Conrad's Heart of Darkness Historical Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Too, though, Africa is not only dark and mysterious, it is a lonely place for a westerner. The climate is far from comforting, the mode of transportation strange and unwieldy, and certainly, the lack of stability in government and economics both made it easy for many British to become wealthy, as well as to hoard resentment towards such a place. If we also think of the insects, constantly buzzing, spreading infection, we essentially have Mother Nature, at least in the geographic biography, also acting as an agent of contagion and mistrust -- perhaps even the contagion causing even more blatant sexism?

Others have suggested that the women in Heart of Darkness clearly represent death and this idea of contagion. We can look at Kurtz's African mistress as she embodies the "dead" African landscape. In fact, as we meet her, Marlow notes:

And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul (Conrad, 168).

Further, Marlow continually talks about her in terms of the landscape as "the white man's grave," "the lurking death," and even the focus of contagion, "profound darkness." Ironically, the Intended shares this nefarious personification. When meeting with her, Marlow reminisces sadly,

I saw her and him [Kurtz] in the same instant of time -- his death and her sorrow -- I saw her sorry in the very moment of his death…. I saw them together…. I heard them together….I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold (Conrad, 207-8).

Through Marlow's eyes, then, we see the Indented as death and contagion also. This contagion spreads all over the path of the characters, and even Marlow cannot defend the Intended and says, "she was one of those creatures that are not the playthings of Time" (Conrad, 207).

Taken further, this negativity towards women actually moves the men towards death -- towards the abyss, particularly since they are unable to understand that from the moment they left the comfort of Great Britain, the hierarchy, the rules, and the place of men and women in society, they were exposed to contagion -- of the heart, soul, mind, and body.

They were dying slowly -- it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, -- nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. & #8230; and slowly the eyelids rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me…. Enormous and vacant (Conrad, 42).

It is likely no accident that there are only two White women with speaking roles in Heart of Darkness; Marlow's aunt and Kurtz's Intended. In one way, they perform a similar function, that of the restrictive, naive, and rather childlike view of the world, men, nature, and most certainly of British imperialism. Their language, their reference points, and their contribution to the text really do not propel the plot, but serve as a way of describing what darkness brings to the white adventurers. White women clearly are different than African women; white women are a mystery in their naivete, but still civilized and needed for procreation and comfort. Native women, though, are like the jungle -- more than mysterious, but dangerous and seductive. It is the job of men to protect white women, because they clearly cannot protect themselves, "Oh, she is out of it -- completely -- They -- the women, I mean -- 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. Oh, she had to be out of it" (Conrad, 132).

Some have said that the West views Africa a certain way because of Conrad. Chinua Achebe, for instance, called Conrad a "bloody racist," and told the audience that the famous novel, required still in a number of Middle and Upper Level Schools, demunized Africans, telling the world that Africa was little more than, "a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril" (Achebe, 1-20). He also reminded the audience that 1952 Novel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Albert Schweiatzer noted: "The African is indeed my brother, but my junior brother" (Achebe, 7). After his speech, most of Achebe's colleagues turned away in anger, but a few days later he was approached by a professor in the English daprment who remarked, "I now realize that I had never really read Heart of Darkness although I have taught it for years" (Ibid., x). While this is certainly the case, Heart of Darkness not only taught generations about Africans, it also solidified a view of the Victorian woman that lasted well into the 20th century. One scholar notes that the gender idology of Heart of Darkness depends on his focus on Afrian and European women "as sites where anxieites of gender and empire are played out" (Smith, 202).


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