HEART OF DARKNESSA Feminist PerspectiveJoseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is a depiction of the ugly face of imperialism and criticism of the theory of White Man’s Burden. However, this novel has been the subject of literary criticism from another perspective.The characters of Women in the Heart of Darkness were portrayed as passive and quite ones. They were more of a shadow than an active doer of the unfolding events of the novel.Right from the very beginning a group of men are on the deck of a boat at the Thymes listening to their friend who is telling them a manly adventure in the heart of the African jungles. In such a harsh environment and in the face of immense challenges and risky situations, women seem not to have a place except in backstage at minimum roles or participation in the events. It is a subordinate representation of women in the text and in the society the text represents.
The novel is an imperialist adventure where a group of men are conquering deep inside the jungle. Is it legitimate to say that in such circumstances, women always come at later stage after the hard work is accomplished by man? So imperialism is the difficult task that only man can shoulder.Let us look at the role of some women in the novel. Marlow’s aunt only role is to use her wealth and influence to find a job for her nephew. In other words, her role is to further the agenda of man. We also have the case of the women sitting silent and grim faced in Brussels. They usher Marlow in to meet the director of the company and then quietly resume their knitting.
Isn’t it more of a case of living death?We have another interesting example and that is the African mistress of Kurtz. She is magnificent, beautiful, powerful, and dripping in gold. She is obviously a leader among her own people. But interestingly to Marlow and to Conrad Leaders, she is an enigma; she speaks a language that we cannot understand and we do not know who she is. In other words, she is an object of fascination but ultimately unknowable. She represents a stereotyping where native women are taken as mistresses by the conquerors, often such a relation is not consensual.Heart of Darkness is seen by many as an anti-Feminist piece of literature.
The novel does not uplift the “other sex”, nor is it meant to fortify and empower the female gender. Instead of challenging representations of women as ‘Other’, as ‘lack’, or as part of ‘nature’, Heart of Darkness perpetuates this notion. Actually one of the main concerns of feminists is the idea of the lack of women in the novel. Only few women in the novels and they either fall under a case passivenessor objectification. When they are a kind of active, they are a vice or danger to man. Conrad in the Heart of Darkness seems to follow a practice common among writers of the time to highlight the dominating role of man; if there is a woman, she is always described and examined in relation to man.
In literary theorist Jeremy Hawthorne’s critique entitled “The Women of Heart of Darkness”, he writes “it is salutary to recall that three female characters each play an indispensable role in Heart of Darkness- Marlow’s aunt… Kurtz’s African mistress, and Kurt’s intended” (Hawthorne, 405). The women of the novel are barely spoken of because the structure of the novella makes them a background information. Actually, two of the women who had an important role in the novel were not even in Africa. Is it an indirect message that a proper woman should not even be found in Africa? They are further removed from the action as they are only mentioned as part of a second- hand opinion or account on behalf of Marlow by the narrator, thus further removing the female from context.It is a fair argument to express astonishment that women in the novel are not only secondary characters but actually they were silent figures making their roles very minor ones.
A more shocking approach is the lack of names for these women; they are referred to as the aunt, mistress, or the intended but never we learn their names as it is not the context of the novel. This approach further downsizes the role of the woman and it actually isolates them from the reader who will be left unable to interact or understand these characters who are more like ghosts or dehumanized figures. Criticism of this instance does not stop there as we have more shocking fact when women are referred to as girls instead of naming them or using the term women. Calling them “Girls” suggests a more sensual look from a dominating man.The context that we have explained above creates a situation where woman under these circumstances is not allowed to interfere with the business of man and that she better stays back and even behind closed doors. The woman in such a context is an inferior and helpless creature who needs the guidance and support of man who is the deciding and dominating force. Let us listen to Marlow as he says: “The women… 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”.Both acclaimed Feminist Simone de Beauvoir and theorist Laura Mulvey express their disdain towards a male-centric view of the female in their writing. De Beauvoir states in her principal piece The Second Sex, Woman as Other,”Humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being…. Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man… He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential” (de Beauvoir).One of the things that come to mind is the fact that depiction of women in Heart of Darkness follows an example that actually still exists till today. Woman is there for the man.
In commercials, she is made beautiful to seduce man or gain his appeal. In movies, she is always a supportive person who needs the muscles and mind of her colleague to achieve the goal she is after. She is weak and only made stronger when a cavalier jumps in. This fact actually made Heart of Darkness a hot issue for discussion by feminists.However, I do find myself in a position to give Conrad the benefit of doubt. It might be fair to assume that Conrad himself is not an antifeminist as a person nor the ideas that feminists of the late 20th and 21st centuries are suggesting was ever in the mind of Conrad when he wrote his masterpiece “Heart of Darkness” In fact the setting and theme of the novel might have dictated this position of women in the backstage in a setting that is full of violence, mystery, and wilderness of the jungles.
At those days and as history documents, such events were championed by men. May be to the advantage of women as imperialism was an ugly chapter in the history of mankind most of its pages were written by man. For woman, it was an honor to stay behind.https://study.com/academy/lesson/feminism-in-heart-of-darkness.html https://americanwomanwritingforwomenwriters.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/joseph-conrads-lack-of-ladyhood-heart-of-darkness-and-feminist-literary-interpretations/