Role Of Women In “Heart Of Darkness”

In the novella “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad the main character, Marlow encounters women when most needed in the book. When meeting other imperialists, such as Kurtz, who only cares about himself and his riches, Marlow gains hope as to become like these men, well respected explorers and imperialists. One early critic of the novel, Edward Garnett, wrote in his review that “[Heart of Darkness] is simply a Women are viewed by Marlow as ignorant little creatures above the press of imperialism—completely innocent, but entirely unaware.”

“Heart of Darkness” makes readers aware of the perceptions of women in the late 1800s, early 1900s. The main descriptions are that women are naive and should be kept that way, purely sexual objects, or rich by their husbands. The naive one is Kurtz’ intended. While she is only in a relatively small amount of the book, she is portrayed as naive and Marlow feels the need to keep her that way. He does this as if to “protect” her. We don’t even know enough about this character to understand Marlow’s decision to lie to her is even necessary or not.

The women who is personified as the sex object is none other than Kurtz’ mistress. She is beautiful and is covered in ivory, making her seem powerful and mysterious. Her entire purpose as a character in the book is to show how Kurtz is unable to control his lusts. The fact that he has a mistress and an intended shows that Kurtz thinks the intended is naive enough to think he’ll wait for her until he gets back. The mistress does not speak even furthering the point that she is used as an object and not a human being. She also seems to have a kind of control over men since she is so powerful and alluring.

Marlow’s aunt is rich and widowed, meaning that her husband probably left her with a lot of money. She seems to have nothing useful to do with her money and she believes very heavily in imperialism. She thinks the world would be better for it, making her naive. She also is the one who gets Marlow the job, making her powerful. With these descriptions, she seems to be a combination of the two other females previously talked about in this book.

None of the women in this book have names. All they have is their association to the male characters in the book. The only importance women seem to have is to further the plot or characterization for the men.

Africa is written “as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril” (Achebe). Conrad brings together the idea of savages in Africa and the general women together. By doing this Conrad addresses the two victims of imperialistic, white, male power. Marlow brings the two victims of imperialism together in one, brief observation of Mr. Kurtz’s foreign mistress. Conrad’s concise description of an Amazonian woman on page 56 is as follows:

“…She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress…“Her long shadow fell to the water’s edge. Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling, half-shaped resolve. She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose…

Women and the savages are brought together under one umbrella of mingled patronization and awe. In this respect, Marlow’s view of women is the perfect oxymoron” (Sedlak). Marlow’s tone concerning women and the Amazon is reverent, but belittling. These two groups of people are sub-human to Marlow in that he considers them of a lesser intellect and lesser value.

Heart of Darkness, while a classic, reveals itself to have themes about women that make them out to be, naive, a object used for sex, and wealthy due to men. These statements are inaccurate now, but reflected the time period in which Conrad wrote and how they perceived women. Everybody in the book is flawed, how could we expect anything else but flawed women?