Exposing Ignorance in Heart of Darkness through Feminism

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The mentality of male superiority dominates most literature despite recent efforts for gender equality. Many masterpieces praised today contain patriarchal perspectives, particularly historic literature. In Joseph Conradr’s Victorian novel Heart of Darkness, the curious seaman Marlow illuminates the feminist theory through his dismissive attitude towards women and the lack of female presence in his narration, reflecting the ignorance of Europeans regarding African natives during the period of Imperialism.

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The misplaced values of the European pilgrims on materialistic objects rather than living people manifest themselves as Marlowr’s narration unfolds. He claims his steamboat gives him a chance to find himself: No influential friend would have served me [Marlow] better (part 1 pg 19). He expends so much effort into repairing his boat that he places worth in this inanimate object, personifying it as a female character, whereas none of the female humans in the novel receive this love and respect. Similarly, the Europeans place more value in ivory and wealth than in humanism. When Marlow and his crew arrive at the Inner Station, they see a fierce African warrior woman adorned with seemingly the value of several elephant tusks (369). She is unnamed ” only described erotically and remembered by the wealth she possesses. As mistress of the charismatic chief of the station, Kurtz, she likely only brings him wealth and selfish pleasure. In his essay on feminism in Heart of Darkness, Farough Fakhimi Anbaran speculates that women are often seen as objects to be possessed by men and in the service of their pleasure (1). The African womanr’s ambiguity exemplifies the notion that the purpose of women is to accommodate men. The European pilgrims, such as Kurtz, exploit the people of Africa both male and female for their own personal gain while disregarding the damage they inflict on the natives.

The internalized racism and patriarchal mindset of Marlow displays the hypocrisy of many European colonists. Marlow visits Kurtzr’s fiance called The Intended and deems her na??ve for putting full faith in Kurtzr’s devotion to her even a year after his passing. According to Anbaran, he underquestions the rationality of women (4). Marlow eventually lies about Kurtzr’s last moments because he does not want to cause her more grief, fearing that she is too fragile to receive the harsh truth. His intentions are well-mannered, but he assumes The Intended is inferior concerning her emotions. Likewise, although Marlowr’s intent is not necessarily to dehumanize the natives, he depicts them in a negative light causing them to seem inferior. In his narration, he reduces the African slaves to black shapes and black shadows of disease and starvation (part 1 paragraph 40). Rather than extending the aid they claim is vital, the European travelers impose even more suffering on the natives. However when they see this suffering, they fail to claim responsibility and turn the other way. Their racist nature prevents them from treating the Africans with equality just as how Marlowr’s sexist nature causes him to hold The Intended to inferior standards.

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Exposing Ignorance in Heart of Darkness Through Feminism. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved December 6, 2022 , from
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