Two novelists Mary Shelley and Joseph Conrad

Setting in Frankenstein and Heart of Darkness

Setting is crucial in ensuring that a tale moves in the proper direction. In Frankenstein and Heart of Darkness, the two novelists Mary Shelley and Joseph Conrad use setting in distinct ways to bring out the subjects of discussion. For example, Mary Shelley employs a variety of settings to reduce Frankenstein to a mere horror narrative. While many critics say that this does not do Frankenstein justice, Shelley is keen to weave topics like as cultural themes, scientific conflicts, educational consequences, and religious turmoil into the scenario. Shelley makes the setting of Frankenstein to embrace a gothic essence; and this makes the story to get the desired perfection. On the other hand, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness chooses the African environment as its key setting (Murray, 117). The use of rivers like River Congo and River Thames make a clear contrast of the European environments to that of Africa. On the other hand, Conrad uses a political landscape in his setting as a way of bringing out the fact that Western countries had great interests in Africa. This paper seeks to undertake a critical analysis of settings in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness based on the extents to which characters, the surrounding landscape and imagery contribute to the continuation of the storylines.

Use of Characters in the Settings of Frankenstein and Heart of Darkness

Characters are of great significance in ensuring continuity of the storyline as well as conveying the desired message in any work of literature. In most cases, novelists have strived to strike a balance between male and female characters in their works. However, Frankenstein and Heart of Darkness tend to deviate from these conventions based on the fact that they put a lot of emphasis on male characters. As a matter of fact, the two novelists make use of male characters in an exclusive way. Analysts have attributed the settings of the two stories to the deliberate choice of excluding female characters in moving the storylines of the novels.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is a deliberate choice of application of three male narrators. It is only through the minds of these narrators that the audience is able to get a feel of the experiences and descriptions of the females (Mattison, 491). In this case, Shelley alienates the female characters and their voices are only heard through their male counterparts. This choice plays a critical role in creating a distinct setting for the novel. Overdependence on male characters in the novel sanctifies the notion that prevailed on the superiority of men despite women emerging to take the stand against their male counterparts (London, 254). In Frankenstein, undermining the voices of women brings out a setting in which the female character is conditioned to perceive herself as a person in great need of help from the male counterpart.

Men represent women in this story through perceptions and gaze as opposed to real ideas. As a matter of cat, the women represented in Frankenstein intensify the setting of the story based on the less detailed descriptions they enjoy in comparison to their male colleagues. Shelley uses these narrow descriptions for women in a deliberate way as a technique of reducing the importance of the females while depicting them as instruments meant to reflect the ideas of the males. According to London (255), Shelley brings out women in such a way that they are not meant to enjoy their own rights but rather as objects to signal the relationships they have with men. For instance, the role of women as conduits of the relationships enjoyed between other men is depicted by Walton’s sister who plays a meditational role when he shows his admiration towards Frankstein. However, this friendship is only described by the author to the audience by the use of mail correspondences between Walton and his female sibling. In this case, Walton’s sister is only used as a tool of communication.

In Heart of Darkness, Conrad critically alienates the involvement of female characters in his plot by choosing an ancient political landscape which was dominated by the males (Conrad, 15). It should be understood that the political events contributing to the setting of this novel took place at a time when the political landscape was greatly dominated by the males. The roles of the females were only supportive. Heart of Darkness, revolves around Africa; a society whose political democracy had not grown to the extents of allowing women to participate in the politics of their nations and western economies like England and Belgium who were using the males to extract resources from the rich African continent (Murray, 121). Like in Frankenstein, women are dominated by males in Heart of Darkness.

Conrad depicts women as instruments of sexual affection whose role is only to satisfy their male counterparts. For instance, Conrad is left lavishing for an African woman at the end of the story. It is quite obvious that this is the same woman Mr. Kutz had a relationship with. In this case, the African lady is used to satisfy the affection needs of Conrad and those of Mr. Kutz. In his description, Conrad explains that the woman was “savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent ....She stood looking at us without a stir and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose.” (Conrad, 56)


Shelley creates a landscape full of fiction to enhance the effects of the settings of Frankenstein. Monstrous births bring out the appeal of the novel as depicted by Victor. This character not only makes use of dead matter but also the inability to give his descendants the love and care they desire, resulting into a monstrous setting (Mattison, 491). The monstrous birth emanates from the fact that Victor gives birth to his children against the laws of nature and those of science that call for the involvement of a female character when a child is conceived. According to London (255), Shelley does this in a deliberate manner as a way of creating the superiority of men over women. To do this, Shelley uses births from males as a way of excluding women from their known roles in the society. This brings out the sense of being useless among women. Through assigning Victor Frankenstein the function of giving birth, Shelley brings out the fact that men can also endure the pains and situations women go through in pregnancy.

In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the political landscape is used in a significant way to bring out the setting of the novel. As a matter of fact, the storyline greatly revolves around the politics of the British Empire, Belgium and Africa. Economics and trade around rivers is used as a way of bringing out the importance of various channels of transport on enabling social relationships. Political leadership is brought out by King Leopold’s control of vast lands b both in Belgium and in Congo (Murray, 133). This is brought out by Marlow’s interview at Albert Thy’s company headquarters. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad takes time to describe the levels to which Africa and Africans were exploited by western masters. Issues like slavery, grabbing of ivory and exploitation of resources from Africa by Western States are used to drive the setting of the novel. It is important to put into consideration the historical context of Heart of Darkness when discussing its political landscape as an aspect of setting. The events in the novel take place at a time when European countries struggled to expand their territorial boundaries in the most promising landscapes of Africa and Asia. Issues of slavery are brought out by the novel when it looks into the surrounding environments of River Thames. Conrad uses this river in a deliberate way to reveal the presence of dozens of children speaking African dialects (Murray, 118).

In conclusion, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness make use of their novels to bring out the position of women in the society. This contributes a great deal in the settings of the two novels. While Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is dominated by issues beyond science like the use of monstrous settings, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness makes use of political events as a way of creating its storyline. In the two novels, the role played by women is only looked as being supportive based on the high levels of male dominance.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. "Heart of darkness." Joseph Conrad: Three Novels. Macmillan Education UK, 1995. 1-91.

London, Bette. "Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the spectacle of masculinity." Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1993): 253-267.

Mattison, Joel. "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Plastic and reconstructive surgery 96.2 (1995): 491.

Murray, David. "Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness." Literary Theory at Work: Three Texts (1987): 115-34.

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