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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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Does Joseph Conrad portray white women and African women differently in Heart of Darkness?

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It has been often argued that one aspect that modern readers may find problematic in Heart of Darkness is its depiction of gender. In their relationship to women, male characters oscilallate from Marlow's patronizing to Kurtz's lust. Some feminist critics such as Carola Kaplan have pointed out that women are given only minor parts and mostly remain without names. Yet, this is true of most of male characters too. In addition, Marlow's aunt, although repeatedly belittled by her nephew, is shown as powerful. Rather than living in a world of her own, as Marlow states, she understands the social and political context of the Victorian Era.

Kurtz is connected with two very different women. In Belgium, he has left behind his fiancée, the Intended, who is devoted to him. She fits the canon of Victorian womanhood, the naive woman in need of male protection. The Woman is the other female character with whom Kurtz is connected. She is the African woman Kurtz has been living with and is antithetical to the Indended. While the white woman is virginal and ideal, the African woman is more sensual and statutesque (she's described as "wild eyed and magnificient").

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