The Intended And The Aunt Are Deliberate Foils Of The Fates And The Mistress. Discuss Literature Essay

1386 words - 6 pages

Joseph Conrad’s renowned novella Heart Of Darkness gives rise to a number of opposing characters – “foils” – that juxtapose each other. These foils include Kurtz’s Intended and his African mistress, as well as Marlow’s aunt in comparison with the Fates, which consist of the two women “in the outer room” who “knitted black wool feverishly.” (p.12). It can be argued that Conrad deliberately wrote these characters in opposition in order to highlight any underlying symbolism that these women may represent in the novella, such as the problematic effects of imperialism, and to critique the treatment of women by men in that time period.
The most recognized and discussed foils in Heart Of Darkness are Kurtz’s Intended and his African Mistress, two very polarized and contrasting characters in Marlow’s narrative. While the Intended is described to be “pale” and “surrounded by an ashy halo,” (p.92) the Mistress is “savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent.” (p.76). The Intended is desexualised; she is almost as cold and sterile as the white “sepulchral city” she resides in, and is even likened to an “eloquent phantom,” an undead creature, unable to produce life. The Mistress, on the other hand, is an embodiment of “the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life” which “seemed to look at her” as though she were a reflection “of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.” (p.76). The African woman is sexualised, and perhaps even exoticised, to the point where she is objectified, and we only see her exterior self as a force to be reckoned with, as powerful as the wilderness about her, but her role does not exceed being Kurtz’s “mistress” and source of sexual pleasure. This coincides with the statement made by literary critic Laura Mulvey that the women are viewed as “passive objects subordinated to the male gaze” and, as critic W. Felicita puts it, “tend to be portrayed in society, the arts and the media as existing for the male faction, either to their detriment or their pleasure, as displayed by Conrad.” This is arguably true in a literary sense, and is what unites the Intended and the Mistress as well as separates them, as they each serve Kurtz in different ways. According to literary critic Jeremy Hawthorn, Kurtz finds in the African mistress what the Intended cannot provide for him due to the limitations of what “European culture has denied the Intended,” rendering her as infertile but “chaste” and “pure.” She is the virginal counterpart to the Mistress, and is only described in “spirit” where the mistress is described as sensual and “fecund” in “body.” Hawthorn also states that Conrad draws attention to the dehumanization of women by separating the “spirit” from the “body,” denying the women of “the full humanity that requires possession of both.” (Hawthorn). The comparison of these two women is used as a tool to critique imperialism and the constraints placed upon European women by European men who leave them to “live in a...

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