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Women in the Heart of Darkness

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Sara Jane Emmons

on 3 December 2013

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Transcript of Women in the Heart of Darkness

Women in the Heart of Darkness
Secondary Sources
Jeremy Hawthorn's "The Women of
Heart of Darkness
Marianna Torgovnick's "Primitivism and the African Woman in the Heart of Darkness"

European Women
European women, specifically upper-class women, are trapped on the pedestal they are placed on with the feminine traditions of Victorian culture.
"They--the women I mean--are out of it--should be completely out of it. We must help them to
stay in that beautiful world of their own
, lest ours gets worse." (48)
Symbolize Imperialistic ideals used as an excuse to colonize.

by Sara Jane Emmons
Marlow's Aunt
First depiction of the Victorian woman's pedestal:
"It's queer how
out of touch with truth women are
. 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 set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. (12-13).
As women become more out of touch with the world, they become more trapped in their situations.
Marlow's aunt has a tea room that "most
looked just as you would expect a lady's drawing-room to look" (12). Symbolizes how Idealism is meant to soothe people's concerns with colonization.
The Intended
Symbolizes how idealism is weak and corrupted.
"She came forward, all in black, with a pale head,
floating towards me in the dusk
...This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an
ashy halo
from which the
dark eyes
looked out at me." (73-4)
Typical words of angelic beauty ("pure" and "halo") are depicted as sickly.
Idealism, The Intended's beauty, is corrupted, as her beauty exudes sickness and death.
Women, Reflections and Symbols
Conrad uses women to reflect the culture of the society they live in, and to symbolize different themes.
European women symbolize Idealism, apologist rationales for colonization, and how Idealism is inherently corrupt and detrimental to society.
African women symbolize the freedom from idealism that positively influences their society.
Three specific women:
Marlow's Aunt
Kurtz's African mistress

and the

African Women
Kurtz's Lover embodies the portrayal of African women.
"She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths,
treading the earth proudly
, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments.
She carried her head high
; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet...She was
; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress." (60)
Contrast to European Women
Embody life, passion, freedom. While Marlow's aunt is depicted as dainty and the Intended is sickly and sterile, the African woman is their sharp opposite.
Shows that placing women on a pedestal is just as harmful as making them objects of passion: the Intended ends up alone and frail, and the African woman ends up dead.
Their different interactions with European men destroy them: the African woman dies mourning for Kurtz, the Intended wastes away.
Significance of her Death
"Only the barbarous and superb woman
did not so much as flinch
, and stretched out her bare arms after us over the sombre and glittering river." (67)
Shows a strength of conviction: dying by being unwavering and courageous.
Parallels the Intended: "She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them back and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of the window...I shall see her, too, a tragic and familiar Shade,
resembling in this gesture another one
, tragic also...stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream." (76)
There is a sense of equality in their parallel grief

Hawthorn's Opinion
Contrast between European women, sterile and weak, and Kurtz's lover, "the embodiment of life itself."
"Marlow's own worship of that more perfect world inhabited by women, a worship which leads him to lie to the Intended and thus
cycle of lies
fuels imperialism
"Two women knitting black wool represent the
, "their apearance...suggests that women may have a significant role to play in determining fates. The blindfolded woman (In Kurtz's painting) suggests that this
determining influence

may not be a knowing or intended one
Torgovnick's Opinion
Thoroughly disgusted by the Heart of Darkness as a whole
African woman vs. the Intended: "Like the Belgian woman, she is an impressive figure, but unlike the Intended,
she is not 'high minded'
: she is presented as all body and inchoate emotion."
"As in Tarzan novels,
is simply not within the ken of the narrative; it is a 'love which dare not speak its name'"
Conrad uses
prejudiced vocabulary
, calling the African woman's pain "dumb" and her sorrow "wild."
: Conrad's point was that blacks/whites are only different culturally: his word choices that are directly opposite to European culture would be complimentary given his opinion of European influence.

Conrad's rare usage of women in the novel make each female character vital to the plot.
Women's Victorian boundaries are depicted accurately, and they are used as a warning of how idealism rots society.
The African woman embodies the potential of women when given freedom, and a symbol for a culture free of crippling false idealism.
Full transcript