Twentieth Century Literary Theory

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Joseph Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness, is a 20th Century novella that focuses on colonial era in the 1890s and 1900. The literature uses a mixture of words, rhythmical, and meditative style. Most of the depicted characters are men with few women being mentioned. Women in this book, have been given the role of silent characters. Reading through the book keenly, however, paints a picture of some very powerful women who have greatly contributed to the successes of the mission of the key male characters in the book, even though their roles have been displayed as subordinate, mysterious, and naive by the writer.

At the start of the journey to Africa, the story is about a man named Marlow who sets off on a journey to search for a station manager suspected of going against the rules. Marlow is seen as a hero who is setting off on a trip to the unknown leaving behind women in safety. Reading through though shows that Marlow secured his sailing job through the influence of the riches, and social connections of his aunt. This is a critical role played by a woman but it has not been magnified. The writer seems to be undermining women and treating them with prejudice.

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When Marlow visits a company in Brussels city, he is received by women who welcome him to see the company’s director. The writer then says that these women afterward resume their knitting duties. It is a demeaning description of women who can do not more than knitting even in their official place of work. Such kind of undermining is greatly displayed in Josephs writing. Women are seen to be only useful in progressing the colonial business. When Marlow arrives in Congo, he has to be accompanied by 60 men on a 200-mile journey to the steamboat he is supposed to captain. While working on his spoiled boat, he sees a picture of a blindfolded woman carrying a torch. This clearly shows the level of women deterioration in this society.

Conrad has capitalized on painting the women in his book as mysterious. On arrival to his destination in Congo, Marlow sees a beautiful woman approaching his steamer. The woman is making a bold move to approach the steamer even after stern instructions by Kurtz to the natives to retreat to the forest, but the writer does not take note of that. In fact, the manager of the company pulls Marlow further from the steamer to a secluded area away from the woman, maybe a sign that women should not listen to men’s conversations.

As Marlow prepares for his journey back, the writer says that the natives reappear from the forest. Keen to note is how Conrad describes the presence of the woman. He explains the assembly of the natives, including the flamboyantly clothed woman. This is an undermining statement especially taking note that this woman was the power behind Kurtz. He goes ahead and explains that after noticing the readiness of the natives to attack him, Marlow scares them away using his steamer and only the woman is left behind with spread-out hands. This paints a picture of a strong woman but she has been looked down on.

As he concludes his book, Conrad writes about Kurtz’s fiancée who is expecting him back home. Upon arrival, back home, Marlow meets the woman but lies to her regarding Kurtz’s final words. While Kurtz’s final words were “The horror!”, Marlow lies to the lady that Kurtz’s final words were her name. This depicts women as naïve and can be taken advantage of.

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  1. Brewton, Vince. “Literary Theory.” n.d. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 30 March 2017.
  2. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. n.d. 30 March 2017.
  3. Brizee, Allen, Libby Chernouski and Elizabeth Boyle. “Gender Studies and Queer Theory (1970s-present).” 21 April 2010. Purdue Online Writing Lab. 30 March 2017.
  4. Miller, Terri Beth. “Feminism in Heart of Darkness.” 2017. <>.
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