Essay on Feminist Theory in Heart of Darkness

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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…
This need to separate the angelic qualities of women into a totally separate world might come from the desire to protect one’s mother, and plays into the idea of the eternal feminine that must be preserved. “She has no story of her own but gives ‘advice and consolation’ to others, listens, smiles, sympathizes…” (Gilbert and Gubar 815). The aunt is a perfect example of such feminine qualities and represents the untainted light of civilization. Marlow then encounters two women who represent the gatekeepers of Darkness, which puts Marlow in an uneasy mood. Conrad uses these women to symbolize both the angelic and the monstrous aspects of the female gender; they welcome the newcomers and guide them to the next step of their journey, yet knit black wool which symbolizes death, to which they are escorting their guests. This dichotomy echoes throughout Marlow’s journey, “Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes” (Conrad 12). The two women further the theme of light into darkness, the fall of one’s humanity from civilized to savage. While the story starts with an illustration of the angelic feminine in the form of Marlow’s aunt, Conrad presents the first step into darkness by representing the two female
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