Male Bias In Heart Of Darkness English Literature Essay


It seems that the essential uncertainties and inconsistencies in Conrads metanarrative, the indirectness and ambiguous nature of the narrative Marlow gives. Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness has the typical nineteenth century view of women; women are not as good as men, they are not as smart and are not worth as much. There are only 3 women in the text, Marlow's aunt, Kurtz's fiancé and Kurtz's Amazon lover. None of these characters are not important to tale Marlow is telling. Marlow even says "it's queer how out of touch with truth women are, they live in a world of their own, and there had never been anything like it, and never can be" (Conrad, 27). Even though there are few women in the text and they have very small roles, Marlow makes women seem significant when he talks about them.

Marlow outright talks about the relationship between men and women

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The mind of man is capable of anything - because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future… Very well: I hear: I admit; but I have a voice too, and for good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced. (Conrad, 51)

He goes on this rant the he believes only men are intelligent enough to understand what he is saying. He is saying that men cannot be silenced, but by saying this he is implying that there is a chance that male voice can be silenced. It's like he secretly believes women can somehow silence men. It seems that Conrad's goal is to silence the women in the text. Marlow states "They, the women I mean, are out of I, should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse" (Conrad, 63). The language he uses makes it seem like women keep the world of men from falling apart. Of course this is a male narrative telling the story of a man doing manly things. The Heart of Darkness exhibits a biased male view of women demonstrated by Marlow's use of the sexual metaphor of penetration and other diction used in the text.

Gilbert and Gubar argue that 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, designs for Marlow a pilgrimage whose guides and goal are … eerily female (Conrad, 44)" (Gilbert and Gubar).

The narrative seems to keep with the male-controlled design, with a hero conquer whom defeats hurdles and becomes one of the socially elite. The plot itself follows the typical male hero who saves the day and becomes a hero, just like the stories Bewolf, and the Odyssey. The storyline, however Marlow seems to sit on the fence as to whether he sides with the colonialists or the natives, and the story itself doesn't provide a closing and we never really know which side Marlow is on.

Conrad shows some characters in his writing style that portray the Congo women, as well as his attitude toward the moral issues of social system in Heart of Darkness, as "L'écriture Feminine" (Kristeva). He shows characteristic of feminism, which Kristeva associates with a genderless, pre-oedipal stage. Kristeva relates the semiotic as a female whose sexuality has not yet been constructed (Kristeva). "While acknowledging that the "fictive world of Heart of Darkness belongs to men, nineteenthcentury, imperialistic, European men," Sedlak, for example, says that "Conrad's women do display a separate consciousness" (Crouch, 2).

French feminists, such as Helene Cixous, state that the diction is essentially bi-sexual, one which proposes to analyze all the rigorous binary by bewildering the boundaries between the masculine and feminine and the binaries, such as; proper and improper, normal and divergence, rational and irrational, expert and subservience, by which civilizations live on. According to Eagleton,

Most women are like this: they do someone else's-man's- writing, and in their innocence sustain it and give it voice, and end up producing writing that's in effect masculine. Great care must be taken in working on feminist writing not to get trapped by names: to be signed with a woman's name doesn't necessarily make a piece of writing feminine. It could quite well be masculine writing, and conversely, the fact that a piece of writing is signed with a man's name does not in itself exclude femininity. It's rare but you can sometimes find femininity in writings signed by men; it does happen. (, 232).

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Bode claims that Heart of Darkness portrays a "powerful female network, which frequently takes charge and assumes control of the novella's events" (20). This may seem absurd because as the story opens, the narrator describes the Thames as a manly domain "crowded with memories of men and ships it has borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea" (Conrad, 18). It is a place to think about the "dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germ of empires" (Conrad, 19). However these ships sailed only for the glory of the "Queen's highness," and when she meets the ship, it "thus pass out of the gigantic tale" (Conrad, 19) of masculine venture and splendor and into a domanin which apparently allows women on board. "The issue is not one of elaborating a new theory of which woman would be the subject or the object, but of jamming the theoretical machinery itself, of suspending its pretension to the production of a truth and of a meaning that are excessively univocal" (Irigaray).

Therefore is it possible for a male text such as "Heart of Darkness" also be as popular if it was on a feminine text and not a masculine one? Well, while listening to Marlow's narrative about his journey to fill in the "blank spaces on the earth" (Conrad, 22) or in this case Africa his journey seems to seem quite feminine; because he has to rely on others to help him, his motives are questioned, and he makes moral decisions that don't seem masculine. This is first evident when he has to get help from his aunt to get a job. This is something that was typical of women in the late 1890's. He seems humiliated when he has to ask "would you believe it? I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work- to get a job. Heavens!" (Conrad, 23). Then before leaving for the Congo he has tea with his aunt and says good by, she gives him her blessing, like mothers of the Great War who send their sons of to battle, expcecting to have him return a hero. However, Marlow returns more tame than hero, more feminie than conquering hero.

Then Marlow questions himself about being able to become a conquering hero when he says "I don't know why a queer feeling came to me that I was an imposter" (Conrad, 27), which is considered a feminine quality. Then when he gets to the Congo he eavesdrops on a conversation involving the station master and his nephew where they are plotting to foli Kurtz. Then he doesn't let anyone know what he heard. This makes him seem incapable and weak, which is again making him seem feminine.

Why would Marlow still make this journey with all these doubts? The answer rests in his masculine boyhood when he was a child, "there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map I would put my finger on it and say, When I grow up I will go there" (Conrad, 22). When he got to the Congo it was no longer this virgin space, it now has rivers and lakes that have already been explored. All that was left for him was a river that is reminiscent of a giant snake with its head in the sea and body turning through the country. He concludes, the snake had charmed me. (Conrad, 23) According to Straus,

It is Conrad's text itself that stimulates the notion that the psychic penury of women is a necessary condition for the heroism of men, and whether or not Heart of Darkness is a critique of male heroism or is in complex complicity with it, gender dichotomy is an inescapable element of it (125).

Marlow first views the map of the river as a snake in a Brussels office, where two knitting women operate as protectors of the gates of Hell. Marlow says, "it was fascinating-deadly-like a snake-ugh!" (Conrad, 23). When Marlow enters the chief official's office he is metaphorically entering the underworld of the snake river, the sinister female power Marlow wishes to explore in order to purge the feminine inside himself; however he ends up embracing this femininity instead of purging it.

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From the very start of the text Conrad exposes Marlows feminity, by first showing him as a submissive man, because he follows Buddha who believes in obtaining peace by being enlightened. This idea is directly contrasting the attributes of a conquering hero, which he is supposed to be in this story he is telling us. Then the text itself leaves us full of questions about who Kurtz is and how Marlow feels about Kurtz and his "crime." Furthermore we don't really know what Kurtz's crime was. All of theses questions make us question Marlow.

As Marlow's expedition continues, we see more binary oppositions, as his compassion shifts between the white colonialists (whom are viewed as superior) and the blacks whom have been robbed of their culture and deprived of their homes. This is evident when he is outraged by the treatment of the natives as less than human as they are "moving around as ants" (Conrad, 29). He cannot stand the fact that the natives, who are creating the railway that will support the expansion of the colonialst, are being treated worse than most animals. You can see this viewpoint is evident in Conrad's picture of the chain gang:

A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound around their loins, and the short ends waggled to and from like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar around his neck, and all were connected together with a chain, whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking (Conrad, 30).

Then he goes on to depict them as black shapes " all the attitudes of pain, abandonment and despair and further describes standing one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all fours to the river to drink" (Conrad, 32). Chinua Achebe in his article An Image Of Africa, states that "Conrad in this passage is stereotyping the African as savage and primitive, deserving of our compassion but not our respect." However you can look at this passage as Marlow identifying with the natives and being disgusted by their treatment at the hands of the colonialists. Therefore he would be taking the natives side over that of the white colonalists; he feels sympathy for the unempowered female, because he may end uo powerless like the natves he has come to defeat and the marginalized women at home.

Nevertheless, Brook Thomas (as quoted in Murfin) believes there is another way of looking at this depiction of the natives in a chain-gang;

Even though Conrad had himself been there, he chose to tell his story indirectly through an idiosyncratic, first-person narrator, Marlow, whose narrative is in turn relayed by another narrator who presumably has not even been to Africa. This elaborate structure makes us aware of structure as structure; thus, the novel, doesn't pretend to offer us a perfectly clear, uncluttered, unbiased, perfectly natural view of the facts of the past (Murfin, 236).

Thomas' viewpoint validates the idea that the language and structure of this story allow for a lot different interpretations. Another important fact that most people overlook is that Conrad is Polish and is actually exiled in England. His second language is English and therefor he was also not always accepted as normalin the English society. Edward Said declares:

Because Conrad also had an extraordinarily residual sense of his own exilic marginality, he quite carefully qualified Marlow's narrative with the provisionality that came from standing at the very juncture of this world with another, unspecified but different ("Culture and Imperialism", 24).

Furthermore North describes how Conrads polish nationality was viewed as a racial differentiation by his friends in England. Conrad's "Polish accent was associated by them with the Orient, and further that his appearance and mannerisms were considered by H.G. Wells and Ford Mad Ford to be Oriental. Several critics thought he was Jewish. Another found him positively simian" (North, 50). This view of him being different from his English friends also made him seem inferior, and may have lead to his understanding for the women and natives in the text. Marlows expedition is a journey toward the realm of multiple perspectives caused by the exiled life of Conrad.

Said commented on the imperial background of Conrad's Heart of Darkness;

Like most of his other tales, Heart of Darkness is not just a recital of Marlow's adventures; it is also a dramatization of Marlow telling his story to a group of listeners at a particular place in a particular time... Neither Conrad nor Marlow offer us anything outside the world-conquering attitudes embodied by Kurtz and Marlow and Conrad...the circularity of the whole thing is unassailable. Except as I said a moment ago that Conrad is self-conscious about setting and situating the narrative in a narrative moment, thus allowing us to realize after all, that far from swallowing up its own history, imperialism has in fact been placed and located by history, one that lies outside the tightly inclusive ring on the deck of the yawl Nelly. (Said, 49)

Therefrore Conras is self-consciousness, and this causes multiplicity in the perceptions within the narrative. This idea is further repeated by Kristeva's feminist viewpoints about the obliqueness, uncertain and ambigious perceptions essential in a narrative genre.

In Marlow journeys to the semiotic he avoids his real feelings about Kurtz because he is worried that he may identify that his is like Kurts, therefore he can end up like Kurtz. Marlow states "I think it had whispered to him [the wilderness] things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception, so he took counsel with the great solitude -- and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating" (Conrad, 73). Conrad displays a comparable uncertainty in describing Marlow's conflict with the feminine standards personified in Kurtz's mistress, who is viewed a dominant female goddess as well as a sumptuous temptress, both connected with the native savage race by the white English males. Marianna Torgovnick contends that "the African woman is the crux of Heart of Darkness...the representative 'native' the only one fully individualized and described in detail, except for the Helmsman, who also dies in the story. She is, the text insists, the symbol of Africa" (154-55).

Kurtz's mistress has a sexual power that Marlow fears, because he fears the female inspiration within himslef. This female inspiration shows herself in the uncertainties and oversights of the narrative. Conrad has a hard time getting through to his narrator, Marlow. He struggles to speak about the conquest over the savage temptress; however he is unable, or unwilling to do so.

Marlow is articulate in his ability to deacribe, however at the end of the text the silent look from the savage native woman is more powerfulk than Marlow's own words;

And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman. She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly with a light jingle and flash of was done in the shape of a helmet; she had bright leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step...She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress, 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... Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and a dumb pain...Suddenly she opened her bare arms and threw them up rigid above her head, as though in an uncontrollable desire to touch the sky...A formidable silence hung over the scene. (Conrad, 76)

This section of text shows Marlow's split attitude toward female power; on one side Conrad and Marlow are concerned by the native woman's sexual ambiguity, and on the other side they are captivated by her. Kurtz's savage lover is seen as almost mute in the text and this silence is symbolic of the undiscovered and unexplored spots in Africa's jungle that Marlow and secretly Conrad had longed to travel. However these blank spaces, unexplored areas are fantasy; as he admits the 'muteness' of the women to be fantasy, on the linguistic level.

The idea of a silent female is in fact a fantasy because he shows the savage mistress to have a very powerful diction, just as powerful as that of the colonists. This is evident when she "... rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted something, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless utterance" (Conrad). According to Gilbert and Gubar, she is a silent symbol in the text that expresses her unknown history as well as her intimidating hystery.

The mistress is the typical monster female in the text. She is not only a threat to the men because of her voice she is also standing in direct opposition to Kurtz's Intended. She is seen as the strong hostile monstrous monster woman while Kurtz's fiancé is seen as the angle, pure Victorian fantasy. Torgovnick states that,

Marlow clearly conceives of her as a substitute for, an inversion of Kurtz's high-minded, white 'intended.' Like the Belgian woman, she is an impressive figure, but unlike the Intended she is not 'high-minded': she is presented as all body and inchoate emotion. The novella cuts from the figure of the African woman with outstretched arms to the Intended: one woman an affianced bride, one woman all body, surely an actual bride" (Torgovnick, 146-147).

The British code states that miscegenation is wrong and therefore Marlow is scared to fall in love with a savage native woman and end up like Kurtz. However the savage woman is so attractive and seductive, as exposed by the text's illustration of her, that Marlow has a hard time fighting it; this is seen as a representation of Conrad's true feelings about femininity. The African woman, who purposely remains unnamed, represents Conrads natural idea of the savage female, because not lonely is she seductive, she is also deadly, just like Africa . Kurtz has been ruined by a devastating femininity; while this femininity is mesmerizing it also destroys men because it is forbidden. The Savage native woman is the femininie standard that Marlow needs to block in order to triumph.

Torgovnick's and Gilbert and Gubar's, are the only studies of Conrad that notice that the native woman may have something to do with his concerns with inptralism. This native woman makes Marlow tackle his boyhood desire for "filling up the blank spaces" on the African map he pointed to as a child. He travels all the way to the Congo and instead of finding blank spaces he finds other humans who have their own culture.

So the question is: how can he fill up a blank space on a map is another people are already living there? This question or a variation of this question has been contemplated by Conrad regarding the connection concerning masculinity and feminity, when looking at the power of colonialism and their weakness, and Conrad's racism and his compassion for the conquered Conjoins. "Is this not woman as dark continent which Marlow fears in himself but cannot re-press" (Kristeva). The savage womon in the text is seen in three differet ways, the first being as the 'other,' as an African temptress, and as a mute savage with no individual characteristics.

Faced with anything foreign, the Established Order knows only two types of behavior, which are both mutilating: either to acknowledge it as a Punch and Judy show, or to defuse it as a pure reflection of the West. In any case, the main thing is to deprive it of its history (Barthes, 96).

The native African woman cannot be seen as just one of these things, she is walsy multi-dimensional and will never be understood in Marlow's view of the world. Conrad places the African temptress in the middle of his issues with colonialism, by making her speechless. "I ascribe a basic importance to the phenomenon of of the elements in the man of color's comprehension of the dimension of the other. For it is implicit that to speak is to exist absolutely for the other… (He argues) further that Existence is language, and language is always a matter of politics " (Fanon, 17-18).

Therefore, in order to exsits you must have language and the subordinate of the colonialists must learn their conquorer's language in order to be viewed as human. Therefore when Conrad makes the African temptress mute he is making her unable to speak with her master and therefore less than human, except through her sexual power over Kurtz.

Eric Cheyfitz points out that;

The conception of the orator as emperor, conquering men with the weapon of eloquence, is a classical and Renaissance commonplace, and argues that this imperial common place finds its place in the story of the orator as the first settler, that is as the first civilizer and colonizer of humans (112-113).

Marlow learns about the various accomplishments of Kurts and his eloquence through stories he hears, however by the end of the story his articulacy is gone and all he can utter is "the horror, the horror." A colonized person confronts the language of their civilizing nation; "that is with the culture of the mother country, the colonized is elevated above the jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country's cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, the jungle" (Fanon, 18).

As you can see with Kurtz the opposite is true, he accepts the blackness of the jungle, and he doesn't loose his western way of behaving. According to Marlow, "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz" (Conrad, 65). Fannon's belief that the colonized will assume the language and philosophy of their colonizer, the native seductress remains her darkness, whereas Kurtz loses his whiteness. Conrads representation of the savage temptress insinuates that you must look at her with all three perspectives, instead of just looking at her with one or two opposing perspectives. Therefore Conrad echoing the feminist ideals of vagueness, obscurity, and various perceptions characteristic of most female narratives, thus Marlow's arrival back to England is reiterating Gilligan's psychosomatic interpretations regarding female moral growth.

There is very little written about Marlow's motivation for being dishonest with Kutz's Intended. What I did find didn't even look at the idea of female awareness that has been evident in the anaylsis so far in this research. For example, "Marlow never shrinks from judgement, but he judges without abstract ideals, without general principles, indeed without consistency.... He derides moral absolutes and willingly suspends universals in favor of concrete discriminations" (Levenson, 56). We know from his characterlization in the text that he hates lieing and believes that Kurtz is due honesty; however when he meets with the Intended he is not fully honest, and doesn't even speak about justice. Instead he acts like a saint who would rather, not hurt her feelings, than tell the truth. Marlow explains his motivation for lying to Kurtz's Intended, he doesn't try to bring up their progress, or show pity on her. He merely believes that the truth "would have been too dark-too dark altogether" (Conrad).

In this text the "darkness becomes a moral sensation" (Levenson, 56-57), which promotes the idea of several different perceptions in Conrad's moral replies to racism, feminism, imperialism, and colonialist exploitation. Nevertheless, the ridicule of moral fundamentals in Marlow's choice to lie, as pointed out by Levenson, is a female focused approach that Gilligan creates the framework for and Levenson doesn't seem to contemplate. The moral development and judgemnet of women, according to Levenson, is linked to Marlow's reaction to Imperalisim and also to Kurtz. This makes it seem like he was being compassionate and not sexist when he lied to Kurtzs Intended.

Therefore due to Marlows experiences in Africa his moral awareness has taken on a feminine characteristic. In her text "In A Different Voice" Gilligan hypothesizes that women's ethical rationalizing is not founded on the ideas of right and wrong, however unlike men, it is based on the situation and the observations of anguish and compassion. "The reluctance to judge may itself be indicative care and concern for others that infuse the psychology of women's development and are responsible for what is generally seen as problematic in its nature" (Gilligan, 172). Women will usually choose the option that will not hurt anyone, or hurt the least number of people. "Why should we believe that the moral sequence through which boys pass constitutes moral development tout court?" (Gilligan, 174). Perchance, females are more concerned with kinship and accountability; furthermore not moral in the formal tone of the word, but more reasonable morality. Whereas Men have a more definite idea of right and wrong, neutral justice (so they would have us believe). If Marlow was judged by Gilligan's philosophy for his conclusion to lie to the Intended, then he would be believed to have lied to her to safeguard her from unnecessary pain that telling her the truth would have caused her.

In this critical reading of "Heart of Darkness" Conrad's text has been viewed as having a feminine writing style. It has also been revealed that Conrad was viewed as an outsider, exiled by his own Polish people and an immagrant to his home of England, and this created his compassion for the subjugated people of the colonlized Congo. This does not mean that Conrad isn't racist and isn't imperialistic. The reading advocated that the lot of women are unable to making moral choices based on a more definite idea of right and wrong. Marlow uses various sexual metaphors, such as penetration, and other diction used in the text; exhibit a male biased view of women and their roles in society.