Study Guide

Heart of Darkness Women and Femininity

By Joseph Conrad

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Women and Femininity

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Sorry, ladies: there's basically nothing for you here. Seriously. Conrad is all about the gentlemen. For Marlow—and presumably for Conrad, too, although we could argue about that—women exist in a totally separate world. Part of the reason the world in Heart of Darkness is so grim for the dudes is that they have to protect women's idealism. Of course, you could also suggest that the Intended stands in for all of Western civilization, which would mean that Marlow's lie about Kurtz lets us all go on pretending that foreign workers aren't suffering to produce our smartphones and $5 t-shirts, men and women alike.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. What is Marlow's opinion of women's position in society? Does Conrad seem to agree with this? Which characters demonstrate Marlow's claim and which dispute it?
  2. What characteristics does Marlow associate with women?
  3. Compare and contrast the wild warrior woman to the Intended. Both are potential love interests for Kurtz. If the Intended is an embodiment of purity and idealism, what does the warrior woman represent? How do these characteristics reflect on Kurtz?
  4. Although men make up the majority of the authority figures in the book, powerful women are not utterly absent. Name at least two powerful women and state how they exercise their power.

Chew on This

Despite Marlow's disparaging comments about women, a number of women display or exercise a substantial amount of power in Heart of Darkness.

All the women within Heart of Darkness reflect the values of their society and are viewed as nothing more than trophies for men. Even the women who seem at first to have power are in fact powerless upon closer inspection.

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