White and Black Women of Heart of Darkness Essay

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The Civilized, White Women and the Black She-beasts of Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness hints at some prodigious evil lurking in the soul of mankind; but this corruption -- in its simplest form, the brutality and mammon-worship of Belgian imperialism -- is hidden from the "innocent." The "initiated," moreover, either embrace the wickedness (as do men like the "pilgrims" and, most significantly, Kurtz) or resist it and become the enlightened -- truly, "Buddha[s] preaching in European clothes" (Conrad 21). But it is the "innocents" -- represented by European women in Heart of Darkness -- who swallow the lies of a kindly colonial administration and multifaceted salvation for the heathen. If "Conrad was appalled
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It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. (27)

Ironically, what keeps them in the pleasant shadows of untruth is the "high-sounding rhetoric" of European men. After all, was not the demonic Kurtz's foremost attribute the artistry of his speech? He could, with his talking, put forth "the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of darkness" (63). That is, he might speak of white benevolence and the enlightenment of the savage African while hiding this less than philanthropic postscriptum in his heart: "Exterminate all the brutes!" (66). According to Johanna M. Smith, Marlow needs "to construct a 'beautiful world' around the Intended" (180), one function of which is to "stabilize both the feminine sphere of 'saving illusion' and the masculine sphere of 'confounded fact'" (181). Indeed, he takes up Kurtz's method of deceitful flow when he tells the Intended -- a lady lost in the idolatrous illusion of a noble Kurtz -- that her fiancé's dying utterance was her name and not "The horror! The horror!" (Conrad 86). This, however, is no simple manifestation of chivalric lying -- falsehood for the sake of protecting delicate womanhood; for Marlow knows that

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. (64; author's
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