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Role of Women in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Reaction Paper Example

Pages: 2

Words: 518

Reaction Paper

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness presents women in secondary and symbolic roles. There are very few women in his novel in which they barely speak and are insignificant outside of their relationship’s to the male characters. Their traits vary from naive, in need of control, bold, out of touch, irrational and symbolic of death and mourning, but all were seen as merely supportive of the men. Conrad’s use of female characters show the types of roles women took during the late Victorian time period, both in Europe and abroad and well as intertwining with race and colonialism.

Specifically, Marlow’s aunt portrays the role of women as naive and oblivious to the way  the world truly works, which is to say that women must not be told the truth of the horrors that exist. Marlow’s aunt is credited for getting him in contact with powerful men who will give him the job on the steamboat, therefore she is seen as an enthusiastic woman who knows powerful men. Her role is that of an mediator between powerful men, and she does not stand alone without that secondary power. Along with Marlow’s aunt, another naive and out of touch woman is Kurtz’s fiancee. She is specifically seen as naive and unaware of the horrors that men faced out in the world. Marlow, following Kurtz’s wishes upon his death, does not tell her about the horrors faced by men because they wish to not spoil the civilized woman’s view of the world. As quoted by Marlow, “Oh, she is out of it—completely. They—the women, I mean—are out of it—should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse” (406). This aligns with the idea of Victorian (European) fragility and  innocence, original sin and the disillusionment with the world and the horrors of colonialism (174-176). Kurtz’s fiance needs to mourn the man she knew, not the man who turned evil due to the allure of colonialism and greed.

Another important female character is Kurtz’s African mistress. She does not speak at in the novel, however her presence is strong and bold. Although she is presented as bold, Kurtz still controls her and keeps her in place as his mistress and lover. This relates with the display of racism and the lack of language used by the black characters in the novel. They “say no more than a few words. In fact, they don’t speak at all: they grunt; they chant; they produce a ‘drone of weird incantations’ (65) and ‘a wild and passionate uproar’ (36). (178). This represents the idea of Africans as savages and by removing words and articulation, power is taken away from them.

Although women were secondary and often silenced in Heart of Darkness, they were still vital to Conrad’s story. As a result, the women possessed many layers that add to the major symbolism used to make a social and political commentary on the current states of colonialism and racism.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Paul Armstrong. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. Print.

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