Feminist Theory in Heart of Darkness

1212 words 5 pages
Angels and Monsters in Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad’s varying depiction of women in his novel Heart of Darkness provides feminist literary theory with ample opportunity to explore the overlying societal dictation of women’s gender roles and expectations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The majority of feminist theorists claim that Conrad perpetuates patriarchal ideology, yet there are a few that argue the novel is gendered feminine. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar claim “Conrad’s Heart of Darkness…penetrates more ironically and thus more inquiringly into the dark core of otherness that had so disturbed the patriarchal, the imperialist, and the psychoanalytic imaginations…Conrad designs for Marlow a pilgrimage whose …show more content…
The first is a representation of a woman in an oil sketch; she is blindfolded and carrying a lighted torch into a darkening background. This representation is again another step into the dark savagery, and Conrad writes “the movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister” (33). Marlow then encounters a woman whom he describes as wild and gorgeous – both acknowledging the monstrous savagery and the inexplicable draw towards such a show of strong femininity. Her characterization represents the darkness, but is also a representation of the strength of the female gender when allowed to flourish outside of set societal norms. “She was savage and superb, wild-eyes and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress” (88). She represents the female that is “excluded from culture…but she also becomes herself an embodiment of just those extremes of mysterious and intransigent Otherness, which culture confronts with worship or fear, love or loathing” (Gilbert and Gubar 814). Once outside of the rigid expectations of gender roles in Europe at the time, the allure of strong female characters plays an important role in Marlow’s journey into the darkness. Marlow returns from the darkness in a sense, but can escape the savagery and the mark it has made on his soul. We see this in

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