womenhod Women in Darkness in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Women in Heart of Darkness  


Women seem to be categorized into a separate group, serving as supplements to men’s actions, characters and behavior. All of them seem to live in the realm of their own, built on the idealistic conception of the surrounding world, governed by fair rules and laws.

The two women Marlow encounters in the Company’s office knit black wool – they represent the Fates who guard the “door of Darkness” (Hell and Destruction) and to the “house in a city of dead”. The black colour may be associated with the Natives on whose destruction and exploitation the Company was based. Black is also equivalent to the Darkness into which Marlow descends (sin and death). The wool may signify the thread of life. Their appearance is foreshadowed by the two black hens which ‘decided’ about Fresleven’s doom.

Marlow’s aunt is depicted with an underlying irony (“a dear enthusiastic soul”) which points to an illusive existence of a white woman in her civilised imagined world. She was “ready to do anything” for Marlow in the name of a “noble cause”, that is, colonising the Blacks and implementing civilisation in the Darkness of Congo. She firmly believes her nephew to be the “emissary of light”, overlooking the dark level of exploiting the Natives for financial benefits (ivory).

The painting of a woman who is “blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch” which Marlow admires signifies initial intentions of Kurtz and his beliefs before he was swallowed by the tempting Darkness. He was to have been an emissary of light but remained blindfolded and did not see the consequences leading him to his self-destruction. The painting indicates the original, good nature of Kurtz, lost in the dark of the Congo.

The native woman represents the whole Black community and the beauty of the wilderness, both of which were invaded by the ‘civilised’ whites. She is the passionate reality, being “savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent”, reminding the whites of the Black heritage and their own culture (jewellery). The gesture of throwing her arms into the sky may symbolise a dumb outcry to God to restore the original Time when the land was not raided and there was peace and freedom (“wild sorrow...dumb pain”). The lack of words which remain unsaid, only reiterates her appearance and the message sent by her behaviour.

Kurtz’s fiancee becomes contrasted with the native woman – the Intended, as signified by the name, will remain the Intended, living with an idealistic image of her husband-to-be whom she unquestionably believed to be of impeccable character and behaviour.

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The truth about Kurtz would be “too dark” and would destroy her illusive world based on the false image of his greatness.

“Women...we must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse.”

These words uttered by Marlow deny the quest into the Darkness for women – their role is limited to living in their own world because the might be too weak to face all the obstacles and temptations.


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