Heart of Darkness

An Analysis of the Representation of Women in "Heart of Darkness"

While presenting a lecture at the University of Massachusetts, the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe expressed his alienation from the imperialist and patriarchal themes of Heart of Darkness, famously decrying Joseph Conrad’s novel as the work of “a bloody racist”. Provocative and influential, Achebe’s criticisms served as an impetus for a range of theoretical perspectives on the implications of Conrad’s work, with some feminist critics suggesting that his narrative displays misogynist overtones through its exclusion of women. Writers such as Nina Pelikan Straus and Leslie Heywood identify an exclusive sense of “brotherhood” shared between a male author, male characters, and a largely male readership. This fraternity, they argue, is largely the result of Conrad’s use of overtly masculine language, coupled with his flat and superficial portrayal of female characters and the feminine domain. However, it is important to recognise that the world of masculine activity depicted in the novel is far from ideal; rather, it is one of futility, psychological degradation, and shameful cruelty. As such, interpreting the protagonist’s narration on a superficial level undermines the powerful scepticism at the core of Heart of Darkness and...

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