Are you happy now, Kishu XD?
12 April 2007
I apparently have not had enough self degradation lately, so I thought taking another crack at analyzing Feminism + Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness sounded like something I would like to try again. So here is an essay in which I analyze a feminist essay by Nina Pelikan Straus that analyzes Heart of Darkness, which is titled: The Exclusion of the Intended from Secret Sharing in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
The very first idea presented in Straus' essay is one I had never considered before. I know Heart of Darkness is a testosterone-filled book of adventure, but is the theme of masculinity so pervading, that a woman feminist reader might be completely alienated from the whole experience? Can her most useful commentary be inhibited because of this alienation? Just as a mother might try to envision an unreachable cleanliness in her child's living quarters/sty, a woman might also find herself unable to fully realize what is truly possible within this MAN ZONE that the Heart of Darkness is compromised of. I love this idea of Straus', as it is completely plausible in our world where Men's Restrooms will always remain as such, because women treading there might cause a strange sensation of disjointed self in that foreign ground (except when the line for the Women's is much too long, of course).
But did Conrad ever intend for women to enter the men's bathroom-- I mean for pro-feminist readers to take in his words? The whole book is a long, drawn-out spoken story, so obviously this story feels like anyone who wants to listen in can. Straus says in her essay that "the deliberate use of a frame to include readers as hearers, suggests the secret nature of what is being told." I do not exactly agree with that, as old men telling such grand tales, such as Marlow is doing within the book, tend to tell anyone everything they can about their experiences, rather than having a "secretive nature" to their tale. The storytelling frame of the book appears more to me like a situation where a group of thirty-something guys as discussing, say, powertools. They are in public, and they are discussing loudly and obnoxiously, but even though everyone in the vicinity is able to listen in, anyone who is not interested learning the fundamentals of band-saws will do their best to tune the talking out. The book definitely seems like a book made by men, for men, and I have to agree with Straus that perhaps a woman's view on this piece of literature was not something that Conrad had ever intended to be an important thing. He probably thought women, even though they had access to his story, might not be interested in the content, and therefore did not attempt in anyway to cater to these people he assumed would not be reading anyway.
Quoting Straus, she said "Not only is the feminist reader traumatized by decades of nearly exclusive male commentary surrounding Heart of Darkness, but she may recognize that her own literary response is influenced by this traumatization." There was no thought of women having the potential to be capable human beings when Conrad put Heart of Darkness to paper. While I am not completely sure that 'traumatization' is a good description for the hindrance of feminists properly expressing their opinions about this story, since that is going a little far, and making women helpless beings in comparison to men (Don't play into Conrad's hands, Nina!), but there is definitely not a sense of ease when trying to express a feministic point of view about this story.
Straus asks "must the woman reader neutralize awareness of her gender so that her reading becomes 'objective' (non-autobiographical) in the way that male readings supposedly are?" This just leads me to ask: if a woman reader should not apply the text to own her life, then what is the point of making it personal and picking up the book to read in the first place?
Conrad did not write this story as an attack on women, but any woman who reads it will probably feel harassed when finished. So therefore, it was not intended to be shared with women in the first place, or in the very least least, he did not think about what the opposite sex might feel upon becoming a reader of his book. After all, having the truth of our insignificant womanhood displayed to us might crack the walls of our separate, beautiful world. Isn't that what Conrad and his character Marlow are so concerned with protecting in the first place?
Now the subject of separate spheres for men and women has been breached, and that is what Straus goes into next in her essay also. In Conrad's story, men and women are delegated to their own worlds. A man's world has meaning and "truth," while a woman's world has frivolity. Marlow was shown to be careful a builder of the Intended's delusions, but being able withhold certain truths from women was an ability that Marlow thought all men needed to be capable of. 'Editing the truth,' like a news reporter editing an event to leave out things that 'are not necessary' before presenting it is another message that might leave women ill at ease when reading Heart of Darkness. Marlow expressed a thought that truth bogged down men's spirits, and women were lucky to not have to worry about it, but in this same world, truth is power, whether good or bad. Straus pointed out that in the story "'Truth' is directed at and intended for men only," and this is exactly right within the strange realm that Conrad created.
I thought that overall, Straus' essay was a very coherent step forward for feminist criticisms of Heart of Darkness. It does indeed seem to be a challenge to make a wholly feminine critique on a text so unerringly focused on the masculine side of things, but she managed to do it quite well, despite her first point in the essay that women feminists would have a tough time doing so. Conrad tries to beat us all 'round the ears with the greatness of manly heroics, but I feel proud of Straus for managing to fight back without sounding like a man-hater. Straus did have some weaknesses in her essay, though. There were times when she (I assume unknowingly) made female critics sound like they really are helpless and incapable in a area of criticism that was once previously dominated by mainly male opinion. In an essay that focuses on an underlying strength of women, no matter how they are represented, I felt that maybe she should not have left in the small undercurrents of women frailty that make themselves apparent in how things are worded every now and then.
The feminist agenda is complete upon the reading of this essay! Women, bear up your arms, and we can... Well, Conrad is dead, but there are still plenty of living people who need to hear a good feminist criticism, so they realize the world is not as beautiful and truthfully equal as they once thought it was.