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The Major Themes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The two major themes of Heart of Darkness are the conflict between “reality” and “darkness,” and the idea of restraint and whether or not it is necessary. Conrad’s passage describing the restraint of the hungry cannibals exemplifies both themes: It describes how reality shapes human behavior, and contrasts the characters of Kurtz and Marlow. “Reality,” as it is used here, is defined as “that which is civilized.”

Conrad emphasizes the idea of what is real versus what is “dark,” what is civilized versus what is primitive, what colonizes versus what is colonized, repeatedly throughout Heart of Darkness. As stated above, “real,” in this case, contains all the implications of a civilized society: clothing which covers a person’s sexual organs, restraint from gluttony, a constant reliance on clocks as dictators of action, etc. The cannibals in the aforementioned passage face a horrendous conflict between what is real and what is “dark,” or, in their case, what is natural and what must be restrained. Marlow cannot fathom how these “big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences” could restrain their desires to consume him and the pilgrims: “Restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience, fear – or some kind of primitive honor? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out.” The “darkness” these men restrain is the part of every person that wants fulfillment, the Id in psychoanalytic terms, the part almost every orthodox religion looks down upon. Along with every civilized society, one which requires some form of government, the citizens are expected to restrain, to a certain extent, their most basic desires. This theme can be taken a step farther, and c…

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…ssage describing the cannibals exemplifies both. The cannibals are practicing a sort of enigmatic restraint that keeps them from fulfilling a basic human need; on a second level, they are facing the issue of what is reality (what is civilized) versus what is natural. Although there is no concrete evidence that these peoples are cannibalistic, the natural solution to their hunger is to eat, and they do not. Marlow, the character symbolic of the reality of civilization, practices this restraint, a sort of religious emulation of what he has seen of civilized peoples up to this point. Kurtz, on the other hand, has abandoned his restraint, has stepped into the “darkness” so to speak. “The horror! The horror!” he utters on his deathbed, perhaps expressing contempt at his own actions, perhaps at all existence. Perhaps at the reality and restraints of civilization.

Roles of Women During the Renaissance as Seen in Shakespeare’s Henry IV

Roles of Women During the Renaissance as Seen in Shakespeare’s Henry IV

The plays of Shakespeare can be used as a window upon Renaissance society. However, if one looks through this window and does not leave behind the ideals of a modern society, the view may become distorted and not be as pleasing as it was for Shakespeare’s contemporaries. In I Henry IV, the characters of the women are not equally developed as the male characters; but their interaction, or lack thereof, depicts the changing, yet somehow stagnant, roles of women during the English Renaissance.

In I Henry IV, the “themes of public and private life are brought together” (Speaight, 163). Elizabethan society was marked by gender seperation, both publicly and privately. Lady Percy does not play an active role outside of Hotspur’s private life. To Hotspur, a woman’s world was “To play with mammets and to tilt with lips (2. 2. 91), a gentle powerless occupation that did not mix with man’s domain of “bloody noses and cracked crowns” (2. 2. 92). Although women writing during this time affirmed that women are “tender foft and beautifull, fo doth her difpofition in minde correfponde accordingly; she is milde, yielding, and and vertuous”(Sowernam, 43), women among the higher social classes began to question their inferiority to men as a result of the new emphasis on education for women.

The heightened exposure to Biblical and classical influences among Renaissance women created paradoxical results. “Education was designed to fill specific private functions and responsabilities” (Travitsky, 5). Women were not encouraged to leave their place within the home, but instead were encouraged on the “development of the home as a school of faith” …

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…lewd, froward, and unconstant men, and Husbands. Divided into Two Parts. The first proveth the dignity and worthinesse of Women, out of divine Testimonies. The second shewing the estimation of the Foe-minine Sexe, in ancient and Pagan times: all which is acknowledged by men themselves in their actions. Written by Ester Sowernam, neither Maide,Wife, nor Widdowe, yet really all, and therefore experienced to defend all. London: Printed for Nicholas Bourne, 1617. STC 22974. University Microfilms Reel no 1188.

4. Spaight, Robert. Shakespeare: The Man and his Achievement. London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1977.

5. Travitsky, Betty, ed. The Paradise of Women: Writings by Englishwomen of the Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.

6. Watson, Curtis Brown. Shakespeare and the Renaissance Concept of Honor. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960.

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