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REVIS(IT)INGJOSEPHCONRADSHEARTOFDARKNESS:

WOMEN,SYMBOLISM,ANDRESISTANCE
by
KathrynMarieSmith

AThesisSubmittedtotheFacultyof
TheDorothyF.SchmidtCollegeofArtsandLetters
inPartialFulfillmentoftheRequirementsfortheDegreeof
MasterofArts

FloridaAtlanticUniversity
BocaRaton,Florida
April 2009

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Theauthorwishestoexpresshersinceregratitudetoherthesisadvisor,Dr.
SikaDagbovie,whonotonly guidedherideasandarguments,butalsospentcountless
hourshelpingherreviseandimproveherwork. Shealsowouldliketothankherthesis
committeemembers,Dr.JosephineBeokuBettsandDr.JaneCaputi,whotogether
providedinvaluablefeedback,aswellasDonnaBryan,whosupportedherthroughout
theentirethesisprocess.Theauthorwouldnothavebeenabletocompletethisthesis
withoutthecontinuingassistanceandmentorshipoftheentireWomensStudies
Center. HerexperienceintheWomensStudiesgraduateprogramhasbeennothing
butpositive,andshewilldearlymissbothhermentorsandcolleagues.Lastly,the
authorhastoextendherheartfeltthankstoallofherfriendsandfamilywhohave
offeredendlessencouragementthroughoutheracademicendeavors.

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ABSTRACT
Author:

KathrynMarieSmith

Title:

Revis(it)ingJosephConradsHeartofDarkness:Women,
Symbolism,andResistance

Institution:

FloridaAtlanticUniversity

ThesisAdvisor:

Dr.SikaDagbovie

Degree:

Masterof Arts

Year:

2009
JosephConradsHeartofDarknessis,admittedly,atextwithmanyracist,

imperialistandsexistsubtexts.Afeministliteraryanalysis,however,canextract
womensempowermentandagency.ThisthesistakesacloserlookattheMistress
(alsoknownastheAfricanwoman)andtheIntended,twowomenwithvastlydifferent
racialandclassbackgroundswho,intheirownways,demonstrateresistance.This
thesisanalyzesMr.Kurtzsoftenignoredsketchinoils,arguingthatthesketchitself
demonstratesthecolonialmentalityofdifferenceandthedisruptionofthatdifference.
ItthenexploresboththeMistressandtheIntendedindetail,positingthatwhilethe
Mistressusesthecolonizersfearofthewildernessanditssilencetoheradvantage,
theIntendedtakescontroloverherowndomesticcircumstance.Overall,thisauthor
assertsthattheMistressandtheIntended,whileoftendismissed,arenoteworthy,
important,andinfluentialcharactersin HeartofDarkness.
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DEDICATION

ThismanuscriptisdedicatedtotheWomensStudiesCenteratFloridaAtlantic
University.TheWomensStudiesgraduateprogramhasofferedmeinvaluable
opportunitiesforlearningandteaching,andhasequippedmetopursuemydreamof
becomingacollegeprofessor. IwillalwaysrememberthepeopleIhavebefriendedin
thisprogram,andIhopetopassontheirlegacyofencouragementandempowerment.

REVIS(IT)INGJOSEPHCONRADSHEARTOFDARKNESS:
WOMEN,SYMBOLISM,ANDRESISTANCE

Chapter I:Recognizing,Resisting,andOverturningColonialism:
AnalyzingtheWomenof HeartofDarkness....................................................... 1
Chapter II: SketchingtheUncontrollableDarkness:Colonialism,Power,and
Subversionin HeartofDarkness ....................................................................... 17
Chapter III: TheUnswervingSteadinessofHerGlance:
RestraintandResistance ................................................................................... 37
Chapter IV:TooDarkAltogether:TheIntended,MarlowsIntentions,
andDisruptiveDarkness ................................................................................... 57
WorksCited.................................................................................................................. 76

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I.RECOGNIZING,RESISTING,ANDOVERTURNINGCOLONIALISM:
ANALYZINGTHEWOMENOF HEARTOFDARKNESS

Introduction:TextasSymbolicPower(Play)
Onthesurface,JosephConradsHeartofDarkness(1899),astoryofBelgian
colonialisminAfrica,seemstobeamaledriventextwhichleaveslittleroomfora
feministliteraryanalysis.Conradsnarrator,protagonist,majorandminorcharacters
areallEuropeanmen,andthewomenwhoexistwithinthenovellaarenotevengiven
names.ThesewomenarethefianceandtheloverofMr.Kurtz,amanagerofthe
BelgianCongotrade,andtheyareonlyknowninreferencetohim hisfianceashis
IntendedandtheAfricanwomanonlyashisbeautifulsavageMistress.1 The
narrator,Marlow,oftendepictsthesetwofemalecharactersastwodimensional
caricaturesinsteadofgenuinepeople,strivingtokeepthemintheirgeographicand
proverbialplacethroughoutthenovel.Despitethepatriarchalandimperialistelements
writtenandnarratedthroughoutthetext,however,afeministcritiquecanreveal
importantwaysinwhichtheMistressandtheIntendeddefyMarlowscategorization.
Thoughthewomenin HeartofDarknessareoftenrelegatedtothemarginsof
thetext,theyaresimultaneouslyunimportantandvitallyimportant.HelinaM.
1

Intheessay,ABlackAthenainthe HeartofDarkness, orConradsBafflingOxymorons,Andr


Voilaetal.arguethatConradneverspecificallynamestheAfricanwomanKurtzsmistress.Though
theirpointisintriguing,forthepurposesofmypaper,aswellasclarity,Iwillbefollowingtheliterary
criticaltraditionofidentifyingKurtzsfianceastheIntendedandtheAfricanwomanastheMistress.

Krenn,apostcolonialliterary scholar,highlightsthiscontradictioninheressay,The
BeautifulWomen:WomenasReflectionsofColonialIssuesinConradsMalay
Novels,statingthattheConradianfemalecharacterappearstobealtogether
insignificanteventhoughsheplaysboth astructurallyandthematicallyimportant
role(106). TheIntendedandtheMistressarenotvaluedcharactersintermsof
textualattentionandspokenvoice,buttheyareimperativetoMarlow,forthey
representfoundationalsymbolsofcolonialism.Theirstructurallyandthematically
importantrole,then,istherepresentation(andconsequentdisruption)ofpurityand
sexuality,civilizationandsavagery,orderandchaos,respectively.InMarlows
perspective,Kurtzsfianceembodiesthecivilizedwomanwhoiswhiteinmany
sensesoftheword pure,fairskinned,European,uppermiddleclasswhileKurtzs
Africanmistressistheepitomeofsavageryanddarkness.Assymbols,thesetwo
womenarevitaltocolonialism,inthattheyjustifytheracism,idealsandfalse
heroismofimperialistagendas.
PadminiMongiaelaboratesuponthewomenscontradictoryandcomplicated
position,writing,[n]otactiveparticipantsinadventurenarratives,womenare
neverthelessthesiteuponwhichtheanxietiesoflateVictorianandearlyEdwardian
Englandareplayedout. Thefeminine,alwaysassociatedwithwhatisweakbutalso
oftenthreateningorseductive,isanegativetropein... HeartofDarkness(135).
MongiapoignantlyhighlightsthestrangeambiguitytheMistressandIntendedoccupy
in HeartofDarknessthoughtheyarenotmajorcharactersinthetraditionalsense,
theyremainthesiteofmuchofthethoughtandaction.KurtzsIntendedisthe
appropriatelyweakandcloisteredfemininefigurewhilehisMistressrepresentsthe
2

dark,powerfulsideoffemininitywhichneedstobecontained.Thetwowomen,the
MistressandtheIntended,arenecessaryoppositesinthecolonialdiscourseofpower
andmasculinity,forasstereotypestheyreinforcepatriarchal ideasofwhiteandblack
femalenessandthepresentationofAfricansasOther.
HeartofDarkness,likeanyimperialisttext,needssymbolsandbinariesto
sustainitselfandcreateafalseimageofmasculinityandpower.2 Interestingly,the
MistressandtheIntendedarethesesymbols,definedagainsteachotherasopposites
whichreinforcethecolonialproject. TheMistress,asanAfricanwoman,isnotwhite
andnotcivilized,servingasfoiltotheIntended,whoisnotblackandnotsavage.
EllenRooneyreferstothesedepictionsofwomenasthemasculinenarrativeof
femininitywhichusesstereotypesofwomanandwomeninordertoaffirm
patriarchysmanystoriesaboutfemininity,masculinity,andpowerrelations(73).
TheIntendedrepresentsallthatmasculinityisfightingtoprotect(whitewomen),just
astheMistressisanembodimentofwhatcolonizersstrivetotame(blackwomen).In
addition,notonlydothewomenbecomesymbols,buttheirhumanityisfurtherde
emphasizedbytheirassociationwithasortoflandscape,asiteuponwhich,
accordingtoMongia,themalecolonizersanxietiesarewritten.Thisconflationof
womenwithlandhasparticularsignificancefortheMistress,forthecolonizers
inevitablyseeherasadarkwildernesswhich/whomtheyneedtoconquer,areality
whichIdiscussfurtherinChapterThree.

LiterarycriticJeremyHawthornaffirmsthisassessmentinhisdiscussionofthewomeninHeartof
Darkness: Itisclearatmanypointsinthetextof HeartofDarkness thatwomenaregivenaparticular
responsibilityandfunctionsofarasthepreservingofidealismisconcerned(147).

Thisthesisseeksnotonlytoilluminateanddeconstructthefalsebinariesof
colonialism,butalsotorevivetheIntendedandtheMistressasimportantcharacters
inConradsnovella.Drawingonanddepartingfromthosecriticswhohave
acknowledgedthewomens(un)importance,Itakeafeministcriticalperspectiveby
highlightingthefemalecharactersagencywithinHeartofDarkness.Ifollowthelead
ofpostcolonial literarycriticRoseMarangolyGeorge,whooffersaremedytothe
rampantimperialismofWesterntextsinherarticle,FeministsTheorize
Colonial/Postcolonial.Shesuggeststhatreadersuseacriticalframeworkinwhich
literaryandothertextscanbereadagainstthegrainofthehegemonicdiscourseina
colonialorneocolonialcontext(MarangolyGeorge212). AccordingtoMarangoly
George,thisframeworkisdifferentthantypicalliteraryanalysis,foritinsistson
recognizing,resisting,andoverturningthestricturesandstructuresofcolonial
relationsofpower(212,emphasismine).Shethereforeoffersthreeinterconnecting
responsestocolonialistliteraturewhichIemployinthisthesis:(a)recognizingand
identifyingimperialist,racist,andsexistelements,(b)resistingtheseelements
throughcritiqueandthroughrevealingwomensagency,and(c)overturningthe
stricturesandstructuresofimperialismbywritingnewmeaningsintothetext.3 In
analyzingHeartofDarkness,IarguethatMarlowactivelyconstructstheIntended
andtheMistressasstaticsymbols,butthatthesefemalecharactersbreakfreefrom

MarangolyGeorgereferencesSpivakinherinsistenceonrecognizingwomensagencydespite
oppression:Spivakpointstowhatwillbecomeamajorpreoccupationofpostcolonialfeministwriting:
namely,ifandhowdisenfranchisedwomencanrepresent,speak,andact forthemselves, despite
oppressiveconditions. Postcolonialfeminismunflinchinglyacknowledgesthatthereare manyobstacles
inthepathofsecuringsuchvoiceconsciousness.Yet,despitetheodds,postcolonialfeminist
discoursestrivestocreatethespaceforthiscountersentencetobespokenbythegenderedsubaltern
(MarangolyGeorge216).

theseoppositionalcategoriesandthreatentodestroythecarefullycraftedempireof
colonialism.
Discussingthewomensagency inHeartofDarknessisinherently
complicatedbecause,asfictionalcharacters,theyarelargelycontrolledbytheauthor
Conrad,andeventhenarratorMarlow.Whatthisthesisreveals,however,arethe
waysinwhichthecharactersescapeConradscontrol atcrucialtimeswithinthe
narrative.TheMistress,forexample,issothreateningtoConradthatheeditsherrole
severaltimesbetween1899and1902todiminishherpresence.InChaptersThreeand
Four,IanalyzetheseelisionstoexposetheMistressshiddenpower.Furthermore,I
readtheMistressIntendedasacharacter thatinfactspeaks torealhistoricaland
autonomouswomen.Throughoutthisthesis,Iavoidthetendencytoeitherignoreor
romanticizefemaleagency,portrayingwomenasvictimsorheroines(Hodgsonand
McCurdy16).Instead,Iacknowledgethatthefemalecharactersareoppressedin
certainwaysbutalsoargue,likeDorothyHodgesandSherylMcCurdythatthey
produce,reproduce,andtransformgenderrepresentationsandrelationsandthat
thecumulativeeffectoftheiractions,largeandsmall,istoshiftrelationsofpower,
andtherebyreconfiguregenderrelationsandrepresentations(16). Theironyof
HeartofDarknessisthatalthoughConradandMarlowreducetheMistressandthe
Intendedtosymbolsinordertocontainthem,thefemalecharactersendup
symbolizingnotonlytheimpossibilityanddisruptionofcolonialbinaries,butalso
powerfularchetypesof femalepower.

FoundationsandFaults:CriticalScholarshiponHeartofDarkness
HeartofDarkness, thoughashortnovella,hasinspiredoveracenturyof
scholarlycriticism,andthepatternsofthatcriticismhavevariedgreatlyoverthe
years.Uponpublicationin1899,HeartofDarknesswasgenerallypraisedby
reviewersandcritics,butlargelyfellintoobscurityforthenextseveraldecades.Inthe
1930sand1940s,however,ConradenjoyedasortofrevivalwhenM.C.Bradbrook
andF.R.LeavisproclaimedHeartofDarknesstobeoneofthegreatworksofthe
Westernliterarycanon,andConradsnovellahasmaintainedthisloftyposition.In
fact,inthe1960s,LionelTrillingregardedHeartofDarknessasthequintessentially
moderntext(Tredell9).4
WhileHeartofDarknesscontinuedtogaincriticalmomentumlaterinthe
twentiethcentury,anewtypeofcriticalperspectiveonthenovellaarose,onewhich
denouncedtheracismandimperialismthatConradsworkseemedtoespouse.
Postcolonial,feminist,andMarxistcriticsalikejoinedindisparagingthetexts
treatmentofAfricansandwomen(and,ofcourse,Africanwomen).Mythesisfollows
mostcloselythetenetsofthispostcolonialandfeministliterarycriticism,foritisno
secretthatConradsnovella,anacceptedadditiontotheWesternliterarycanon,
harborsmanyracist,sexist,andimperialistovertones.
Oneoftheleadingliterarycriticstodenouncethecolonizingaspectsof Heart
ofDarknesswasauthorChinuaAchebe,whoattackedJosephConradforwritingan

ContemporariesofTrillingincludeEloiseKnappHayandJ.HillisMiller,whodiscussthenovels
critiqueofimperialismanditstreatmentofnihilism,respectively.Inaddition,leadingscholars
predatingTrillingetal.areRaymondWilliamsandAlbertJ.Guerard,whoanalyzethenovelsform
andmetaphorbutwholargelyignoresocialandhistoricalcontext.

overtlyracisttextwhichunderwritesanimperialistagenda.Achebedescribesthe
conventionofmakingAfrica(ns)darkandforbiddinginhisessay,AnImageof
Africa:RacisminConradsHeartofDarkness,arguingthatConradsnovella
projectstheimageofAfricaastheotherworld,theantithesisofEuropeand
thereforeofcivilization(Achebe252).AchebeastutelypositsthatConradchose
Africaasalocationforfantasticalandhorrifyingeventsbecausehis(racist)audience
wouldreadilyacceptchaosanddarknessifitcamefromthecontinentofAfrica.
AccordingtoAchebe,Conradchosetheroleofpurveyorofcomfortingmyths,and
thesemythspertainnotonlytoAfricabuttotheAfricanwomanaswell(Achebe253).
HeclaimsthatConradspendstimedescribingtheMistressfortworeasons:[f]irst,
sheisinherplaceandsocanwinConradsspecialbrandofapprovalandsecond,she
fulfillsastructuralrequirementofthestory:asavagecounterparttotherefined,
Europeanwomanwhowillstepforthattheendofthestory(Achebe255). Iwill
discussbothofAchebescontentionsfurtherinmythesis,butIchallengehisclaimof
theauthorsbestowalofhumanexpressiontotheone[TheIntended]andthe
withholdingofitfromtheother[theMistress](Achebe255).Achebemay becorrect
inthatConrad(andMarlow)donotbestowtheMistresswithhumanexpression,yet
aclosereadingofherinteractionswiththecolonizersrevealsagreatdealofagency
andautonomy.5
ChinuaAchebeisnottheonlycritictounderestimatethevolitionthat
Conradswomendisplay.Inhergroundbreakingarticle,TheWomenDoNotTravel:
Gender,Difference,andIncommensurabilityinConradsHeartofDarkness,
5

SeePatrickBrantlingerandAndrVoilaetal.forasimilarperspective.

GabrielleMacIntiredescribesthewomenaspowerless,sedentary,stationary,and
confinedtotheirownterritories:languagewhichis,initself,veryconfining(2589).
NinaStraussusesthesamenegativelanguageinherwork,claimingthattheAfrican
womansimage,thoughvisuallyfull,isphysicallyvoidandnearlyinhumanforitis
explicitlyalliedwiththatabominabledarknessdescribedbyMarlow(208). While
StraussiscorrecttopointouttheconnectionbetweentheMistressanddarkness(a
colonialistlinkwhichIwillfurtherdiscussinChapter Three),sheforgetsthecrucial
factthatthisishowtheMistressisdescribedbyMarlow.Thepointofmythesisis
torevealthewomensimportancedespitesexistandracistnarration.Thisthesis
directlyarguesagainstStrausssstatementthatConradstextoffersnowomens
voice...tothereader(208).
IncontrasttoStraussandMacIntire,RitaBodegivesquiteadifferent
interpretationof HeartofDarkness,onewhichexposesanabundanceofwomens
voices.Shecontendsthatthoughcriticismhasoftenfocusedonthethemeof
brotherhood,specificallybetweenMarlowandKurtz,acarefulreadercanfindthe
bondsofsisterhoodwithinthenovella(Bode20).Inheressay,TheyShouldBe
OutOfIt:TheWomenof HeartofDarkness,Bodewritesabouthowthewomen
alsoformsignificantreflectionsofeachother,andhowinthisway,theyformakind
ofsisterhoodinwhicheachfemaleseemstosupportandcomplementtheintentsofthe
others(Bode20). TheMistressandtheIntendedmayformconnections,andindeed
sometimesserveasreflectionsofeachother,yetthesetiesarefoundsolelyin
literarydevicesandnotinthewomensactions.Bodesarticleimpliesaconscious
sisterhoodbetweenthetwofemalecharacterswhen,infact,theyareseparatedbynot
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geography,butalsoraceandclass.Bodesoptimismaboutthewomensrolesis
encouraging,butthisthesislookstofindmorenuanced,textuallybasedexamplesof
agencyandpowerwithintheMistressandtheIntended.
WhileIamnotaloneinlookingcloseratthefemalecharacterswithin Heartof
Darkness,mythesisdiffersfrompreviousscholarshipinthatIgrantboththeMistress
andtheIntendedagency.Iarguethatthisagencyisevidentthroughthewomens
actions,andthroughMarlowsinabilitytokeeplightnessanddarknessseparate(such
aswhenthesupposedlypure,whiteIntendedissurroundedbydarkness).Many
critics,fromChinuaAchebetoJohannaM.Smith,freelyacknowledgethepowerof
theAfricanwomaninConradsshortstory,butrarelydothey mentiontheIntendeds
roleinthestory.Infact,asisthecasewithIanWattsHeartofDarknessand
NineteenthCenturyThought,scholarstendtoexplainawaytheIntendedspassivity
byassertingthatsheisconfinedtoherdomesticsphere,andtherefore,cannotbe
expectedtoplayanactiverole.
OneexampleofthiscriticalpatternsolelydiscussingtheMistressis
evidentintheessay,HeartofDarkness:AntiImperialism,Racism,or
Impressionism?byPatrickBrantlinger.HearguesthatKurtzssuperbandsavage
mistress,althoughdescribedinglowingdetail,isgivennovoice,butinspiteofthis
[]she,atleast,entertainednoillusionsaboutKurtzoraboutimperialism(401). In
statingthatshe,atleast,entertainednoillusions,Brantlingerimpliestheseeming
naiveteofKurtzsfiancandthewayinwhichMarlowsheltersher,withoutinfact
mentioningtheIntendedatall.Additionally,AndrVoilaetal.devoteanentirearticle
onlytotheAfricanwoman,inwhichtheyclaimthatsheisaBlackAthenainthe
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HeartofDarkness.Theauthorsofferclosereadingsofthepassagesconcerningthe
Mistress,arguingthattheparagraphsdevotedtothecharacterdonotpresentastatic
portraitbutakindofcompresseddrama(Voilaetal.164). Theaboveauthorshave
undoubtedlyimprovedtheliteraryanalysisof HeartofDarknessbyrecognizingthe
MistresssagencyandpioneeringastudyintothewomenofConradsnovella.Where
theyfallshort,however,isindiscussingthemultifacetedwaysinwhichboththe
MistressandtheIntendedresistMarlowsmisogynisticnarration.Thepointofthis
thesisisnotsimplytocritiqueHeartofDarknessforitspatriarchalandracist
depictionsofthefemalecharacters,butrather,tofocusonhowdisenfranchised
womencanrepresent,speak,andact forthemselves,despiteoppressiveconditions
(MarangolyGeorge216).

FeministFrameworks
Whilemanyscholarshaveexploredthethemes,characters,symbols,and
significanceof HeartofDarkness,stillothershavestruggledwiththedifficultiesof
evenapproachingcolonial,masculinecenteredliterature.Feministliterarytheory,asa
schoolofcriticism,beganinthe1960sasastudyofhowpatriarchaltexts,through
masculinelanguage,methods,andsubjectmatter,tendtoalienatefemalereadersand
scholars.Precedingthefeministliterarymovement,VirginiaWoolf,inARoomof
OnesOwn,reflectedontheinherentcontradictionofwomanreader/writer
approachingpatriarchaltexts.AuthorssuchasKateMillettseizeduponthisfeminist
foundationandquestionedhowawomanreadercouldbegintorelatetomasculinist
workslikeHeartofDarkness,whenthemaincharacters,plotline,andeven
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metaphorsfocussolelyonmen.Inresponsetosuchobstacles,scholarslikeSandra
GilbertandSusanGubarcreatedtheirown feministcenteredcriticismontraditional
texts,revealingpatriarchalandimperialistundercurrentsthatpreviouscriticsseemto
havemissed. Thegoaloftheseauthorswasnotonlytodeconstructcanonicalworks
butalsotorevealhiddenfemaleempowermentwithinthosesameliterarytexts. Their
aimswereandarethreefold:tocounterconsciousandunconsciouspatriarchal
presuppositions,toexplorewomensliterature,andtoexaminethecontinuing
effectsthatliteratureimposesongeneralsociety(Leitch315).

Ultimately,

feministandpostcolonialscholarsviewConradsworkasatextfraughtwithsexist,
racist,andimperialistthemes,butwhich,forthesereasons,needstobeanalyzed
throughaprogressivelens.IntheessayTooBeautifulAltogether:Patriarchal
Ideologyin HeartofDarkness,JohannaM.Smithdiscussesthedifficultiesand
benefitsofdissectingHeartofDarkness.Smithwrites:
Astoryaboutmanlyadventurenarratedandwrittenbyaman,Heartof
Darknessmightseemanunpropitioussubjectforfeministcriticism...
however,afeministapproachtoConradsstoryofcolonizingcan
interrogateitscomplexinterrelationofpatriarchalandimperialist
ideologies.ByexaminingthewomeninMarlowsnarrative,wecan
identifythepatriarchalimperialistblendthatrequiresthekindsof
womenhecreates.(Smith180)
Inthisoneparagraph,Smithdeftlyidentifiesthelimitationsimposedonboththe
criticsandConradsfemalecharacters.Becausethenovellaisbothwrittenand
narratedbymen,theMistressandtheIntendedseemtobe trappedinalimitingand
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patriarchalworld.Despite thefactthatMarlowconstructsthewomenaspolar
oppositestoreinforcethecolonialempire,IarguethattheMistressandtheIntended
threatentodismantlethesestereotypes.Iendeavor,likeSmith,toidentifythe
patriarchalimperialistblendin HeartofDarknessthattriestokeepthefemale
charactersfirmlyintheirplace,whilealsouncoveringthewomensagency.
Inexpandinguponthewomensrolesin HeartofDarkness,ImirrorRooney,
whoarguesthat[f]eminismthusalwaysinvolvesarewritingoffemininityor
femininitiesoutsideofthestaticwaysinwhichpatriarchyhasdepictedwomen(17,
emphasismine).Evenmoreimportantly,Rooneyclaimsthatfeministliterarytheories
arethecollectiveconversationsoffeministreadersconcerningtheintersectionsof
subjectformationssuchasrace,class,sexuality,andgender,intheworkofliterature
(17). IimplementRooneysperspectiveonfeministliterarycriticisminordertolook
atintersectionaloppressionsin HeartofDarknessspecificallyracism,sexism,and
imperialism andalsotorewritewhatitmeanstobeafemalecharacterinConrads
novel.
Astrongfocusonintersectionalityisimportant,becauseevenafeminist
discussionofliterarywomencaneasilysubsumewomenofallethnicitiesunderthe
bannerof(white,middleclass)Woman.6 AsSpivakassertsinFeminismandCritical
Theory,[w]hatseemsmissing[]isthedimensionofrace(59).Asapostcolonial
feministaswellasawomanofcolor,Spivakcallsforacomplexreadingofliterature
suchasHeartofDarkness,includinganindepthlookintohowit,asatext,reinforces
therhetoricofcolonialism.Inhergroundbreakingessay,ThreeWomensTextsand
6

Leadingfeministscholarswhoexploreintersectionalityandthetendencyforwhitefeministstoignore
racearePatriciaHillCollinsandbellhooks.

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aCritiqueofImperialism,SpivakuncoversthewaysinwhichBritishimperialism
wasinextricablyconnectedtotheliteraturewhichauthorssuchasConradproduced.
Inotherwords,Conrad,asamaleBritishauthor,isactivelyconstructingBritishideals
ofcolonialism,masculinity,andnormalityinHeartofDarkness,whetherconsciously
orunconsciously.
ExploringMarlowsstereotypesoftheMistressandtheIntendedlendsinsight
intocolonialviewsofrace,gender,andclass,particularlyhowintersectionsofthese
socialsignifiersliterallymoldandshapeliterarycharacters.Althoughthetwowomen
arebothmiddletoupperclassintheirrespectivecommunities,theimplicationsof
theirclassstatusesarevastlydifferent.TheIntended,asawhite,Europeanwoman,
largelyconformstotheexpectationsofdomesticity,stayingindoorsandpiningfor
herunfaithfulfianc,whomshebelievesisvaliantlyearningmoneyfortheir
marriage.Laterinthestory,whenKurtzdies,sheisthenrequiredtodressin
mourningforalengthenedperiodoftime,stillconfinedinsideherdimhome.While
theEuropeanmalecolonizerstreattheIntendedasaporcelaindollbecauseofher
class,theAfricanMistresssupperclassdoesnotprovideherthesameluxury,
comfortandprotection.Herjewelry,clothing,andadornmentsuggestthatsheisan
upperclasswoman,ifnotaqueen,amongstherpeople,buttothecolonizerssheis
simplyanotherblackwomantouseandcontrol.7 Itisclear,therefore,thatwhen
colonialpowerisinvolved,raceprejudiceundercutsclassprivilege,andallAfricans
aresubsumedintothecategoryofundesirabledarkness.

JohannaM.SmitharguesthatreadersshouldviewtheMistressasawomanwarriorwithapositionof
poweramonghernativecommunity.

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LikeSpivak,thisthesisencouragesmodernreaderstorealizethat[t]herole
ofliteratureintheproductionofculturalrepresentationshouldnotbeignored
althoughthisfactcontinue[s]tobedisregardedinthereadingofnineteenthcentury
Britishliterature(Spivak,ThreeWomensTexts896). Spivakgoesasfarasto
assertthattheabsenceofapostcolonial,feministlensinliteratureanalysisisthe
continuationoftheimperialistproject,displacedanddispersedintomoremodern
forms(896). Itis,admittedly,aparadoxtoembarkonafeministanalysisofatext
thatisasobviouslypatriarchalandimperialistas HeartofDarkness,butIamnotthe
firsttodoso. GertrudeMianda,inherstudyofgenderandeducationintheBelgian
Congo, arguesthatitispreciselybecausewomenwerekeptonthemarginsofsocial
andpublicdiscourseintheBelgianCongothatwemustbegintowritetheirhistoryby
makinguseofmenswritings.OnlyinthiswaycanweextricateCongolesewomen
fromtherubbishofcolonization(Mianda145).Similarly,inmythesis,Iextricate
thestoriesoftheMistressandtheIntendedeventhoughtheyaresituatedina
predominantlymaleatmosphere.Myanalysisofthemensreactionsto,andfearof,
thewomenisjustastellingasthewomensownactionsandagency.
Thisthesisisanattempttorestatetheimportanceofthesefemalecharactersin
amoreencompassingway.Inmysecondchapter,SketchingtheUncontrollable
Darkness:Colonialism,Power,andSubversioninHeartofDarkness,Ianalyzea
powerfulyetoftenoverlookedsymbolin HeartofDarkness:Kurtzssketchofthe
blindfoldedwomancarryingatorch.Idrawuponscholarshipwhichsuggestsastrong
connectionbetweentheappropriationinvolvedinsketchingportraitsandlandscapes,
andthefurtherappropriationofthelandandpeoplethemselves.Indrawingthe
14

archetypalblindedwoman,IarguethatKurtzisattemptingtocreateaflawlessfigure
ofjustice(mostlikelyanexaggerationoftheIntendedsnaiveteandpurity)toactasa
foiltothedarknessandsavageryheassumeshewillencounterintheCongo.
Ironically,hisdrawingbecomesaconflationoftheMistressandtheIntendedthough
Kurtzstrivestofixastaticdepictionof(white)womanhood,heinfactdepictsa
powerfulcombinationoftheMistresssandtheIntendedscharacteristics.
Additionallyandimportantly,thisonesketchunderminesMarlowscarefulattempts
tokeepthetwowomenseparate,assymbolsforthecolonialempire.
Thethirdchapterofthisthesis,TheUnswervingSteadinessofHerGlance:
RestraintandResistance,centersontheAfricanwoman,orKurtzsMistress.
Literary,feminist,andpostcolonialcriticshaveallacknowledgedherautonomy
withinthestory,buttheiraccountsoftenendafterMarlowsdescriptionofherbody,
dress,andmovements.Myanalysislooksfurtherintothewayinwhichhersteady
movements,unswervingglance,andstrategicsilencearemethodsbywhichshe
resiststhecolonizersgaze.IconcurwithJohannaSmiththattheAfricanwoman
representsasilentwarriorfigure,andwillexpandupontheformidablesilenceand
assertivebodylanguagethattheMistressemploysasresistanceagainsthercolonizers.
Additionally,IlessentheimportanceofMarlowsfameddescriptionoftheMistresss
body,andinsteadfocusonheractions.Oneimportantandtellinginstanceiswhenthe
AfricanwomanapproachesMarlowsshipandthreatensthecolonizerswithher
proximity.Shechallengesthepowerdynamicsthatthecolonizersinsistupon,and
assertsherpresenceasahumanbeingwithautonomy.

15

WhilecriticsmayadmittotheMistressspower,theIntendedlargelyremains
amystery.Sheisofteninvisibleinliteraryscholarship,whichissurprisinggiventhe
volumeofworkthathasbeenwrittenaboutHeartofDarkness.Evenwhen,asI
showedearlier,scholarsdiscusstheMistresssrole,theIntendedisrelegatedtothe
marginsoftheirwork,ifsheismentionedatall.ChapterFour,TooDark
Altogether:MarlowsIntentions,theIntended,andDisruptingDarkness,aimsto
includeherinthestoryofwomensautonomywithin HeartofDarkness,evenifher
powerislessobviousthanthatoftheAfricanwoman.Iwilllargelyfocusmy
attentionontheconcludingsceneofthenovella,inwhichtheIntendedshouseand
visagecontinuestodarkenevenasMarlowstrugglestodepicttheIntendedasa
symbolofwhitenessandlight.ByexaminingwhatIconsidertobesubversive
imageryoflightnessanddarkness,andastrongAfricanistpresence,Iassertthatthe
IntendedbreaksfromMarlowsrestrictivestereotype.Additionally,Iarguethatwhen
sheunknowinglymimicsthepowerfulgesturesoftheAfricanwoman,thisaction
confirmsthepowerthatthetwofemalecharactersexhibitthroughoutHeartof
Darkness.

16

II. SKETCHINGTHEUNCONTROLLABLEDARKNESS:
COLONIALISM,POWER,ANDSUBVERSION

TheOnethatGotAway:KurtzsSketchas(Unintentionally)Subversive
Thereisaseeminglyinsignificantmomentinthebeginningof Heartof
Darknesswhichactuallyrevealsagreatdealabouttheconstruction(andpossible
disruption)ofthefemalecharacters.Marlow,onhiswayintotheBelgianCongoto
meetMr.Kurtz,stopsatatradingpostandfindsanoilsketchbyKurtz. Marlowtells
us:ThenInoticedasmallsketchinoils,onapanel,representingawomandraped
andblindfoldedcarryingalightedtorch.Thebackgroundwassomberalmostblack.
Themovementofthewomanwasstately,andtheeffectofthetorchlightonherface
wassinister(Conrad28). GivenConradsfamedattentiontodetailandsymbolin
HeartofDarknessandothertexts,itissurprisingthatliterarycriticsofteneither
ignoreKurtzssketchoroverlookitassimplyanotherexampleofKurtzsintellect.8
Inthischapter,IanalyzethesketchinoilsasanallegoryaboutthewomeninKurtzs
life,andfurther,asamanifestationofthecolonizersattempttoasserttheir
civilizationoverthesavageryofAfricanjungle.Iarguethat,inanefforttoassert
himselfassuperiortotheeverapproachingdarkness,Kurtzmeantthesketchto
symbolizethefemininityandpurityofhisIntended(inotherwords,thepure
8

TheonlycriticwhoexplicitlydiscussesthesketchinoilsisMarkSexton,whomIwilladdressin
detaillaterinthischapter.

17

womanforwhomheisconqueringAfrica)butthathisdepictionisthwartedbythe
presenceoftheMistressandapowerful,encroachingdarkness.
Kurtzattemptstodepicthisfiance,infact,astheproverbialfigureofJustice,
yethervisagebecomesanamalgamationoftheIntendedandtheMistressinsucha
waythatitdisruptstheempireofcolonialism,whichbuildsitselfupon(false)
oppositionalcategories.9 ThecarefuleffortthatMarlowandtheothermeninthe
novelmaketokeepthetwotypesofwomenseparateisthereforeunderminedinthis
onesketch,whichhighlightsthefactthatthecaricaturesofthesaintlyEuropean
virginandthesensualAfricanwhorearepurelyinventionsofthemasculinistand
imperialistmind.Further,thesketchrepresentstheconflationoftwoworldsthatmust
beseparateinorderforcolonialismtosurvive:thechaotic,darksphereofcolonialism
andthepure,domesticrefuge.Ultimately,Iassertthatthesketchsintegrationand
unityoftheMistressandtheIntended,darknessandlightness,challengesthe
colonizersbinaries,andsymbolicallythreatensthemensmasculineandimperialist
control.

Con/Artistry
Ahistoriclookatthesignificanceofcolonialismandsketchingshedsagreat
dealoflightuponKurtzsshadowysketchofthefemalefigure. Accordingtothe
OxfordEnglish Dictionary,thewordsketchoriginatedinthe17th centuryfromthe
Germanwordskizze,meaningdoneormadeoffhand. Thewordsooncameto
9

Inotherwords,Imaintainthroughoutthisthesisthattheideologyofcolonialismisdependentupon
oppositesandhierarchies:lightnessoverdarkness,whitenessoverblackness,(supposed)civilization
over(supposed)savagery.Inthisway,imperialistshavehistoricallyjustifiedtheirdominationover
peoplesandlandswhichtheyconsiderinferior,accordingtoWesternbinaries.

18

meananabbreviateddrawingofalargerworkofart.Artistsoftenmadesketchesin
ordertosolicitfinancialassistancefromwealthycitizenswhowouldthenpayforthe
piecetobecompleted,althoughasketchinoilssuchasKurtzswouldsometimes
standalone.Inparticular,asketchinoilswasanaptmediumfortravelersand
colonists,fortheimmediateandabbreviatednatureofthesketchlentitselftoquick
portrayalsofexoticplants,landscapesandpeoplesalike.
Seenintherelativelyinnocuouscontextofart,thesketchin HeartofDarkness
mayseemtofitintoMarkSextonsreadingofthepassage,whichdepictstheKurtzas
aRenaissanceman,amanofsignificantinnercomplexity(387). InSextonsview,
thefactthatKurtzcreatedasketchinoilsisevidenceofhisintellectualandartistic
capacities,aperspectivewhichseemstomirrortheunwarrantedadmirationthatthe
othercolonizersin HeartofDarknessbestowuponKurtz. Thisthesistakesamore
cynicalviewofKurtzsartistry,forwhen seenthroughthelensofcolonialism,the
sketchinoilshasanentirelydifferentandmoreominousmeaning.Giventhelarger
themesofsexism,colonialismandcontrolin HeartofDarkness,Kurtzssketchisan
attempttodepict(theIntendedas)theperfectwoman:onewhoisblindfoldedand,as
Sextonnotes,offeringlightagainstdarkness,butherself unabletoseethelightshe
offers(387).UnfortunatelyforKurtz(andforMarlow),hedoesnotsucceedin
creatingthisidealimageandinsteadendsupdrawingacombinationofhiscurrent
fiancandhisfuturemistress.10 ThearchetypesKurtzisattemptingtocontrol,to
narrateintoaproscribedspace,ultimatelydisrupthisperceivedauthorityoverthe
women,theAfricans,andtheCongoitself.
10

Admittedly,Kurtzhasnotyetmetthe Africanwomanwhenhedrawshissketchinoils,butIargue
thatherembodimentofthepowerfulAfricandarknessseepsintohissketchnonetheless.

19

OriginsandMeanings
Giventheintimateconnectionbetweenexpressionthroughartandthrough
words,thelinguisticbackgroundofthesketchinoils,includingitsdenotationsand
connotations,isimportant. ThefirstdefinitiontheOxfordEnglishDictionarygivesis
aroughdrawingor delineation ofsomething,givingtheprominentfeatureswithout
thedetail(Sketch,def.1a).Itisimportanttonotethat,althoughdelineation
oftensignifiestheactofdescribingorportraying,italsoimpliesthecreationof
boundaries.Anothersynonymofdelineateistodemarcate,whichdenotes
markingboundariesandcreatingimpassablelinesbetweencolonizerandcolonized.
Onemightargue,inthecontextofcolonialism,thatsketchingisasmuchabout
claimingterritoryandrestrictingpeoplesasitisaboutartisticexpression.
Additionally,asketchinoilsnecessarilyinvolvesshowingthemajorfeaturesofthe
objectofstudywithoutincludingimportantdetailsinessence,colonizerslikeKurtz
couldsketchwhattheywishedtorepresent,whetherornotthisoutlinereflected
reality.
Throughouttheageofimperialism,sketcheswereoftenamethodof
documentingnewlandsandterritories,aswellasdrawingnativepeoplesinsucha
waythatitjustifiedthecolonizerscivilizingpresence. Inhisintriguingessay,
ThePoweroftheEnglishNineteenthCenturyVisualandVerbal Sketch:
Appropriation,Discipline,Mastery,RichardShadescribestherulesandnorms
surroundingsketching:

20

whenhumansubjectsweretobesketched,lateeighteenthand
nineteenthcenturydrawingmanualsassistedin naturalizinga
differentialofpowerbetweenthesketcherandthesubjectsketched:
theformernecessarilyandnaturallyoccupiesthepositionofnarrative,
representative,andappropriativeagency,whilethelatterremainsthe
objectofscrutiny.(Sha82)
Kurtzindeedassumesauthorityandagencyincreatinghissketch,forthesubjectheis
drawingisnotevenpresent.AsMarlowlatertellsus,Kurtzusesasmallportraitof
hisIntendedtobeginhissketch,whichasitturnsout,representsnotjustthefiance
herself,butanidealizedimage:ablindfoldedfigureholdingalightintothedarkness.
Inhisstudy,Shaseesthecolonialsketchasnotjustanotherpieceofart,butas
apotentsymbolofforcedpowerdifferentials.Hearguesthatsketchingnecessarily
involvesappropriation:ofpoweraswellasofthepeopleandobjectsbeingdrawn.
AccordingtoSha,itisnoaccidentthatanumberoftheauthorsofthesemanualsalso
publishedforeignsketchespromotingcolonialism(Sha85). EventhoughShadoes
notrelatehisfindingstoJosephConradsnovella,histheoriesdirectlydescribe
Kurtzsauthorshipofbothhisreport,ormanual,andhissketchinoils.
RichardShaisnottheonlyauthortodiscusssketchinganditsrelationto
powerMaryLouisePrattsbook, TravelWritingandTransculturation,explainsthe
processthroughwhichjournals,sketches,andotherformsoftravelwritingbecame,in
Shaswords,colonialnarrativesoflegitimacy(Sha85).Prattevengoesasfarasto
saythattravelwritingbecameawayofdefiningnotonlytheOther,buttheEuropean
Selfaswell:Bordersandall,theentitycalledEuropewasconstructedfromthe
21

outsideinasmuchasfromtheinsideout(Pratt6).LarryLandrumcapitalizesupon
thisideainordertoillustratetheEuropeanfearoffindingtoomuchsimilarity
betweenthemselvesandthenativestheysoughttoexploit.Inordertoabatethisfear,
travelwritinganddepictions(inLandrumsstudy,mainlymissionaryjournals)were
recordedinordertodemarcateclearlinesbetweenthecolonizerandthecolonized.In
otherwords,Europeancolonizers,includingKurtzandMarlow,wereobsessedwith
construct[ing]imagesofdifference,bothbetweenAfricansandEuropeans,andmen
andwomen (Landrum 234).
Thoughjournalsandtravelwritingsareobviouslydealingwithwritten
narration,sketchessuchasKurtzswereoftenincludedwithinjournalsand
handbooks,andheldswayoftheirown.Shawritesthatsketchingfacilitatedthe
takingofviews,which...legitimatedthedominationofwomen,theenclosureof
commonland,andcolonialimperialism(Sha73). Kurtzssketchexhibitstwoof
thesedominations,bothoftheBelgianCongoandofwomen(hisappropriationofthe
Intendedasasymbolofcolonialpurity).Infact,Kurtztriestousethedominationof
thewomeninhislifetojustifyhiscolonialdominion.

Intentionsand(Mis)Takes
IntheOxfordEnglishDictionary,onedefinitionofasketchreadsthatitis
especially ... intended toserveasthebasisof amorefinishedpicture(Sketch,
def.1a).Although IdonotproposeadirectcorrelationbetweentheOxfordEnglish
DictionaryandJosephConradsHeartofDarkness, theuseofintendedinboth
textsiscertainlyinteresting.Undoubtedly,Conradisplayinguponvariationsofthe
22

wordintendedthroughoutHeartofDarkness,themostliteraldescribingKurtzs
fiance(onewhoisaffianced)andthemostabstractconnotationbeingapersons
ultimateaimorgoal(whatisintended,orinanotherform,onesintention).Ifasketch
issomethingintendedasaroughdraftofafinishedpicture,couldnotKurtzs
sketchinoilsbeintendedtorepresenttheIntended?Inotherwords,ishissketchin
oilsablueprintofsortsforapictureofpurityandofcivilization,theproverbialfigure
ofjustice?
IgroundmysuspicionsaboutthesketchinoilsbyexaminingKurtzs(and,to
anextent,Marlows)idealization/idolizationofhisIntended,asshownintheportrait
thatKurtzbestowsuponMarlow.UponKurtzsdeath,Marlowexaminestheletters
andsmallphotographthatKurtzhadgivenhim,andisintriguedtofindthevisageof
KurtzsmysticalIntended. ThroughouthisexperiencesintheBelgianCongo,
MarlowhasheardKurtztalkingabouthisfianceasif shewereaparticularly
beautifulandspecialpossessionofhisMyIntended,mystation,mycareer,my
ideas(Conrad67)andinhisstudyofherportrait,Marlowfallsintoasimilar
thoughtprocess.Whilegazinguponherportrait,hethinkstohimself that[s]he
seemedreadytolistenwithoutmentalreservation,withoutsuspicion,withouta
thoughtforherself(Conrad71). ThiswayofviewingtheIntendednegatesany
agencyorindependentthoughtthatshemayhave,andcategorizesherasasilent
martyr.Marlowsgazingalsoimpliesthathe,likeKurtz,hasownershipoverthe
Intended.Byinterpretingherportraitasasymbolofherpassivity,Marlowassumes
theroleoftheviewerwhiletheIntendedissimplyalovelypieceofart.Ineffect,this
isKurtzstreatmentofherwhenheattemptstosketchherasthefigureofJusticethe
23

IntendedissilentandsoKurtz(andMarlow)narratemeaningsandproject
meaningfulnessontoherimage.
Further,throughaclosereadingofthepassage,onecangleanimplications
thattheIntendedspurelooksandpassivedemeanoraretheoriginalbasisforthe
sketchinoils.Marlowdetailsherportrait,saying:ShestruckmeasbeautifulI
meanshehadabeautifulexpression.Iknowthatthesunlightcanbemadetolietoo,
yetonefeltthatnomanipulationoflightandposecouldhaveconveyedthedelicate
shadeoftruthfulnessuponthosefeatures(Conrad71). NotonlydoesMarlowequate
(white)beautyandproperpassivitywithhonesty,buthisemphasisontheIntendeds
truthfulnessisverysimilartothewomandrapedandblindfolded,carryingatorch
inKurtzssketch.Thiswoman,drapedandcarryingatorch,isadirectreplicationof
proverbialimagesofjustice,whoaretypicallyblindfoldedwomenwearingtogasand
carryingtorches,orinsomeinstances,asetofscales.Itisalsoimportanttonotethat,
insomemanuscriptsof HeartofDarkness,thereisthephrase,thatfaceonpaper
seemedtobeareflection oftruthitself(Conrad71,emphasismine).Thisstatement
thattheIntendedistheembodimentoftruthtoKurtzandMarlowfurtheridentifies
herasthewomaninKurtzssketch.
AlthoughmyargumentdepartsdecidedlyfromSextonsinterpretationofthe
sketchinoils,hispositiononKurtzsfianceabetsmyclaims.Sextonwrites,[w]e
seeherethe transformationoftheIntendedintoafigurecloselyresemblingtheonein
Kurtzssketch(390).Hegoesontosaythat,assuch,sherepresentstoMarlowa
visionsimilartothatfirstrecordedinthesketchbyKurtzaface,blindtomany
things,mostobviouslytothetruenatureandexperienceofKurtz(Sexton390). This
24

juxtapositionbetweentheIntendedstruthfulnessandherblindness/navetis
reflectedinKurtzssketch.HewishestoshowhisIntendedasonewhoprovidestruth
andlight,butonlytothemeninthenovella,forbothMarlowandKurtzneeda
womanwhoactswithoutathoughtforherself(Conrad71). Inhissketch,then,
KurtzcanimmortalizetheIntended,makingherintoanidolofjusticeandtruth,
withouthavingtoconsiderherasarealpersonwithneeds,thoughtsanddesires.Ina
sense,KurtzandhisfellowcolonizersneedthesymboloftheIntended(butnotthe
Intendedherself)asabeaconofwhitenessandlightness.Iarguethatthisattemptto
representtheIntendedasamythicalfigureoridolisKurtzs(failed)attempttoshield
himselfagainsttheencroachingdarkness.
Interestingly,Kurtzcannotescapethisdarkness,forthesketchinoilsbecomes
acombination oflightnessanddarkness,theIntendedandtheMistress,which
destabilizesthepowerdifferentialinhissketch.JustlikewhenMarlowvisitsthe
Intendedshouseandtheroomisgrowingdarker,soisthesketchdarkerthanKurtz
intended(Conrad73). Thebackgroundofthesketchissomberalmostblack,
makingtheeffectofthetorchlightonherfacesinister(Conrad28). Thetorchthe
womanisholding,then,isnolongeracomfortinglightinthedarkness,butaglimmer
whichmakesthedarknessseemevenblacker.Thesignificanceofthedarknessisnot
tobeunderestimated,forKurtzandMarlowtrytoescapetheperceiveddarknessof
Africa(ns)throughoutthenovella.
Evenmoreimportantthanthecombinationofdarknessandlightisthe
presenceoftheAfricanMistresswithinthesketch.WhenMarlowsaysthatthe
movementofthewomanwasstately,hisdescriptionunintentionallyhighlightsthe
25

factthatthefemalefigurenotonlyrepresentstheIntended,buttheMistressaswell
(Conrad28).In oneofthefewbutpowerfuldescriptionsoftheAfricanwoman,
Marlowclaimsthattherewassomethingominousandstatelyinherdeliberate
progress(Conrad60,emphasismine).Notonlyisthewordstatelyrepeatedly
appliedtotheMistress(sometimesinsynonyms,suchasmeasuredsteps),buttothe
colonizers,shecomestoembodythethreateningdarknessofthejungle.In
unmistakablelanguage,MarlowdescribeshisencounterwiththeMistress,andhow
thehushthathadfallensuddenlyuponthewholesorrowfulland,theimmense
wilderness,[as]thecolossalbodyofthefecundandmysteriouslifeseemedtolookat
her,pensive,asthoughithadbeenlookingatitsowntenebrousandpassionatesoul
(Conrad60).
ThisconflationoftheMistresswiththesurroundingwildernessalsoexplains
why,inthesketch,theeffectofthetorchlightonthewomansfacewassinister
(Conrad28).Datingbacktothefifteenthcentury,thewordsinisterhasbeenusedto
meancorrupt,evil,badandbase(Sinister). TheLatinrootofthewordis
sinistre,meaningleftorlefthanded,whichtotheRomanstranslatedintoerring
erroneousastrayfromtherightpath(Sinister,def.4c).Onecanobserveinthese
oppositionalcategoriesleftandright,badandgoodthesamemindsetthatthe
colonizershaveinexploring/conqueringthedarkcontinent. Tothem,theirrightto
theAfricanlandandpeopleisindisputable,duetothesinisteraspectsoftheCongo.
GivenanotherdefinitionforsinisterOfactions,practices...underhand
darkitisevenmoreobviousthattocallanelementsinisterinKurtzssketchis
torecognizeitaspartofthevastAfricandarkness,andcertainlynotasatypical
26

characteristicoftheIntended(Sinister,def.3). Inaddition,alloftheabove
meaningsofsinisterarealsosimilartothewordominous,whichMarlowexplicitly
usestodescribetheMistress(ominousandstately).WhenMarlownoticesthe
sinistereffectofthetorchlightonthefemalefiguresface,then,ithighlightsthe
portraitssubversiveembodimentofboththeMistressandtheIntended.RitaBode
describesthisambiguouslightnessanddarknessasaformof chiaroscuro,oflightness
anddarknessemphasizingandplayingoffoneanother.Shearguesthatthe
presentationofthesewomensuggestsastrongassociationwithalightthatturnsinto
darknesstheyrepresentarealminwhichlightanddarknessbecomeinterchangeable,
inwhichlightanddarknessareshifting,ambiguousentities(Bode312).This
shiftinglightnessanddarkness,soopposedtothetypicalwhite/blackbinary,isone
explanationastowhyKurtzabandonshissketchinoils.Heleavesthesketchbehind
ashejourneysfurtherintotheCongo,signifyingthatithadbecomeasourceof
disturbanceratherthancomfort.

KeepingUp(Imperial)Appearances:Sketching,Starching,andOtherRituals
AsimportantasitistoanalyzeHeartofDarknessitself,itisequallyas
importanttoreadbetweenthelines,sotospeak,inordertogainabetter
understandingofthecolonizingmindset.ThefailureofKurtzssketchinoilsto
representhisideal(ized)womanwouldnotbesignificantifnotforthefactthatthe
sketchis,itself,symbolicofagreaterneedforhighart. AsKurtzjourneysdeeper
intotheAfricanCongo,itseemsimperativeforhimtoasserthishighmindedness
throughmakingart,whetheritisinthetraditionalsense(thesketchinoils)orinhis
27

later,macabreartisticmanifestations.11 Similarly,Kurtzscontemporary,the
companyaccountant,assertshisowncivilizationandseparatenessbydressingin
whiteclothingandmakinganativelaundresscarryouthiswhitesuperiority,
exhibitedthroughfashion.
MarkSextonnotesKurtzsartistictendencies,butneglectstoseetheemerging
psychosisbehindthem.HearguesthatthesketchrevealsKurtztobeaRenaissance
manwithindepththoughtprocessesandexpressionsinotherwords,someonewho
hasaprofoundsenseoflifescomplexity(Sexton388).Sextonperceivesthe
multifacetednatureofthefemalefigurebutexplainsawaythisambiguityassimply
anotherexampleofKurtzsbrilliance.HelaudsKurtz,writing,theparadoxical
subjectofthesketchsuggestsamindthatseekstograspandinterpretexperience
(Sexton387).Conversely,inmyanalysis,Kurtzsattemptatart,throughthesketchin
oils,evidenceshiscompulsiveneedtoactcivilizedinunfamiliarterritory.
Consequently,whenthissketchbecomesanamalgamationofthebinariesKurtzis
tryingtokeepseparate,heabandonsthesketchinoils.
Kurtzsbehaviorismarkedlysimilartothechiefaccountant,whomConrad
devotesalengthyamountoftexttodescribingandsatirizing.Icompareandcontrast
Kurtzandtheaccountantinordertoshowhowbothmenperformritualizedbehaviors
whenconfrontedwithasavageculturewhichtheyconsiderbeneaththem.To
justifytheircolonialpresenceamongtheAfricans,bothKurtzandtheaccountant
mustasserttheirsuperiority,andtodothis,theymustcreateboundaries(delineate
anddemarcate)betweenthemselvesandthenatives.InKurtzscase,hebeginswith
11

HereIamreferringtotheshrunkenheadsliningthepathwaytoKurtzshut,whichIlaterdiscussas
anotherformofcolonialornamentation.

28

hissketchinoilstheaccountantsart,ontheotherhand,manifestsitselfinhis
choiceofclothing.
Thechiefaccountantisaminorcharacterin HeartofDarkness,yethis
portrayaloffersaglimpseintothefutilityandforcednecessityofkeepingup
appearances.Marlowencountersthismanearlyinhisjourney,andisbothshocked
andamazedathispainstakingattire.Marlownarrates:
WhennearthebuildingsImetawhitemaninsuchanunexpected
eleganceofgetupthatinthefirstmomentItookhimforasortof
vision.Isawahigh,starchedcollar,whitecuffs,alightalpacajacket,
snowytrousers,acleannecktie,andvarnishedboots. Nohat. Hair
parted,brushed,oiled,underagreenlinedparasolheldinabigwhite
hand.Hewasamazingandhadapenholderbehindhisear.(Conrad
21)
Therepetitionofwhitenessandwhiteimageryshowsthecolonizersliteralinsistence
onwhitesupremacy.TheaccountantparadeshisEuropeanclothinginvariousshades
ofwhite,fromhiswhitecuffstohissnowytrousers.Evenhisbigwhitehand
becomespartoftheostentatiousdisplayofsupposedsuperiority.Thefactthatthe
accountantselaborateclothingisextremelyimpracticalinthetropicalclimateadds
evenmoreaestheticemphasis:heassertshiswealthandstaturethroughdisplayinghis
frivolousfashionwhilethenativesstarve.
OnemightexpectthecynicalMarlow,uponseeingthisabsurdvision,to
denouncetheaccountantspettiness,giventheoverwhelmingpovertyofthenatives
and,morepractically,theoppressiveAfricanheat. Nevertheless,Marlowsays,I
29

respectedthefellow.Yes.Irespectedhiscollars,hisvastcuffs,hisbrushedhair.
Evenfurther,Marlowmakesthegrandclaimthat,inthegreatdemoralisationofthe
landhekeptuphisappearance.Thatsbackbone(Conrad21). Onemustwonderas
towhyMarlowwouldpraiseimpracticalandarrogantattirewhen,atothertimesin
thenovel,helampoonssimilarlylaughablecharacters.Admittedly,FrancesSingh
maintainsthatMarlowemploysthreetypesofresponsestocolonialism:directattack,
ironiccommentary,andmetaphor(Singh269).AcriticsuchasSinghmightpointout
thatMarlowisbeingironicinhispraiseoftheaccountant.Indeed,heissarcastic
towardmanyothercharactersin HeartofDarkness,includingthegeneralmanager
whomhedescribesasapapiermchMephistopheles(Conrad29). Inmyreading,
however,Marlowsrepeatedinsistenceontheaccountantsachievementsof
characteristoomuchforevenironytoexcuse.
Marlowsattitudeintheaccountantscaseis,infact,muchlikethewayin
which,earlyinthenovella,helambastsBelgiancolonialismyetstillarguesfor
another,purer,typeofimperialism.Hebeginsbysayingthat[t]heconquestofthe
earth,whichmostlymeansthetakingitawayfromthosewhohaveadifferent
complexionorslightlyflatternosesthanourselves,isnota prettythingwhenyou
lookintoittoomuch(Conrad10). Thereadermay,atthispoint,beexpecting
Marlowtoindictcolonialismasawhole,sinceheseemssoclosetorealizingthefalse
justificationsforinvadingotherslandandculture.Unfortunately,Marlowcontinues,
claiming,Whatredeemsitistheideaonly.Anideaatthebackofit... anunselfish
beliefintheideasomethingyoucansetup,andbowdown,andofferasacrificeto
(Conrad10).Inthisway,MarlowcriticizestheBelgianivorycompanybutdoesnot,
30

inturn,dispensewiththeideaofcolonialismingeneral.Hemaintainsthattherecould
beautopianversionofimperialism,ifonewouldonlycommitenoughtoit. Inthe
sameway,IarguethatMarlowadmirestheaccountant,perhapsnotfortheclothing
itself,butforthelengthstowhichtheaccountantwillgotodisplayhisart,andhis
colonialpower.
Justastheaccountantviewshisclothingasasortofstatement,evenart,Kurtz
assertshiscivilizationthroughmakinghissketchinoils.Interestingly,thetwomen
areconnectedslightlythroughthefactthattheaccountantisthefirstpersonto
mentionMr.KurtztoMarlow,describinghimasaveryremarkableperson(Conrad
22).Additionally,boththeaccountantandKurtzshowsignsofinsanitywhenthey
suddenlyrevertfromsupposedlogicalthinkingtoaggressiverebukesofthenatives.
Intheaccountantscase,hecandidlysaystoMarlow,Whenonehasgottomake
correctentriesonecomestohatethosesavageshatethemtodeath(Conrad22). In
thisoffhandbutshockingstatement,hisoccupationofworkingwithnumbersand
makingentriesisdrasticallyjuxtaposedagainsthisintensehatredandviolencetoward
theAfricanpeople.Similarly,afterwritingalongreportabouttheimportanceof
livingamongandcivilizingthenatives,Kurtzaddstheviolentpostscript:
Exterminateallthebrutes!(Conrad51). AsisapparentlythroughoutHeartof
Darkness,whenthecolonizersencounteracompletelydifferentandsavageculture,
theyperformhighlyritualizedbehaviorswhichcansoonturntoviolenceandlunacy.
Thesebehaviorsnotonlyservetodifferentiatebetweencolonizerand
colonized,buttheyalsoactasa(re)assertionofmasculinity.Eachtimethecolonizers
createarttodistinguishthemselvesascivilizedinasavageland,theyeitheruse
31

womenassymbols,asinKurtzssketch,orforcewomentohelpthemintheirtasks.
Theaccountantemploysanativelaundress,whomhementionsbrieflybutwhomis
largelyexcludedfromthetext. Thereaderonlylearnsofthiswomanthroughthe
mensconversationwhenMarlowaskstheaccountanthowhekeepsuphis
miraculousappearance,[h]ehadjustthefaintestblushandansweredmodestly,
Ivebeenteachingoneof thenativewomenaboutthestation.Itwasdifficult.She
hadadistasteforthework(Conrad21). Asisclearhere,andasLandrumclaims,
[r]espectforlocalcustomswasnonexistentandEuropeanintruderslikethe
accountantsoughttofosteradependenceamongtheAfricansthatmadethem
susceptibletomanagement(Landrum2389).Inthissituationofthelaundress,the
accountantkeepsherincheckbydemandingthatshelearnaforeignandunnecessary
skill,inordertobuttresshissuperiorityandwhiteness.

ColonialAuthority:ArtasPower
Anevenmoredramaticexampleofcolonialartandritualgonewrongis
evidentintheshrunkenheadsliningKurtzspathway.Theseheadsare,inasense,a
morbidparodyoftheshrubberyandflowerbushesthatmightlinethewalkwayofa
middletoupperclasspersonshouse.Toequatethisadornmenttoaformofupper
classlandscapingmayseemfarfetcheduntilonelookscloselyatthepassageitself,in
whichtherearenumeroushintstowardartistry.Thisart,furthermore,is
representativeofthegeneralartificewhichthecolonizersemploytoseparate
themselvesfromthenatives.Interestingly,Kurtzsmorbidformofart(ifice)is
particularlydestructiveanddeadly,nodoubtbecausehehasagreaterclaimtomake.
32

IncohabitatingwiththeAfricanwomaninhishutandtakingherashislover,Kurtzis
transgressingtheboundaryofraceandclassandisindangerofbecoming
completelyassimilatedintotheAfricanculture.Additionally,hecametotheCongo
specificallyinordertoclimbinstatusandearntheapprovalofhisIntendedsfamily.
Iargue,therefore,thatheconstructsthiswalkwayofviolentartinordertomaintain
hispositionofpower:bothasanupperclasswhitemanandasaruthlesstyrant.
UponseeingtheheadsorwoodenknobsasMarlowfirstbelievesthemto
beMarlowdeclaresthathehadbeenstruckatthedistanceby certainattemptsat
ornamentation,ratherremarkableintheruinousaspectoftheplace(Conrad57).
ThatMarlowcallsthemattemptsatornamentationiscrucialtotheideathatKurtz,
eveninhissickenedanddegradedstate,isstillestablishinghispowerthroughart.
(Inlabelingtheshrunkenheadsascolonialart,however,IamnotexcusingKurtzs
behavior rather,Iamexposingthedepthofthecolonialpowerstruggleevidentinthe
BelgianCongothroughoutHeartofDarkness.)Marlowgoesontodescribethe
roundknobsassymbolic,expressiveandpuzzling,strikinganddisturbing
(Conrad57),languagewhichexplicitlycategorizesthesemacabredecorationsas
artistic.Moreover,theshrunkenheadsaresymbolic,notonlyasornamentation,but
asmarkersofKurtzswhitesupremacyoverthenatives.Inthiscase,thecombination
ofhisambitionforauthoritywithhisneedtocreatehighartisunmistakable,and
hisattemptsatexpressiondirectlycauseandresultfromviolentaggressiontowardthe
nativepeoples.
Justaswhenheisconfrontedwiththechiefaccountant,Marlowsreactionto
thecolonizersritualizedartandpracticesissurprisinglyambivalent.Herelatestohis
33

fellowshipmatesthattheManageroftheBelgianexpeditionsaidafterwardsthatMr.
Kurtzsmethodshisreignofterroroverthenatives,whichincludedthedisplayof
shrunkenheadshadruinedthedistrict(Conrad).Marlowhimself,however,has
noopiniononthatpoint(Conrad57). ForMarlowtohavenoopinioninamatter
soobviouslygrotesqueasKurtzsmethodsistellingofthewayinwhichheexcuses
Kurtzsbehavior.Instead,MarlowemphasizesthatKurtzsimplylackedrestraint:
Iwantyouclearlytounderstandthattherewasnothingexactly
profitableintheseheadsbeingthere.TheyonlyshowedthatMr.Kurtz
lackedrestraintinthegratificationofhisvariouslusts,thattherewas
somethingwantinginhimsomesmallmaterwhichwhenthe
pressingneedarosecouldnotbefoundunderhismagnificent
eloquence.(Conrad57)
IarguethatthisdeficiencyinKurtz,thispressingneed,ishisdoggedattemptto
positionhimselfabovetheAfricansthroughwhatevermeansnecessary,andusually
throughtheuseofwomenassymbols.Whetherwithasketch,afashionstatement,or
eventhroughtheostentatiousdisplayofAfricanvictims,Kurtzandhisfellow
colonizersdesperatelyclingtotheirwhitenessandtheirsuperiority.Thisperspective,
infact,echoesMarlowspreviousstatementsabouttheunselfishbeliefintheidea
ofcolonialism:thatitshouldbesomethingyoucansetup,andbowdown,andoffer
asacrificeto(Conrad10).

34

IllusionsandElusions
AlookintoKurtzsbackgroundmakesitevenmoreapparentthathisartistry
issymbolicforagreatercolonialartifice.MarlowconfidesinhislistenersthatKurtz,
whowasBelgian,alsohadEnglishandFrenchancestry,andallofthesecountries
wereaggressivelyimperialisticEuropeanpowers. Marlowmakesthestatementthat
[a]llEuropecontributedtothemakingofKurtz,andthat,becauseofthis,most
appropriatelytheInternationalSocietyfortheSuppressionofSavageCustomshad
entrustedhimwiththemakingofareportforfutureguidance(Conrad50).Withhis
variedEuropeanconnections,Kurtzisinasensethequintessentialcolonist,andhis
behaviorisjustanotheraspectofhisdutiestotheInternationalSocietyforthe
SuppressionofSavageCustoms.Onemightarguethathissketchinoils,andhis
atrocitiestowardthenatives,areallapartofhiscolonialplanandduty.
ThefactthatKurtzwascommissionedtorecordhisexperiencesintheareais
indicativeofimperialistpracticesofhisday.Itwasthecustomofcolonizersto
documentcrucialfeaturesofthenewlyconqueredlandandpeopleinorderto
formulatefurtherplanstorule.Sketchingwasalsoaformofdocumentation,andwas
perhapsevenmoreimportantbecauseofitsimmediatevisualimpact.Accordingto
theOxfordEnglishDictionary,asketchcanbeabriefaccount,description,or
narrativegivingthemainorimportantfacts.Thesketchofoilswasuniqueinthatit
recordednotKurtzscurrentsurroundings,butasymbolofEuropean
purity/superiority.Still,itwasasmuchanassertionofpowerasthesketchesRichard
Shadiscusses.Bydrawingasketchthatembodiesawhite,pure,andpassivewoman,
KurtzattemptstowardofftheperceiveddarknessoftheAfricanjungle.Thesketch,
35

however,doesnotremainassuchasymbol,andinsteadthedarknessandthe
MistressspresencethreatentodisruptKurtzscontrol.Perhapsthisisbecause[t]he
sketchsobsessionwith powerandinsistentneedtodemarcatelinesbetweenthe
empoweredanddisempowered... indicatestheveryinstabilityofpowerand
possession(Sha92).Inthisway,themarginalizedcaneludeappropriation.

36

III.THEUNSWERVINGSTEADINESSOFHERGLANCE:
RESTRAINTANDRESISTANCE

TheOutsiderWithin:WomensSubversivePresence
Whethertheyaresketchedorgazedat,alludedtoordirectlydescribed,the
womenof HeartofDarknesshaveapervasiveyetlargelyinvisiblepresence.Conrad
affordsthefemalecharacterslittlespacewithinthetext,yettheirsymbolicimportance
remains.InKurtzssketchinoils,elementsofboththeIntendedandtheMistress
convergetothwartKurtzsoriginalimperialistvision,andtheircovertinfluenceis
furtheredevidencedinMarlowsdepictionsoftheMistressandtheIntended.
Interestingly,herepeatedlyinsiststhatthewomenhavenoplacewithinhisstory,and
yettheirvisagesandactionscontinuetoplayanimportantrole.Towardsthe
beginningofthenovella,beforeMarlowembarksonhisquestintotheCongoregion,
hemakesapointedaside:Itsqueerhowoutoftouchwithtruthwomenare!They
liveinaworldoftheirownandtherehasneverbeenanythinglikeitandnevercanbe.
Itistoobeautiful altogether,andiftheyweretosetitupitwouldgotopiecesbefore
sunset(Conrad16).Here,Marlowcriticizeshisaunt,whoencourageshimtogoon
theAfricanexpedition.Heassumesthatsheisnaveaboutthetruedangersawaiting
him,andthereforeclaimsthatsheandallotherwomenliveinanisolated,sheltered
worldoftheirown.Notonlydowomen,accordingtoMarlow,liveinanalternate
37

universethanmen,butthisseparateworldistoobeautifulaltogethertobea
sustainablereality.
Marlowsdismissalofthewomenisimportantbecauseitrevealsboththeways
thewomensagencyisrestrictedandthewaysinwhichtheystillexertinfluenceover
Marlow.Admittedly,tooverstatethepoweroftheMistressandtheIntendedwouldbe
asmuchofamistakeastounderestimatethem.Forasmuchideologicalimportanceas
thefemalecharactersembody,theyhaveverylittlerealauthority.EdwardGeary
elaboratesupontheirdualrestrictionandinfluence,writing:
Thisistheironyintheidealizationofwomen.Womanassymbolisof
centralimportance,theembodimentofthecultureshighestvalues.Yet
womenaspersonsareseverelyrestrictedintheirsphereofactivity
theyare,asMarlowsays,outofit.(Geary501)
Gearysanalysisistruebothofthefictional HeartofDarknessandofthelarger
historicalcontextuponwhichitisbased.Asanappropriatelyfeminineandcloistered
woman,KurtzsIntendedislargelytrappedinperpetualdomesticityandthen
mourning,andasasubjectofcolonialrule,theAfricanwomanisbynomeansfully
autonomous.Evenso,thetwofemalecharactershavegreatideologicalandsymbolic
importance,andthispowercannotbeunderestimatedinanovellawhichfocusesa
greatdealonpsychologyandinternalturmoil.TheAfricanwoman,inparticular,
seemstounderstandherabilitytointimidatethecolonizersandbearsherselfwith
prideandauthority.HerinteractionswithKurtz,Marlowandtheothermen are
interesting,aswellasintegraltoanyanalysisof HeartofDarkness.

38

TheMistressactssimilarlytotheAfricanwomeninnorthernGhanawho,
whenconfrontedwithcolonialrulesofmarriage,usedthesenewrulestofurthertheir
independence.AccordingtoSeanHawkins,[t]heindigenousnotionofwife(pog) had
acknowledgedwomensautonomyandhusbandslackofcontroloverwives,whereas
thecolonialideaofawifeincreasinglyallowedhusbandstoassertownershipthrough
thecourts(134).Yetthesewomendidnotsimplysubmittothesenewlawsof
marriagetheyusedthelawstoleaveabusivepartnersandrunawaywithnew,more
supportivehusbands.Ifoneweretostraightforwardlylookatthesewomens
situation,itmayseemlikethecolonialmarriagelawstookawaytheirautonomy,buta
closerlookrevealsthatthewomenmanipulatedthenewrulestogivethemselvesmore
independenceitisthestoryofeffectiveevasionandprotractedresistanceonthepart
ofwomenthroughtheirchoiceofresidence(Hawkins134).Iseeasimilarlyinspiring
subversionintheMistressfrom HeartofDarkness,forinherownwaysheusesthe
colonizersimperialistassumptionsasaformofresistanceagainstthem,fromtheir
conflationofAfricanwomenandwilderness,totheirfearofthejungle,totheir
apprehensiontowardsilence.
NotlongafterMarlowstatesthatwomenareoutofit,hemakesanother
generalization,butthisonehasmoredisruptiveimplicationsforhistheory.Whenhe
mistakenlymentionsKurtzsIntendedduringhisstorytelling,Marlowloseshistypical
composure.Hestammers,Girl?What!DidImentionagirl?Oh,sheisoutofit
completely.TheythewomenImeanareoutofitshouldbeoutofit.Wemust
helpthemstayinthatbeautifulworldoftheirownlestoursgetsworse(Conrad49).
AnindepthreadingofthisfalteringpassagedemonstratesMarlowsrelationshipwith
39

thewomeninhisstory,onecharacterizedbywariness,suspicion,andattempted
control.Gearyconcurs,writingthat,beneathhisconventionalcondescensiontoward
thewomenin thestory,Marlowrevealsatcrucialmomentsanotherreactionto
women,adeepsenseofmistrustandfear(Geary501).
Inshort,MarlowneedstheMistressandtheIntendedtostayintheirproverbial
placesandwhentheyunexpectedlyenterhisstory,hebecomesuncomfortable.For
example,intheabovepassageMarlowswitchesfromtalkingaboutthegirl(by
whomhemeanstheinfantilizedandsupposedlynaveIntended)towomeningeneral,
claimingfirstthattheyareoutofitandthenthattheyshouldbeandthatmen
musthelpthem(read:makethem)stayintheirshelteredworld.(Onemust
rememberthatthroughoutMarlowsnarration,heisspeakingasamantoagroupof
mencloisteredtogetheronashipthereforeanyinclusivewethatheusessuchas
wemusthelpthemtostayinthatbeautifulworldoftheirownisexclusively
male.)NotonlyareMarlowspointserratic,buthislanguageisjumbledandmuch
lesseloquentthanhisusualstorytelling.Herepeatsthephraseoutofitseveral times
andstumblesoverhiswords,suggestingtoRitaBodeabasicuneasinessthatthe
womenmightpossiblyhaveanexistencebeyondhisinterpretationofthem(Bode
21).12
GabrielleMacIntiretakesthispointevenfurtherinheressayTheWomenDo
NotTravel:Gender,Difference,andIncommensurabilityinConradsHeartof
12

Bodealsogoesasfarastoarguethat,[f]romhistoofaciledismissalofallwomentoanotherrealm
ofperceptionthroughtohisfinalencounterwiththeIntended,Marlowstroubledreactionsfrequently
suggestthesailorsfundamentalfearoffemalepowers. TheAfricanmistressseemstojustifysuch
fears(Bode24).ThischapterwillfurtheranalyzethewaysinwhichtheMistressembodiesthethreat
offemalepowertoMarlowandtheothercolonizers.

40

Darkness.Shehighlightsthefactthat,inemphasizinghowsupposedlyuninvolved
thewomenare,Marlowgivesthemgreaterfocus:hestopsthearticulateflowofhis
yarntorevisehisownterms...Histangentissofilledwithhesitationsanddramatic
caesurasthathisverylanguagebetrayshowunsettlingwomenaretoMarlow'sorder
ofthings(MacIntire2645). Indeed,thecolonialorderofthingsisdependentupon
patriarchyanddualisticideology,includingstrictrolesforwomen.Marlows
insistencethatwomenareoutofit,however,oughttoalertustothefactthatthey
mightbemoreimportanttohisstorythanheallows(MacIntire265).ToniMorrison
arguesthat,whenever[p]atternsofexplosive,disjointed,repetitivelanguageoccur
inWesternstories,theyindicatealossofcontrolinthetextthatisattributedtothe
objectsofitsattentionratherthantothetextsowndynamic(69). Inotherwords,
Marlowsobsessionwithkeepingthewomenunderhisnarrativecontrolbeginsto
showglaringlyinhisdisjointedasideaboutthem,andtheattentionthenshiftsfrom
Marlowssmoothnarrativetothewomenheisattemptingtoexclude.Theactionsand
characterizationoftheMistressandtheIntendedsubverttheusualorder. More
specifically,thischapterlooksattheMistresssuniquelyintersectionalpositionasan
Africanwoman,andhowthispositionalitybothhindersandabetsherresistance.

TheAfricanWomanAs/IstheJungle
Ofcourse,onecannotanalyzethewomeninHeartofDarknesswithout
acknowledgingandexpandingupontheirvastsocial,class,andracialdifferences,for
issuesofgenderareinextricablylinkedwithmattersofraceandculture(Hawthorn
148).WhenMarlowtalksofthewomenbeingoutofit,hemostlymeansthatwhite
41

womenshouldremaininthatbeautifulworldoftheirown.Thereisnosuch
separate,beautifulworldforblackwomensuchasKurtzsMistress,whoare
inevitablyembroiledincolonialconflict.ItistheAfricanwomanslandandpeople
thatarebeingcontrolledandshecanonlyresistcolonialruletoacertaindegree.13 For
everyoppressiontheMistressfaceshowever,sheinturnsubvertstheoppressionand
convertsitintoamodeofresistance.
PadminiMongiaoutlinestherealitiesofbothwomeninherdiscussionof
nativewomenincolonizedareasascomparedtothewhitewivesandfiancesbackin
Europe. Shestates,[n]ativewomenbecomeallegoriesofgeographicalregions,
themselvesrepresentedasfeminine,whicharepenetratedbymalesojournerswhile
[w]hitewomenreflectdomesticsphereswhicharefragile,beautiful,andremoved
fromtheactiveworldofmen(Mongia136).Tobeconflatedwiththelandanddenied
personhoodisdehumanizingforanyone,butfortheMistressherpositionseems
particularlydegradingbecauseofMarlowsnegativedepictionofAfrica.Bram
Dijkstraaccuratelypinpointsthisdepictionasthestoryofaproperlyevolved,
properlygenderorganized,modern,maledominantcivilizationagainsta
preevolutionary,femaledominantworldofanimalpassionsandbrutenature
(Dijkstra148). Indeed,MarlowdescribestheCongoareaasaprehistoric[and
thereforeprimitive]earth ... thatworeanaspectofanunknownplanet,aswellas
anaccursedinheritancefullofprofoundanguishandexcessivetoil(Conrad37).
WhenMarlowseesthenativepeople,heincludestheminthesamecondescending

13

HereIacknowledgethatovertresistancefromtheAfricanwomancouldhavephysicalconsequences,
evendeath.Thisisevidencedbythefactthatshecouldhavebeenshotandkilledsimplyfor
approachingMarlowssteamboat.

42

description,callingthemawhirlofblacklimbs,amassofhandsclapping,offeet
stamping,ofbodiesswaying,ofeyesrollingunderthedroopofheavyandmotionless
foliage... ablackandincomprehensiblefrenzy(Conrad37). Marlowdeniesthese
peopletheirhumanitybynarratingthemasamassofbodypartswhichclosely
resemblethejungle.Awhirlofblacklimbsandbodiesswayingaredescriptions
easilyappliedtotrees,andinfact,directlyafterhetalksofthenatives,Marlow
seamlesslytransitionstothedroopofheavyandmotionlessfoliage.This
connectionbetweentheAfricansandthejungleisevenmoreprevalentinMarlows
laterencounterwiththeAfricanwoman.
Manyliterarycriticsoftenmisconstruethisharshcolonialtropeasasituation
ofcompletepowerlessnessfortheAfricanwoman.Strausswritesabouthowthe
Mistresssimage,thoughvisuallyfull,isphysicallyvoidandnearlyinhumanforitis
explicitlyalliedwiththatabominabledarknessdescribedbyMarlow(Strauss208).
Straussassumesthat,becausetheMistressissodeeplyconnectedwiththedarkness
andthejungle,herrepresentationisoverwhelminglynegative,yettocallherportrayal
nearlyinhumanisanexaggerationandanunderestimation.ItmaybetruethatHeart
ofDarknessdeclaresinnouncertaintermsthatthesoulofAfricaisthesoulofa
womanthisconnection,however,whetherreal,imagined,oracombinationofboth,
ispartoftheMistressspower(Dijkstra148).
Inthecaseof HeartofDarkness,thetypicalcolonialmindsetof seeing
Africans,particularlyAfricanwomen,aspartofthelandbecomesoneofthe
Mistresssstrengths.Arguably,thecolonizers(includingConradandMarlow)are
disparagingtowardthejunglebecausetheyfearthedarknessandperceivethe
43

differentsurroundingsaschaos.Throughheralliancewiththisdarkness,therefore,the
Mistresshasamysteriousholdonthemen.Thisdarkness,furthermore,neednotbe
readasabominableevenifMarlowdescribesitassuchinstead,afeminist
postcolonialcritiquecanreadthedarknessasmultifacetedandcomplex.Morrison
assertsthatblacknessanddarknessareapowerfulanswertothestaticwhitenessin
manyWesterntexts:imagesofblacknesscanbeevil andprotective,rebelliousand
forgiving,fearful anddesirable... Whiteness,alone,ismute,meaningless,
unfathomable,pointless,frozen,veiled,curtained,dreaded,senseless,implacable
(59). NotonlydoesthisreadingofdarknessremovethenegativeconnotationsMarlow
putsontotheMistressandherpeople,butitalsopointstothereasonwhyMarlow
fearstheAfricanwoman.Byassociatingherwiththedarkness,heandthecolonizers
seeherasasymbolofmultiplicityandchaos:theexactoppositeoftheirpreferred
orderliness,stability,andwhiteness.

DominantDarkness
AshisboatmakesitswaythroughtheCongoRiver,Marlownarratesonthe
disquietingatmosphereofthejungle:
Goingupthatriverwasliketravelingbacktotheearliestbeginningsof
theworld,whenvegetationriotedontheearthandthebigtreeswere
kinds.Anemptystream,agreatsilence,animpenetrableforest...You
lostyourwayinthatforestasyouwouldinadesertandbuttedallday
againstshoalstryingtofindthechanneltillyouthoughtyourself

44

bewitchedandcutoffforeverfromeverythingyouhadknownonce
somewherefarawayinanotherexistenceperhaps.(Conrad35)
Onceagain,thereisthelanguageofprimitiveness,ofalackofcivilization,buteven
moreimportantisMarlowsemphasisontheimpenetrableforest.Justtwopages
aftertheabovepassage,Marlowstates,[w]epenetrateddeeperanddeeperintothe
heartofdarkness(Conrad37). Heswitchesbackandforthbetweenimpenetrability
andpenetrability,seeminglyunabletodecipherandthereforefullyconquerthenew,
feminizedterritory.Inaddition,helikenshissurroundingstoanotherexistence,a
placewhereonecaneasilybecomeeternallylost,andwherethegreatsilenceis
omnipresentand,perhaps,evenomnipotent.
OnemightarguethattheAfricanwomanusesthejunglesmysteryandsilence
toundermineMarlowandthecolonizers.Through capitalizingon herassociationwith
thewildernesssurroundingher,theMistressgainspowersofintimidationand
confusion.14 Interestingly,thispowerisgiventotheAfricanwomanbythecolonizers,
forbyconflatingherwithawildernessthatterrifiesthem,theyhaveinessencecreated
theirownfear.Whereastheimperialnarrativeisoftenasimpleoneofmaleforceand
domination,themenin HeartofDarknessfindthemselvesbewildered,ortouse
Marlowsexactword,bewitchedbytheMistressandhersurroundings.Theword
bewitchhasobviousconnotationsof(feminine)danger,foraccordingtotheOxford
EnglishDictionaryitmeanstoaffect(generallyinjuriously)bywitchcraftormagic
(OED). Often,inapatriarchalculture,thepowerofbewitchingisseenasnegativeand
particularlyfeminineindependentwomen,whetherinvolvedwithmagicornot,
14

IpositthattheMistressrealizesthecolonizersfearofsilenceandtheexotic,thereforeinher
measuredwalkandherornamentation,sheemphasizestheirfearsinordertointimidatethem.

45

automaticallybecomewitcheswhilemen,suchasMarlow,aretheperceivedvictims
offemininewiles.
Furthermore,powerfulwomenareoftenassociatedwithevil,showninthe
followingdefinitionof bewitchor fascinate:[t]ocastaspellover... byalooksaid
especiallyofserpents... Todepriveofthepowerofescapeorresistance,asserpents
aresaidtodothroughtheterrorproducedbytheirlookormerelybytheirperceived
presence(Fascinate,def.2a).Theunderlyingconnectionbetweenwomen,
serpents,andevilcannotbedenied,fortheBiblicalprecedentofEveandthesnakeis
aconstantthemethroughoutWesternliterature. Thisconnectionbetweenwomenand
theevilordarksideofnatureisevenmoresignificantinanovellaprimarilytaking
placeinajungleresemblingtheearliestbeginningsoftheworld(Conrad35). The
darkjungleseemstobeadystopianversionoftheGardenofEden,andtheAfrican
womanembodiesnotEve,butthelegendarysuccubusLilith.Eventhewaterisevil,
withtheCongoRiverdescribedasdeadlylikeasnake(Conrad36).Marlow
perceivestheAfricanwomantobecollaboratingwiththejungleandthedeadly
wildlifewithin,creatingaformidablecombination.PartoftheMistresssreactionisto
bewitchandbewilderthecolonizersinessence,herresistanceis[t]odepriveofthe
powerofescapeorresistance(Fascinate,def.2b).
MakingtheMistressintoademonicwomanisnotanewliterarytrope,as
Dijkstraexplainsithasbeenhappeningforcenturies,andtheAfricanwomanisa
typicalexample.Twentiethcenturywritershadmanynegativestereotypesforwomen,
[b]utthemostprevalentofallwastheultimatetemptress,thebestially
beautiful,primitiveAfricanqueen,whomademenlustafterheragainst
46

theirbetterjudgment.Sheheldwithinherselfthepreevolutionary
powersofallthemythicalmonstersandlowerracescombined,and
hencerenderedmenvirtuallydefenselessagainstherintemperate
depredations.(Dijkstra146)
AtthetimethatMarlowseesher,theAfricanwomanhasalreadyensnaredMr.
KurtzandherintoxicatingbeautytemporarilycaptivatesMarlow,explainingthelong
passagehedevotestoherimage.Yetquicklyafterthismoment,Marlowswitchesthe
readersattentionfromtheMistresssbeautytoherconnectionwiththeeviljungle
inthebackground,implyingthatshehasdark,preternaturalpowers. Inthisway,
earlytwentiethcenturycultureattemptedtoneutralizethedangerouseroticappealof
intelligentwomenwhowereselfreliantandsexuallyassertive(Dijkstra129).Conrad
andMarlowarefollowinginthispatriarchalpattern.
Evilandwickedarebothlabelsusedtocondemnthreateningwomen,and
DorothyHodgsonandSherylMcCurdypositthatwickednessisadiscourseof
primarilymasculinepowerthatseekstocontroloroppresswomenbystigmatizing
certainactions,whethernormativeorunconventional(5).Atthesametimeasthis
labelcondemns,italsoservestohighlightthefemininepowertoeffectively
challengepolitical,social,orculturalconstraintsontheirbehavior(Hodgsonand
McCurdy6).In Webster'sFirstNewIntergalacticWickedaryoftheEnglish
Language,authorsMaryDalyandJaneCaputiofferanalternativeviewtoevil
womensuchastheMistress,awayofviewingherthatdisseminatesMarlows
judgmentsbutretainstheMistressspower.TheWickedaryisafeministdictionary
throughwhichDalyandCaputirevealthepatriarchalmeaningsbehindwordssuchas
47

witch,crone,hagandspinster,andprovidealternative,empowered
definitions.Forexample,whileawitchinatraditionallydictionarywouldbeanevil
womanassociatedwithdarkmagic(or,moreoften,awomanwhosimplydidnot
conformtosocietysexpectationsofmarriageandchildbearing),intheWickedarya
witchisdefinedasapowerful,wisewomanconnectedwithnature.Inthesame
manner,thewordspinsterisoftenusedtocondemnolder,unmarriedwoman,
whereastheWickedarydefinesspinsterasawomanconnectedtolarger,cosmic
forcessheisaspinsteronlyintheliteralmeaningofonewhospins,forsheweaves
andspinsthethreadsoflife.TheAfricanwomanembodiesthepowersofawitchor
spinsterwithoutthenegative,evilassociations.AndreVoilaetal evenreadthe
Africanwoman asapersonificationofthewarriorgoddess,Athenatheyexpose
connectionsbetweendescriptionsoftheMistressandcharacteristicsofthearchetypal
Athena(Voila164).Ultimately,theAfricanwomandoescommandacertainawein
herdescriptions,andbothsheandthewildernessrebelagainstthecolonizers.

AfricanQueensandIrrationalFears
Itisinterestingthatthewordbewitchhasbothnegativeandpositive
characteristicsaswellasmeaningtonegativelyinfluenceonebymagic,italsomeans
toattractandholdspellboundbydelightfulqualitiestocharm,enchantandto
attractandretaintheattentionof(aperson)byanirresistibleinfluence(Bewitch,
def.1). BothofthesefacetsofbewitchingcanbeseeninMarlowspassageabout
theMistress.First,heisheldspellboundbyherlooks,andproceedstodepictherin
detail:
48

Andfromrighttoleftalongthelightedshoremovedawildand
gorgeousapparitionofawoman.Shewalkedwithmeasuredsteps,
drapedinstripedandfringedcloths,treadingtheearthproudlywitha
slightjingleandflashofbarbarousornaments.[]bizarrethings,
charms,giftsofwitchmen,thathungabouther,glitteredandtrembled
ateverystep.(Conrad60)
ThereareseveralpositiveaspectstothisdescriptionoftheMistress,suchasthe
measuredandproudwayinwhich shewalks,andhervividandvivacious
ornamentation.Marlowisdually,evensimultaneously,fascinatedandhorrifiedbythis
wildandgorgeousapparitionofawoman.Infact,thewordgorgeoussymbolizes
Marlowssplitattentionswhilegorgeousunequivocallymeansbeautifulorattractive,
therootofthewordisgorge,whichmeanstosatiateagreedyappetite,awordoften
appliedtopredators. WhiletheAfricanwomanisgorgeous,Marlowalsofearsthatshe
willgorgeherselfonthemen,pointingtothestereotypeofthebestiallybeautiful,
primitiveAfricanqueen(Dijkstra146).
AchebestatesthatMarlowsattentiontotheMistressisquiteunexpectedbut
positsthatitservesthedualpurposeofshowinganAfricanwomanwhoisinher
placeandsocanwinConradsspecialbrandofapprovalandofferingasavage
counterparttoKurtzsIntended(Achebe255).Smithmakesasimilarpoint,
expandinguponthewayinwhichMarlowseemstoobjectifytheMistresssbody
throughhisprolongedgaze:[t]hewomansbodyisherecommodified,becomingthe
thingonwhichvalueisdisplayedinaddition,thetusksconnectherwiththe
victimizedjunglebeinginvadedintheCompanysquestforivory(Smith185).Both
49

criticsacknowledgetheMistressspotentialforpowerintheiressays,butthentake
awayanyvolitionshemightdisplay.Smithsessaytouchesontheidea(similarto
Voilaetal)thattheAfricanwomancouldbeawarriororqueenofherpeople,but
emphasizesinsteadMarlowsobjectification,justasAchebefocusesontheMistresss
placeeventhoughheadmitsthatshepresidesoverthestorylikeaformidable
mystery(Achebe255).Itiseasytoassume,fromthecondescendingundercurrentsin
Marlowsdescription,thattheMistressissimplyacommodity,butacloserlookatthe
restofthepassageoffersadifferentandmoreempoweringreading.
ThisthesisreadstheAfricanwomanasafemaleleader,evenaqueenher
ornamentation,charms,andgiftsfromwitchmensignifyherimportancewithinthe
communityandsuggestprecolonialAfricanrulewhichincludedautonomousqueens
andinfluentialqueenmothers(Hanson219).Herauthority,highlythreateningto
thosewhocan onlyseeandcomprehendthepoliticalpowerofmen,isone
explanationastowhyMarlowsmenfearandloathehersomuch(Hanson220).Ina
latersceneinwhichtheMistressattemptstoboardthesteamboat,oneofMarlows
mensays,IfshehadofferedtocomeaboardIreallythinkIwouldhavetriedto
shoother... Ihadbeenriskingmylifeeverydayforthelastfortnighttokeepherout
of[Kurtzs]houseNoitstoomuchforme(Conrad61). Uponreadingthis
statement,onemustwonderwhyoneofMarlowsmenwouldbesointentupon
shootinganunarmedwomansimplyforapproachingtheboat. Inaddition,whywould
heriskhislifetokeepheroutofherlovershouse,whatboundariesishetryingto
defend,andwhatexactlyistoomuchforhim?HollyHanson,authorofQueen
MothersandGoodGovernmentinBuganda:TheLossofWomensPoliticalPowerin
50

NineteenthCenturyEastAfrica,exploresthecomplicatedinteractionsbetween
femalerulersinAfricaandmale,Europeancolonizers.Sheexplainsthatqueen
motherswerebanishedandactivitiesofspiritmediumsthatinvolvedwhole
communitieswerecriminalizedbecauseEuropeancolonizersfearedAfrican
womensauthority(Hanson220).15 Thesamedistrustanddisgustofwomenspower
occursin HeartofDarkness,withsevereconsequencesforanywomanwhoattempts
todirectlytransgressherboundaries.TheAfricanwoman,therefore,doesnotovertly
defyhercolonizers,butsubvertsthemthroughhergazesandsilentactions.

StrategicSilencesandOtherFormsofResistance
Historically,silencehasbeenamodethroughwhichcolonizersandother
patriarchalfiguresoppresswomen,particularlywomenofcolor. AsPatriciaHill
Collinselucidatesin BlackFeministThought, thecombinationofmanyfactors,
includingthesuppressionofBlackwomensvoicebydominantgroups,hasoften
ledtosilence(125). Infact,initiallytheAfricanwomanissilencedbyMarlowand
hismen.Theyintrudeuponherterritoryandtakeawayherlover,Kurtz,andshewalks
theshoreseeminglystunnedbythesedevelopments.Smithrelateshersilencetothe
powerofpatriarchalideologytodistanceandhenceconquerthewomansbodyby
whatshecallsimagemaking(Smith186).Imagemakingisverysimilartomy
argumentinChapterTwothatKurtzandMarlow,uponbeingconfrontedwithAfricas
powerandintimidatingdifference,makeidolsofEuropeanvaluestowardoffany

15

OneinterestingargumentisthattheMistresscouldhavebegunarelationshipwithKurtzinorderto
maintainherpoweroncethecolonizerstookover.Itispossiblethatsheusedherrelationshipas
leverageforcontinuedinfluenceandforprotectionforhercommunity.

51

potentialassimilationor,astheywouldseeit,contamination.TheEuropeanmen
makebothpositiveandnegativeimageswhich,respectively,idolizewhitecultureand
demonizeblackculturetheseimagesoftentaketheformofpeople,suchasthe
MistressandtheIntended.Inthesameway,theimperialistideologyprevalent
throughoutHeartofDarknesstriestodistanceandconquerthemysteriouslifeofthe
jungle.Andboththesavagewomanandthejunglearemomentarilysilencedby
Marlowsimagesofthem(Smith186).
ThroughoutHeartofDarkness,however,theAfricanwomanemploysthis
sameunsettlingandpowerfulsilence,intimidatingMarlowandhismen.WhenStrauss
claimsthatConradstextoffersnowomensvoiceorvariantfemaleversionof
wildernesstothereader,sheignoresthefactthatthewildernessitselfcouldbea
strength,andthatthereisnowomansvoicein HeartofDarknessonlyifonetakesthe
conceptofvoiceliterally(Strauss208). WhileCollinsdiscussesBlackwomens
silenceasevidenceofoppression,shealsoacknowledgesthatexpressionand
resistancearecomplicated. Blackwomen,includingtheMistress,evenusesilenceas
atechniqueforsubversion.AccordingtoCollins,[s]ilenceisnottobeinterpretedas
submissionBlackwomenalsohavetheoptionofinsideideasthatallow[them]to
copewithand,inmanycases,transcendtheconfinesofintersectingoppressionsof
race,class,gender,andsexuality(Collins99). TheAfricanwomansvoiceisher
insideidea,herchosensilence,andincombinationwithhercommandinggestures
andalliancewithnature,herresistanceisiconic.
ManytimesthroughoutHeartofDarkness,Marlowcommentsonthe
overwhelmingsilenceofthesurroundingjungle.Forexample,herepeatedobserves
52

thatthereisagreatsilencetotheCongoandthatitwasveryquietthere(Conrad
37). Thesementionsofsilencemayseemlikeisolatedinstancesuntilonecompares
andcombinesthem,revealingsilenceasalargelyinvisibleyetpowerfulweapon.The
Africanwomanimitatesandemploysthissameformidablesilenceinherinteractions
withthecolonizers.Marlowgoesontosaythatshewassavageandsuperb,wild
eyedandmagnificenttherewassomethingominousandstatelyinherdeliberate
progress.Heexplainsthat,inthehushthathadfallensuddenlyuponthewhole
sorrowfulland,theimmensewilderness,thecolossalbodyofthefecundand
mysteriouslifeseemedtolookather,pensive,asthoughithadbeenlookingatthe
imageofitsowntenebrousandpassionatesoul(Conrad60). Here,admirationhas
turnedtosuspicionandeachseeminglycomplimentarywordiscoupledwith
somethinginsulting:superbisprecededbysavageandmagnificentbywild
eyed.Now,herstepsarenotmeasuredandproud,butominous.Itisatthispoint
thatMarlowrealizestheAfricanwomanisnotsimplyanobject,butratheraforceto
bereckonedwith.Thehushthatfallsuponthesceneechoesthegreatandeeriesilence
earlierthestory.
ThissamesilencingisusedbytheMistressagainstthecolonizersonlyapage
later.Marlowdescribesherunsettlingpresence:
Shestoodlookingatuswithoutastirandlikethewildernessitself,
withanairofbroodingoveraninscrutablepurpose... Shelookedat
usasifherlifehaddependedupontheunswervingsteadinessofher
glance.Suddenlysheopenedherbaredarmsandthrewthemuprigid
aboveherheadasthoughinanuncontrollabledesiretotouchthesky,
53

andatthesametimetheswiftshadowsdartedoutontheearth,swept
aroundtheriver,gatheringthesteamerinashadowyembrace.A
formidablesilencehungoverthescene.(Conrad601)
ThispassageindicatesthemanyandvariedaxesoftheMistressspower. Firstly,
Marlowisfrightenedofherbecause,onceagain,sheislikethewildernessitself,
andboththiswildernessandtheAfricanwomanareinscrutable.Marlowcannot
penetrateeitherthelandorhermysteryandoftenfeelsasthoughNatureherselfhad
triedtowardoffintruders(Conrad41). Notonlydoesthissentencesignifythe
Africanwomanspassionandresilience,butitalsosignalsthereasonwhymany
critics,andMarlow,underestimatetheAfricanwoman:heragencyandhermethods
are,bynature,inscrutable.IconcurwithJohannaSmithwhensheclaimsthatshe
isawomanwarriorwhosegesturesandspeechremainedunreadable,givingherthe
powerthataformidablesilenceindicates(Smith186).
TheMistresssgesturesandmannerismsareextremelyimportantfortheyare
hermeansofcommunicationandintimidation.Inboththemagazineandmanuscript
versionsof HeartofDarkness,thetextisevenmoreexplicitaboutthepowerofsilent
action.Conradsmanuscriptreads:Hersuddengesturewasasstartlingasacrybut
notasoundwasheard.Theformidablesilenceofthescenecompletedthememorable
impression.ItisclearfromthisstatementthattheAfricanwomansactionsarea
formofspeech,forhergestureislikeacryeventhoughitissoundless.
Additionally,Conradhadoriginallywrittenthattheunbrokensilencethathungover
thescenewasmoreformidablethananysoundcouldbe(Conrad61). Onemust
wonderwhyConraddecidedtosignificantlyalterhisdepictionsoftheMistress
54

betweenthe1899and1902editionsof HeartofDarkness.RobertKimbroughnotes
thatConraddidtonedown noticeablytwodescriptionsofthenativewomanwho
appearsattheendofthestory(Kimbroughxi).Thefirstexampleofthischange
concernstheMistressssilentgesture,butthesecondexamplewasentirelytakenout
ofthetext,andcanonlyberevivedthroughalookatConradsmanuscripts.
AccordingtoLarryLandrum,ConradhadoriginallybestowedupontheMistressarole
ofcaretakertoMr.Kurtzbutthenreducedhertoonlyhislover(2445). Whilethe
positionofcaretakerisstillatypicallyfemininerole,itwouldhavegiventheMistress
moreinfluencewithinthetextandthefactthatConradchangedhercharactershows
thewayinwhichhercharacterhadbeguntobecometoopowerfulforhimtohandle.
Theimportanceofsymbolicgesturebecomesevenmoreconspicuouswhen
comparedwithritualactsofresistancecarriedoutby thewomenofcolonial South
Africa.ThoughthesewomenwerelocatedinacompletelydifferentareaofAfrica
thantheMistresswouldbe,andthoughtheyhaddifferingcustomsandculture,their
responsetocolonialpresumptionandrestrictionsweremarkedlysimilartotheAfrican
womanssubversions. Excludedfromcolonialschoolsformenandforcedinsteadto
sweepthesespaces,thewomen ofSouthAfricaturnedthedomesticactofsweeping
intoaritualofcleansingthemselvesfromcolonialinfiltration.Thesegroupacts
provide[d]ameansforwomentoreport,commenton,andcritiquepracticesand
policieswithwhichtheydisagree,aswellasproposetheirownalternatives(Hodgson
andMcCurdy15).WhiletheSouthAfricanwomendidnothavethelicenseto
outwardlyprotesttheircolonization,theyusedritualsweepingandgesturestovoice
theirdiscontent. Thissameritualresistancethroughbodylanguageisevidentinthe
55

Mistresssunswervingstareandsteadywalk,whichsheusestointimidateand
confusethecolonizers.Justlikethesweepingwasasymbolofthewomenridding
themselvesofcolonialinfluence,theMistresssslowanddeliberatetreadcouldbein
directoppositiontoMarlowshaste.WhileheisattemptingtorushKurtzawayfrom
theCongo,theMistressissimplypacingtheshoreandfixinghimwithherstare.
HodgsonandMcCurdyarguethatwomensperformancesandexpressionstypically
usemetaphorasanindirectyetpotentmeanstovoicegrievances(Hodgsonand
McCurdy15).TheMistressexpressesherselfthroughheractions,ifnotwithher
voice,andthefewpassagesMarlowdevotestoherareenoughtodemonstrateher
subversiveinfluence.

56

IV.TOODARKALTOGETHER:THEINTENDED,MARLOWSINTENTIONS,
ANDDISRUPTIVEDARKNESS

PsychicDependence:MarlowsComplicatedRelationshipwiththeIntended
ThoughtheMistressandtheIntendedlivecontinentsapart,andthoughrace
andclasspowerstructuresseparatethem,theyhaveoneunlikelythingincommon:
Mr.Kurtz.Bothofthewomen,despitevariousexamplesofagency,areembroiledand
entrappedinarelationshipwithMr.Kurtz,andaresubsequentlybetrayedbyhim.
EvenVoilaetal.admitthecharacteroftheMistress,whomtheyargueisan
incarnationofthegoddessAthena,isnotapurelyadmirablefigureofresistance
becauseshe,liketheIntended,isatragicfigure(Voilaetal.169).Adiscussionofthe
womenof HeartofDarkness,then,mustconsidertheirrelationshiptoMr.Kurtz,who
isarguablyafigureheadoftheBelgiancolonialenterprise. Thischapterdemonstrates
how,despitetheirtragicconnectiontoMr.Kurtzandtocolonialism,theMistressand
theIntendedeludeeasyinterpretation,byMarlowandothers.Specifically,Iarguethat
theIntendedstypicaldomesticroleiscomplicatedbyherdarkenedsurroundings,her
unconsciousmimickingoftheMistressshauntinggesture,andherassumptionof
controloverhermourningforKurtz.

57

JeremyHawthornemakesaninterestingpointabouttheIntendedspositionas
awhitewomanofcolonialism.ThoughtheMistressismoreobviouslyoppressed,the
Intendediscutofffromreality,keptoutofit.Hestatesthatthe
linkingtogetherof thetwowomenatthisjunctureinthenarrative
makesanimportantpoint.Bothwomenaretragic,bothhavebeen
betrayedbyKurtz.Puttingwomenonapedestal,cuttingthemofffrom
reality,andrestrictingthemtoaworldofsterileidealsandlifeless
illusionsisasdestructiveastreatingawomanpurelyasarecipientof
passion.(Hawthorn153)
Here,HawthornassertsthatwhiletheAfricanwomanwasmoredirectlyabusedby
Kurtzandthecolonizershavingherpeopleenslavedandherlandtakenawaythe
Intendedwasleftinisolationtohopeanddreamaboutherfianc,Kurtz.Bothofthese
differentandyetconnectedoppressionslimitthewomensagencyandseemtoprevent
resistancebyeitherwomen.Idonotagree,however,thatKurtzmanagestodestroy
bothwomen(Hawthorn152). ToassumethatKurtzandMarlowdestroythe
womenistoassumethatthewomenhavenoexistencebeyondthemen,andthat
MarlowandKurtzwieldfullauthority.Therearemanyexamplesin Heartof
Darkness,however,thatshowhowtheMistressandtheIntendeddefythemens
presumedauthorityandrefusetoconformtostereotypicalexpectations.HelinaKrenn
statesthatConradsnovelspresentanintenselyironiccomplexnotonlyofracialand
nationalbutalsoofsexualrevengeandthatinmostcases thelatterhassomething

58

todowithwomensfunctiontomakethetruthassertitself(Krenn119).16 InChapter
Three,IarguedthattheMistressconsciouslyenactedrevengeuponthecolonizersby
exploitingtheirfearofdarknessandofthejungle,andbyrefusingtoallaytheirfears
byspeaking.Inthisfinalchapter,IassertthattheIntendedrepresentsacrucialflawin
MarlowsnarrativeonwomenherdarkhouseandclothingdisruptMarlows
assumptionsaboutlightandpurity,andherunconsciousgesturesignalstoMarlowa
connectionbetweenherandtheMistresswhichhecannotdeny.
DiscussingtheIntendedsinfluenceisdifficult,however,whenMarlow
constantlydescribesherastimidandnaive.InChapter Two,forexample,Inotedthe
wayinwhichMarlowexpectstheIntendedtoactacertainpassivewaybaseduponher
idealizedportrait.Hefocusesonherfairskinandwhiteforehead,needinghertobe
thebeaconoflightthatsherepresentedforbothKurtzandhimself.Thisneedfor
womentobesymbolssymbolswhichsavethecolonizersfromassimilationintothe
Africanjungleallowsthewomentoexertsomeformofpoweroverthemenfor,
moreoftenthannot,thewomendonotconformtotheirexpectedcategories,andthis
nonconformityisbothunsettlingandintimidating.Hawthornassertsthat[t]heir
appearanceinthenovellasuggeststhatwomenhaveasignificantroletoplayin
determiningvariousfatesin HeartofDarkness(148).Whatfatesthesewomen
control mayseemillusiveifoneconcentratessolelyontangibleresults,butboth
womenarecertainlyunnervingtoMarlowandtheothercolonizers:theMistressfor
16

PadminiMongiadrawssimilarconnections,writingthatthediscursivedistinctionsinthe
constructionofAfricaandtheOrientin...novelsbyConraddemonstratehowwomen native,
mixed,andwhiterepresentacontinuumofthreats.Thesethreatstopropermasculinity,inturn,
affectthecolonizersplansandmentalities,andserveasevidenceofhowthecolonialrelationship
variesindifferentcircumstancesandsettings(Mongia136).

59

herindependentattitude,andtheIntendedforherdarkhouse,whichclasheswith
Marlowssuppositionsaboutherpurityandlightness.Itseemsasthougheach
characterismenacingtoMarlow,butforcompletelydifferentreasons.TheAfrican
womanseemstobethequeenofdarknessandmystery,whereasKurtzsfiancis
anotherinscrutableintention thatMarlowdefendshimselfagainst(Strauss206).
AlthoughtheIntendedissupposedtobeasimplefoiltotheperceivedevilof
theAfricanMistressandalthoughsheseemstobeisolatedatthemarginsof Heartof
Darkness,shealsoembodiespowerandimportanceasasignifier.NinaStraussclaims
thatthewomen,assignifiers,areexploited,butIarguethatthispositionatthe
foundationofcolonialidealismlendsKurtzsfiancesomeinfluence.ToMarlowand
toKurtz,sherepresentsacrucialsymbolanidol/idealofbothEuropeancivilization
andofwomenssupposedsubmissivenessandthereforeanydepartureofhersfrom
thisroleissubversive.Straussinfactunderlinesmypointinstatingthatthemenhave
apsychicdependenceonthecontrastingimagesofwomen(i.e.theMistressasdark
andforebodingandtheIntendedaswhiteandpure).Moreover,thisdependenceis
neveracknowledgeditsimplyrunsasacontinuousundercurrentthroughoutthemale
controllednarrativeof HeartofDarkness:
Whatthisfigure[theIntended]achieves,asperhapsfewotherfemale
charactersinfictiondo,iswhatcouldnicelybecallednegative
capabilitybutwhichispsychologicallysymbolicofthemalesneedfor
aninfinitereceptivityandpassivity.Maleheroismandplenitude
dependonfemalecowardiceandemptiness.(Strauss214)

60

Onceagain,whatStraussinterpretsastheIntendedsweakness,Iconstrueashermain
strength.StraussseestheIntendedasasymbolofMarlowsneedforaninfinite
receptivity andpassivity,whichisindeedtrue.If,however,theIntendeddisruptsthis
infinitepassivityandemptinessandinsteadrevealstoMarlowacomplexityheisnot
expecting,shethendestroysthenarrativeofmaleheroismwhichMarlowis
attemptingtocomplete.Furthermore,sheupsetsthedelicatebalanceoflightnessand
darknesswhichMarlowhasbeensettingupanddependingonthroughouthisstory.

KeepingtheIntendedOutOfIt:CriticalScholarship
ThoughliteraryscholarsarebynomeansasinvestedasMarlowinmaintaining
theIntendedsisolation,theytooabetMarlowsgoalsinkeepingtheIntendedoutof
thedialogue.Strangelyenough,criticscannotseemtofindwomensagencywithin
HeartofDarknesswithoutmakingthetwofemalecharacterscompetewithone
anotherforimportance.JeremyHawthornsarticleisakeyexampleofthispattern,for
itcelebratestheagencyandpoweroftheMistress,butonlyattheexpenseofthe
Intended:[w]heretheIntendedisstaticandpassive,theAfricanMistressisactive
andforcefulwheretheIntendedhastheodorofdeathabouther,sheisthe
personificationof lifewheretheIntendedisathingofblackandwhite,sheisablaze
withcolorwheretheIntendedisrefinedtothepointofetiolation,sheissavageand
superb(151). TheMistressisindeedapowerfulforce,especiallywhenherstrong
appearanceanddirectactionarecomparedwiththeIntendedsseemingpassivity,but
KurtzsfianceisnotashelplessasHawthornpaintsher.Hawthornclaimsthatthe
Intendedisathing... ofsicklinessanddeath,andthatshehasnoenergy,noliving
61

presence(149).AtthispointinHawthornsanalysis,theIntendedisnolongera
person,butathingwhichhasnolife.PatrickBrantlingergoesasfarastostatethat
theIntendedisnotonlyapassivevoid,butisalsoperhapsthegreatestfetishistofall,
idolizingherimageofherfianc(393). Ifoneweretofollowthislogic,theIntended
wouldseemasubmissivethingunworthyofanyparticularattention.This,however,
isafollyofliteraryscholarship,giventheemphasisandsymbolicimportancethat
MarlowbestowsuponKurtzsfiance.
RitaBoderefusestoacceptthisdismissaloftheIntendedand,whileherwork
doesnotexplicitlydetailtheIntendedsagency,sheatleastdiscussesbothfemale
characterswithoutresortingtoharshcomparisons.Bodearguesthat,sincereadersand
criticsreadilyseethethemeofbrotherhoodin HeartofDarkness,mostnotablythe
borderlinehomoeroticbondbetweenMarlowandMr.Kurtz,thentheyshouldjustas
readilyacceptthatthewomenalsoformsignificantreflectionsofeachother(20). In
Bodesanalysis,theseparatefemalespace,which,accordingtoMarlow,thewomen
inhabit,becomesbythenovellasendthedominantone,drawingwithinitsparameters
themalecharactersaswell(20). TheIntended,then,isnottheonlyonewhoendsup
trappedinherdarkhouse,forMarlowtooisdrawnintothisfemininespace.
ThedarknesswithintheIntendedsdomain,further,connectshertothewoman
Marlowfears:KurtzsAfricanMistress.Dijkstrapointsoutthat,[j]ustasMarlows
entryintotheprimalwombofdarknesswasfacilitatedandguardedbywomen,so
Conradsfinalreckoningofhisjourneytakestheformofacrucialconfrontationwith
KurtzsIntended,uponhisreturntoBrussels(1545). WhiletheMistressandthe
Intendedhavesignificantconnectionstooneanother,andwhilebothdisruptMarlows
62

assumptionsaboutwomen,tostateasBodedoesthatthelinksbetweenthesewomen
pointtoasisterhoodinwhicheachworkstofurtherandcompletetheactionsbegunby
theotherisanexaggeration.Afterall,theIntendedandtheMistressnever
communicatewithoneanotherand,whilebothwomenresistintheirownways,their
racialandclassdifferenceskeepthemfromformingtheidyllicsisterhoodthatBode
proposes.
TheIntendedsidentity,asawhiteEuropeanwoman,iscomplicatedbyher
dualpositionasoppressedandoppressor. Intheessay,MakingEmpireRespectable:
ThePoliticsofRaceandSexualMoralityinTwentiethCenturyColonialCultures
Ann LauraStolerexplainshowEuropeanwomenwerebothsubordinatedincolonial
hierarchiesand... activeagentsofimperial cultureintheirownright(344). Though
Stolersstudyisofwhitewomenlivinginthecolonialsiteitself(certainlynotoutof
itasMarlowwouldlike),herargumentsarestillrelevanttoKurtzsIntended,whois
bothasymbolofcolonialidealism aswellasacatalystforKurtzsinvolvementinthe
enterprise.ShesupportstheBelgianexpeditionintotheCongobecauseitisthemeans
throughwhichKurtzcanearnmoneyandstatustomarryher.AsMarlowfindsout,
herengagementwithKurtzhadbeen disapprovedbyherpeople.Hewasntrich
enoughorsomething(Conrad74). TheIntendedalsorepresentstheperfectdomestic
angelwhomKurtz,Marlow,andtheothermenaresupposedlydefending.According
toStoler,
MalecolonizerspositionedEuropeanwomenasthebearersofa
redefinedcolonialmorality ... Thepresenceandprotectionof
Europeanwomenwererepeatedlyinvokedtoclarifyraciallines.Their
63

presencecoincidedwithperceivedthreatstoEuropeanprestige...covert
challengestocolonialorder,outrightexpressionsofnationalist
resistance,andinternaldissensionamongwhitesthemselves.(352)
TheIntendedisnotpresentintheCongoareabutherportraitaloneisenough,for
KurtzandMarlow,tojustifytheBelgianinvasion.Herpure,whitevisagealso
providesthefoilforKurtzsdarkandmysteriousAfricanwoman,whoisevilto
MarlowpreciselybecausesheisnottheIntended.
JustashisengagementtotheimpeccableIntendedmotivatesKurtztoenter
intocolonialism,sodoesMarlowsinteractionwithhisauntleadhimtojourneytothe
Congo. Marlowsspinsterauntisacomplicatedcharacterforwhilesheevinces
independenceshealsounquestioninglysupportsBelgianimperialism.Itisforthis
reason,JohannaSmithargues,thatbothMarlowsauntandKurtzsIntendedarenot
silenced.Marlowneedsthemfortheirspeech:bymockingthelackofworldly
experiencewhichtheirwordsconvey,hecanrecuperatethatexperienceasamanly
encounterwithtruth.ByhavingthemfeeblyechothecaseKurtzhasmadefor
imperialism,hecanreversethepowerlessnessevincedinhisresponsetoKurtzs
eloquence(Smith189).TheproblemforMarlow,andthereasonheisso
uncomfortableintheIntendedshouse,isthatunlikeMarlowsaunt,theIntendeddoes
notechotheargumentforimperialismsheinsteadfocusesonKurtzandforces
Marlowtodivulgedetailsabouttheirexperience.SheinsiststhatMarlow,inasense,
relivehisinteractionwithKurtzandcolonialism,andmakeshislieevenmore
difficult.

64

AttendingtotheIntended:MarlowsLie
WhenMarlowmakeshisinfamousclaimthatthewomenareoutofit,heis
specificallyreferringtohisencounterwithKurtzsfianceattheendof Heartof
Darkness.Inthisonescene,Marlowrealizesjusthowmuchhehastoloseandwhat
hewillneedtodotomaintaintheprecariousbalanceofmenasactiveandpowerful
andwomenaspassiveandpowerless.Heabruptlypicksuphisstorytothemenaftera
longpausewiththecrypticsentence,Ilaidtheghostofhisgiftsatlastwithalie
(49). Interestingly,thisliethatMarlowtellsisactuallythewaythathestrivestokeep
(white)womenoutofitinasense,thelieistwofoldbecausewhileitisthemeansby
whichMarlowkeepstheIntendedignorant,thefactthatwomenarealwaysoutofit
isitselfalie.
MarlowslietotheIntendedisbothdifficulttodefineandlessimportantthan
thefactthatMarlowfeelscompelledtoalterrealityinordertomaintainhisneatly
categorizedworld.Technically,thelietowhichMarlowisreferringishis
conversationwiththeIntendedaboutMr.Kurtz,specificallywhensherequeststhat
MarlowtellherKurtzslastwordsandinsteadofthereality(Thehorror!The
horror!)MarlowrespondswithThelastwordhepronouncedwasyourname
(Conrad75). ThisisthefalsehooditselfbutMarlowswholevisitisalsoalie.He
claimsthathefeelsobligatedtopassonKurtzslettersandtheIntendedsportrait,but
laterheadmitsthatheisnotevensurethisiswhatKurtzwantedhimtodo.Marlow
candidlydiscloses,inthemiddleofhisnarrationabouttheIntended,Irathersuspect
hewantedmetotakecareofanotherbatchofhispaperswhichafterhisdeathIsaw
theManagerexaminingunderthelamp(Conrad74)theseotherlettersarenodoubt
65

KurtzsextremecapitalistmethodsofextractingivoryfromtheCongoattheexpense
ofhishealthandthenativeslivesandland.ThefactthattheManagerporesover
theseletterssuggeststhatKurtz,withallhisallegedbrilliance,hadcomeupwitha
new,evenmoreruthlessandefficientwayofobtainingivory,andthefactthatitis
thesepaperswhichheprobablywishedMarlowtotakeisfurtherindicativeofKurtzs
(andcolonialisms)completecorruption.
Themanuscriptandmagazineversionsof HeartofDarknessareevenmore
explicitonthispoint,stating,ButintheboxIbroughttohisbedsidetherewere
severalpackages... tiedwithshoestringsandprobablyhe[Kurtz]hadmadea
mistake(Conrad74). Thisalternatepackage,probablyvaluedmorebyKurtzthanhis
Intended,iswhatMarlowmeanswhenhesays,[a]llthathadbeenKurtzshadpassed
outofmyhands:hissoul,hisbody,hisstation,hisplans,hisivory,hiscareer
(Conrad71,emphasismine).Afterlistingthesepossessions,Marlowthenmovesonto
Kurtzslivingpossession:theIntended.ItissignificantnotonlythatMarlow,like
Kurtz,considerstheIntendedtobeapassiveobject,butthathevisitsher,bothto
solidifyhissubmissiveimageofherandalsotojustifyhisowninvolvementin
colonialism.Marlowisconflictedasheattemptstorelatehisreasonsforvisiting
KurtzsIntended:ThereremainedonlyhismemoryandhisIntendedandIwanted
togivethatuptootothepast,inawayIdontdefendmyself.Ihadnoclear
perceptionofwhatitwasIreallywanted. Perhapsitwasanimpulseofunconscious
loyalty ... Idontknow.Icanttell.ButIwent(Conrad712).Onemightassume
thatMarlowsmotivesforvisitingtheIntendedwouldbetoreturnherlettersand
portraitthatis,ifMarlowistellingthetruth.JustlikewhenheliestotheIntended,it
66

isunclearherewhetherMarlowisalsolyingtohislisteners.Forexample,ifhis
motivesweresimplytoabidebyKurtzsdeathbedwish,hewouldhavenoreasonto
defendhimself.Marlowstartstosaythathisreasonisunconsciousloyaltybut
quicklybacktracks,claimingthathedoesnotknowandhadnoclearperceptionof
whatitwas[he]reallywanted.Clearly,thereissomethingintheabovepassagethat
Marlowisnottelling,butwhetherhecanttellorwonttellisdebatable.
PerhapsMarlowsrealmotiveforseeingKurtzsIntendedistohelpthem
[women]stayinthatbeautifulworldoftheirownlestoursgetworse(Conrad49). In
otherwords,itisprobablethatMarlow,nottheIntended,istheonewhomostneeds
closure,tokeephiscolonialistpastatbayandtoreturntoafamiliarworldshapedby
themalebondsofworkandrestraint(Mongia144).Afterall,Marlowinsists,Oh,
she[theIntended]hadtobeoutofit. Youshouldhaveheardthedisinterredbodyof
Mr.Kurtzsaying,MyIntended.Youwouldhaveperceivedthenhowcompletelyshe
wasoutofit(Conrad49). Thispassageby Marlow,whileseeminglystraightforward,
isactuallyloadedwithhiddenmeaning.First,itisimportantthatMarlowkeeps
contendingthatthewomen,specificallytheIntended,haveto beoutofit.Second,
KurtzsrepeatedmentionofMyIntendedreinforcesthecompletepossessiveness
thatbothheandMarlowfeeltowardtheIntended,fordifferingreasons.
Evenmoresignificant,however,ishisuseoftheworddisinterredto
describeKurtzonhisdeathbed.Theworddisinterisoftenappliedtocorpsesand
tombsitmeanstotake(something)outoftheearthinwhichitisburiedand,
further,tobringoutofconcealment,unearth(Disinter,def.1). Tosay
disinterredisthereforeastrangewordchoiceforMarlowtomakebecause,atthe
67

pointheisdescribing,Mr.KurtzistalkingabouthisIntendedandis,obviously,not
yetdead.Withalessexactnarrator,onemightexplainawaythismisnomerasa
mistake,butinthecaseofMarlow,whoisaveritablewordsmiththroughoutHeartof
Darkness,hismistakehasmeaning.Theworddisinterreduponcloserinvestigation
takesonthecharacteristicofbringingsomethingoutofconcealmentandexposinga
truthpreviouslyhidden,inthiscasewomensrealimportanceandthethreatthis
makestoMarlowspatriarchalandcolonialwayoflife.17 Iargue,then,thatMarlows
mistakeinusingtheworddisinterredrevealshishiddenguiltabouttheliehemakes
totheIntended.
Onceagain,Conradsearliermanuscriptof HeartofDarknessisilluminating
andinstructive,foraseditorRobertKimbroughwrites,manypassagesthatwerelater
suppressedhelponeunderstandthefullmeaningofthefinaltextof Heartof
Darkness(xi).Themanuscript,inthisinstance,givesthereadermoredetailforwhy
MarlowliestotheIntendedaboutherfiancandaboutAfricancolonialism.Marlow
explainsthesacrificesneededtopreservewhitewomensignorance:Thatsa
monstertruthwithmanymawstowhomwevegottothroweveryyearorevery
daynomatternosacrificeistoogreataransomof pretty,shiningliesnotvery
newperhapsbutspotless(Conrad49). Ironically,themonstertruthMarlowis
referringtothat(white)womenareoutofit,andthattheyneverknowtherealities
ofcolonialismmustbeupheldwithamultitudeoflies.Notjustanylies,infact,but

17

RitaBodedrawsconnectionbetweenMarlowandothersailorsandmenofliterature,suchasUlysses:
Fromhistoofaciledismissalofall womentoanotherrealmofperceptionthroughtohisfinal
encounterwiththeIntended,Marlowstroubledreactionsfrequentlysuggestthesailorsfundamental
fearoffemalepowers(Bode24).

68

pretty,shiningliesthatshedlightuponanotherwisedarksubject.Thisimageryof
beauty,light,andevenspotlessness,isnoaccidentwhenpairedwiththeIntended,the
proverbialbeaconoflightthroughoutMarlowsstory.Behindallofthisgossamer
imagery,however,isanoverwhelmingfearthatthemonstertruthwillgorgeitself
uponMarlowwithitsmanymaws,whichsymbolizethemythical,feared,and
horrifyinglyfemininevaginadentata. Toprotecthimselffromtheterrifyingreality,or
evenidea,thatwomenwillinfiltratehisworldofmenandrationality,Marlowrelies
solelyupontheIntended.18

RevealingDisruptiveDarkness:ANewWayofReadingHeartofDarkness
MarlowsencounterwiththeIntendedcomestowardtheendofthenovella,
andeffectuallytransplantsbothMarlowandthereadersintotheuncomfortable
meshingofMarlowstwoworlds:theatrociousBelgiancolonialismintheCongoand
thesuffocatingrealitiesof European domesticlife.Inthebeginningofhisvisittothe
Intended,Marlowwaitsinthedrawingroomandfeelsincreasinglyunsettledashe
watchesduskfallingoutside.Henoticesarelicofwhiteness,atallmarblefireplace,
butthistimethewhitenessiscoldandmonumentalandnotcomforting,asitwasto
himinthejungle.Moreimposingthanthiscoldfireplaceisagrandpianothatstood
massivelyinthecornerwithdarkgleamsontheflatsurfaceslikeasomberand
polishedsarcophagus(Conrad73). Thisjuxtapositionofwhitenessandblackness,
18

AccordingtoDijkstra,[t]hisiswhatcivilizationmeans, Marlowrecognizes:[Kurtzswhitefiance
is]theangelofaltruism,themotherofthehumansoul...Sheisthecounterforcemanhascreated
againsttheAfricandevilwoman. TheIntendedisthevirginmotherofmansdisembodiedfuture,and
shemustthereforebeprotectedatallcost...Toprotectthefutureofcivilizedsociety,Marlowliesto
her (155).

69

rightbeforeMarlowistomeetwiththeIntended,issymbolicofhisstruggleto
separatelightnessanddarknessandofthetriumphantdarknesswhichhasfollowed
himfromthejungle.Thedarkgrandpianothatloomsinthecornermimicsthe
darknessfromwhichMarlowistryingtoescape,anditscoffinlikeappearance
emphasizesthemanyhauntingAfricancasualtiesMarlowhelpedtocauseinthename
ofcivilizationandwhiteness.Thisdrawingroom,moreover,setsthescenefor
MarlowsinterpretationsandassumptionsabouttheIntended.Marlowdescribesthe
Intendedsentryintotheroom:Shecameforwardallinblackwithapalehead,
floatinginthedusk(Conrad73). Astheroomgrowsdarkeranddarker,Marlow
claimsitwasasifallthesadlightofthecloudyeveninghadtakenrefugeinher
forehead(Conrad73). Itisnotthelight,however,butMarlow,whoistakingrefuge
intheIntendedshigh,paleforehead.Forhim,herpalewhiteskinrepresentsallheis
tryingtoreclaim,andthoughherpiercingdarkeyesstareatMarlow,allheseesis
thisfairhair,thispalevisage,thispurebrow,ignoringtheashyhalothatdisrupts
thefairnessandpurenessofherimage(Conrad73).
HawthornreadstheIntendedswhiteforeheadasasymbolofherunshakeable
idealismunawareofthehorroroftheworld,believingherselftohaveknownKurtz
betterthananyone,sheisactuallymoreandmoreisolated,andmoreandmore
reducedbyherisolation(153). Itisimportanttonote,however,thattheIntendeds
isolationisnotsomethingofherchoosing,butasocietalexpectationofmourningof
whichshetakescontrol.TheIntendedknowinglyassertsherauthorityinher
interactionwithMarlow,takingprideinherremembranceofKurtzandsubtly
insistingthatsheknewhimbetterthanMarlow:Shecarriedhersorrowfulheadas
70

thoughshewereproudofthatsorrow,asthoughshewouldsay,IIaloneknownhow
tomournforhimashedeserves(Conrad73). Though theIntendedsprideisin
mourningherunfaithfulfiance,sheisactuallyclaimingauthorityoversomethingthat
would,inevitably,controlherlife.AtthetimeHeartofDarknesswaswritten,itwas
commonforwomentomourntheirhusbandsandfiancsfortherestoftheirlivesto
nevertakeanotherloverandtodressinblack.(Hence,Marlowscommentthatit
seemedasthoughshewouldrememberandmournforeverisnotacommentabout
theIntendedspassivity,butratherasocialpatternshewasadheringto,withherown
additions.)TheIntendedsimplytakesthisacceptedfactandmoldsittobecomepartof
herexistence.
Further,sheisadamantaboutthefactthatsheknewKurtzbetterthananyone,
firstpretendingtoacknowledgeMarlowsexperiencewithhimyouknewhim
wellbutquicklyasserting,nooneknewhimsowellasI!Ihadallhisnoble
confidence.Iknewhimbest(Conrad73).WhileMarlowhadoriginallyapproached
hisvisitwiththecondescendingassumptionthatheknewKurtzbetterandthatthe
Intendedwassimplyanaiveandtimidobject,sheinsteadmakeshimreiterateherown
point:Youknewhimbest,Irepeated. Andperhapsshedid.AssoonasMarlow
makesthisconcession,theroomgrowsevendimmerandhebeginstosecondguess
hisotherwiseunchallengeddominance.Hewrites,witheverywordspokentheroom
wasgrowingdarkerandonlyherforeheadsmoothandwhiteremainedilluminedby
theunextinguishablelightofbeliefandlove(Conrad73).Asthedarkness(and,I
argue, theIntendedsagency)encroachesonMarlow,heonceagainresortsto
idolizingherwhitenessashissavinggrace.
71

ToniMorrison,inhercriticalworkPlayingintheDark:Whitenessandthe
LiteraryImagination,discussesimagesofimpenetrablewhitenessshepositsthat
theseiconsofwhiteness(suchastheIntendedsunextinguishableforehead)can
onlyexistincontrasttorepresentationsof African peopleanddarkness(33).Iuse
MorrisonstheorytoarguethatwriterssuchasConradsplitlightnessanddarkness
intoadichotomy,privilegingblindingwhitenessasbothantidoteforand
meditationontheshadowthatiscompaniontothiswhiteness(33).19 Theshadowthat
accompaniestheIntendedswhitenessin HeartofDarknessis,ofcourse,the
Intendedssupposedopposite,KurtzsAfricanMistress.ForMarlow,sheandthe
Africandarknesssherepresentslingerineveryunlightedcorner,adarkandabiding
presencefromwhichMarlowattemptstoescapethroughtheIntendedswhiteness
(Morrison33).WhentheidolsofwhitenessarenotenoughtoassuageMarlows
growingfears,hefeelsaswithasensationofpanicinmyheartasthoughIhad
blunderedintoaplaceofcruelandabsurdmysteriesnotfitforahumanbeingto
behold(Conrad73). ThislanguageintowhichMarlowslipsisnoneotherthanthe
wordsheusedtodescribedAfrica:mysterious,cruel,absurd,savage,andunholy.
ItisclearatthispointthattheIntendedshouseisnotthetypicaldomestic
refuge,butacomplexspaceinwhich theIntendedsassertivenessandtheAfrican
womansinfluencecollide.TheundeniableAfricanistpresenceswellsastheIntended

19

Admittedly,MorrisonisdiscussingAmericanliteraturespecificallythroughoutPlayingintheDark,
butsheextendshercommentarytocolonialsituationsaswell:Whatroseupoutofcollectiveneedsto
allayinternalfearsandtorationalizeexternalexploitationwasanAmericanAfricanismafabricated
brewofdarkness,otherness,alarm,anddesirethatisuniquelyAmerican. (Therealsoexists, ofcourse,
aEuropeanAfricanismwithacounterpartincolonialliterature)(Morrison38).

72

continuestotalkoverMarlow,disturbinganddisruptinghim.Marlowrelatestohis
listenershow
thesoundofherlowvoiceseemedtohavetheaccompanimentofall
theothersoundsfullofmystery,desolation,andsorrowIhadever
heardtheripplingoftheriver,thesoughingofthetreesswayedby
thewind,themurmursofthecrowds,thefaintringof
incomprehensiblewordscriedfromafar,thewhisperofavoice
speakingfrombeyondthethresholdofaneternaldarkness.(Conrad74)
Onceagain,MarlowbemoansthewayinwhichthemysteryandpoweroftheAfrican
junglehasfollowedhimtohissupposedsafespacetheripplingriverandthetrees
swayinginthewindareundeniablereferencestotheCongoandMarlowsexperiences
there.Further,whilesomemayreadavoicespeakingfrombeyondthethresholdof
aneternaldarknesstomeanKurtzshauntinglastwords,Iarguethatthisvoiceisin
facttheMistress.ThoughshedidnotphysicallyspeaktoMarlow,heractionsandher
resistancecontinuetoarticulatethemselvesacrossoceansandtime.TheIntendeds
hauntinggesturesolidifiesthisAfricanistpresence:
Sheputoutherarms,asifafteraretreatingfigure,stretchingthem
blackandwithclaspedpalehandsacrossthefadingandnarrowsheen
ofthewindow... IshallseethiseloquentphantomaslongasIlive...
atragicandfamiliarShaderesemblinginthisgestureanotherone,
tragicalsoandbedeckedinpowerlesscharms,stretchingbarebrown
armsovertheflitteroftheinfernalstream,thestreamofdarkness.
(Conrad75)
73

TheIntendedunconsciouslymimicstheMistresssevocativemovement,and
interestingly,herarmsarebothblackandpale,symbolizingasortofmeldingof
theblack/whitebinary.ShebothresemblesandistheShadeoftheAfricanMistress,
affirmingtoMarlowthatthewomenarenotoutofit,andthathewillnotreceivethe
comfortofwhitenessthatheseeks.
TheIntendedevencriesouttoMarlow,Youknow!technicallymeaning
KurtzslastwordsbutalsoimplyingapossibleknowledgeofKurtzsunfaithfulness.
Withthisonephrase,theIntendeddemandsthatMarlowrecallhisrealexperiencein
theCongoandonceagainMarlowfindshimselfrepeatingherwords:Yes,Iknow,
Isaidwithsomethinglikedespairinmyheart(Conrad74).Itisatthispoint,when
MarlowfeelshimselfencasedinthetriumphantdarknessfromwhichIcouldnot
havedefendedherfromwhichIcouldnotevendefendmyself,thatMarlowliesto
theIntendedinapitifulattempttokeephisworldintact. Hepleadswiththelistenerto
understandhismotives:Icouldnt.Icouldnottellher.Itwouldhavebeen toodark
toodarkaltogether(Conrad76). WhatMarlowdoesnotdivulge,butwhichisclear
here,isthatitwouldhavebeentoodarkfor him.
Morrisonpoignantlywritesthat,whether[e]xplicitorimplicit,theAfricanist
presenceinformsincompellingandinescapableways... bothavisibleandan
invisiblemediatingforce.Even,andespecially,when ... textsarenotabout
Africanistpresencesorcharactersornarrativeoridiom,theshadowhoversin
implication,insign,inlineofdemarcation(Morrison 467). Herpointisalltoo
relevanttoMarlowin HeartofDarkness,whocannotescapeAfricaandwho,like

74

Kurtz,constructsidolsofwhitenessandEuropeancivilizationinanattempttostave
offboththewomenspowerandthedarkness.
MarlowsconfusionandfearinencounteringboththeMistressandthe
Intendediskeytoanovellawhichislargelycontrolledbyhim.Asthemasculine
narratorofthestory,Marlowholdsasignificantamountofpowerandtriestoconceal
manyofthewomensstoriesin HeartofDarkness(Smith183). Therefore,whenthe
AfricanWomanandtheIntendedexhibitagencyandbreakfreefromtheir
oppositionalcategories,theysubvertMarlowsauthority,anauthoritylargelybasedon
colonialhierarchiesofraceandclass.Itissurprising,then,thatwhiletherehasbeen
muchcriticismandscholarlyattentiongiventoHeartofDarkness,sofewscholars
acknowledgethewomensinfluence.
Toooften,readersaremanipulatedbyMarlowintofocusingontheMistress
andtheIntendedonlyasobjectsofthegaze,assuming,likeMarlow,thatthefemale
charactershavenoagency.Iadmitthatthewomen,writtenbyConradandnarratedby
Marlow,arenotfullyautonomouscharactersorindividuals,yetthemany
connectionsamongthemareenoughtomakethenovellaswomengrowbeyond,
indeed,becometoolargefortheimaginativeconstructsthattrytocontainthem
(Bode21). Throughtheiractionsandstares,speechesandsilences,thewomenof
HeartofDarknessprovetheirinfluenceandimportance.

75

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