The Feminine Presence In Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness"

1785 words - 7 pages

In Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness" there are no less than eight women: the Belgian aunt of Marlow; the two sinister women at the Company offices; that Marlow regards as the guardians of "the door of Darkness" ; the "wife of high dignitary" whom Marlow's aunt recommends him for employment in Africa; the African laundress for the Company's chief accountant; Kurtz's Intended; Kurtz's mother who died shortly after Marlow returns to Belgium and finally the African woman at the Inner Station. In my essay tackling this novella, I will try to discuss this feminine presence from two perspectives; as persons and as symbols.In this novella Conrad allows women as persons scarcely any narratological or thematic attention, they appear to function primarily as ancillary details to Marlow's narration about Kurtz and his adventure to the "heart" of Africa, and this is probably the reason why "Heart of Darkness" has always been attacked by critics as "misogynistic;" and these are some justification for this point of view:The principle women of the text – Marlow's aunt, Kurtz's Intended, the African woman, and the two knitting women in the Company offices – are always positioned in transitional spaces in either the colony or the metropole. Mostly they are sedentary, stationary and confined to their own territories; unable to wander between cultural, ideological, and national boundaries.For Marlow women apparently possess only conceptual knowledge of either Africa or Europe; unlike the male protagonists who possess both empirical and abstract conceptual knowledge of both Africa and Europe. For instance, Marlow's aunt sits in her upper-middle-class domestic parlor in Belgium as she sends him off to his adventure in Africa; the two knitting women sit in the outer room of the Company offices and glance at the men en route to the Congo; and, at the end of the text, we see Kurtz's Intended receives Marlow in a "lofty drawing-room," where they both "sat down" for their mournful exchange. Even the movement Conrad grants to the African woman at the Inner Station only further emphasizes her essential immobility: she struts along the river bank as she wails at Kurtz's departure, but she, too, is confined to her own territory.Marlow claims that women in general are "out of touch with truth," an attitude that appears crystally clear in his comment on his aunt's naive praise of the Company's project and her acceptance of the public ideologies in support of colonialism:"They live in a world of their own and there had never been anything like it and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to sit up, it would go to pieces before the first sunset."He even pushes this exclusion to insist – later in the novella – that women should be "out of" his whole story. In the middle of his description about his steamer's dangerous approach to the Inner Station he happens to mention "the girl" – referring to Kurtz's Intended – but...

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