such respect. The mistress and the intended are enigmas to Marlow.
Kurtz’s African mistress is an extraordinarily beautiful woman who never speaks to Marlow and whom Marlow knows nothing else about. She is the embodiment of what colonizers strive to tame, the black woman. As Kathryn Smith states, “Kurtz’s African mistress is the epitome of savagery and darkness” (Smith xx-xx). The mistress represents the powerful and darker side of femininity. She is referred to as the “site” upon which the male colonizers’ anxieties and insecurities are written. This is a direct one-two punch attempt at dehumanizing her. The mistress is seen as a mysterious and sinister wilderness that the colonists need to conquer.
Kurtz’s intended is a naive and faithful who is completely grounded in her faith of Kurtz’s loyalty to her. Marlow sees this poor unsuspecting lady as yet another example of “how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It's too beautiful altogether” ("Heart of Darkness Women and Femininity Quotes Page 1." xx-xx). Smith says, “Kurtz’s fiancée embodies the “civilized” woman who is white in many senses of the word – pure, fair¬ skinned, European, upper¬...