Women, Imperialism and the Congo

She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the company was run for profit (9).

This quotation is found in a passage (9) from Heart of Darkness in which Marlow visits his Aunt, in order to wish her goodbye before he leaves on his voyage to the Congo. This is a key passage because it introduces both Marlow’s view of colonization and his opinion about women. The quotation above is spoken from Marlow’s perspective and thus provides his insight on the irony of imperialism and his frustration with women’s naiveté. In the novel, women are mostly viewed and represented as silly and frivolous with very little character development. Marlow’s aunt makes the claim that those voyaging to the Congo were doing so in order to change the backward natives and colonize them. However, according to him the companies financing these operations were not interested in the improvement of the African people, but rather monetary gains. “Its queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own and there has never be anything like it, and never will be” Marlow states as he reflects on his Aunt’s fanciful impression of the expedition companies’ goals for journeying to the Congo. The statement that women are out of touch with truth not only illustrates Marlow’s annoyance with female naiveté but also indicates that the voyages to the Congo were running under a false pretense. Many in England were led to believe that the crews journeying to the Africa were headed there for mission purposes and to help the natives by enforcing colonization.

This passage reflects the idea of corrupt imperialism, which is a reoccurring issue and theme throughout Part I, and II of the novel. It is interesting that the people back in Britain believe the men in the expeditions are in the Congo to civilize the natives, yet Marlow’s descriptions of what is going on in the “heart of Africa” paint a vivid picture of dehumanization of the Africans and uncivilized behavior on the part of the crew members. Early on in the novel, Marlow says this about a group of dying natives: “They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation” (14). After reading this and many other gruesome depictions of imperialism in the Congo, it is interesting that even a level headed, experienced character like Marlow would not be entirely against the treatment of the natives. Although he in know way condones the violence and greed of his fellow colonizers, he states that the flaw he became most familiar with and disturbed by was the laziness and imprudence of the men in the companies (13).

While reading this portion of the novel and reflecting on the way in which imperialism is portrayed within the story, I questioned why Conrad did not have his character, Marlow, take a stronger stance against the treatment of the Africans in this post-colonial piece of literature?



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