There are not manywomen in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but the few present areportrayed in a very unique way.
I would even argue that Marlow has avery particular view of women as a whole, his perception perfectlyencapsulates the lens through which women were viewed when thisnovella was written.Certain women, suchas the intended and Marlow’s aunt, represent the unknowing readerback home in England”It’squeer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world oftheir own, and there has never been anything like it, and never canbe. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up itwould go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact wemen have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creationwould start up and knock the whole thing over.”This quote fromMarlow perfectly presents his belief that women hold true to idealsand carry with them a certain naivete that makes them believe infantasy worlds and utopias that are unrealistic. Marlow believes thatmen bear the power to see through this facade.
But I personally findthis ironic because there is a certain hypocrisy in saying men aremore realistic and knowing than women but then to also believe thatcolonialism is anything more but the abomination it has shown to be.And, of course youcannot discuss the portrayal of women without comparing Marlow’sdescription of Kurtz’s mistress and the intended.Firstly, theintended is almost treated by Kurtz as if she is his property, “MyIntended, my ivory, my station, my river, my-” This commentary fromMarlow gives the reader the impression that Kurtz is dehumanizing herand grouping her with all of the other objects he feels that hesentitled to. This, along with the fact that he never calls her by hername, further strengthens the point of how greedy and arrogant Kurtzreally is.
The native mistressis a complete and utter contrast to Kurtz’s intended.She is not only boldand powerful, she is also an embodiment of the African jungle. Iwould argue that the fact that the mistress is so connected to thisalmost omnipresent jungle only further shows the strong divergencebetween her and the innocent and naive intended who has no idea whathorrors lie outside of Europe. The mistress is also described as”savage and superb” this explains why Kurtz is so willing to bedisloyal towards his intended because we know that his lust and lackof shame and compassion have helped push him to be something that ismore beast than man.”Thisfair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by anashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me.
Their glance wasguileless, profound, confident, and trustful.” Marlow’sdescription of the intended displays how he sees European women asthese pure creatures, shes almost like an angel. Her physicalappearance also matches up with how she sees Kurtz as this divinecreature who has brought light in the form of “the idea” to thecenter of Africa. Moreover, his mistresses appearance mirrors thedark primal truths about him and his doings. Thereare two women at the in the first part of the novella who Marlowbriefly encounters atthe office of the Company, “one fat and one slim.” These two are”guarding the door of Darkness” and are symbolic of the Fatesfrom Greek mythology, each fate either spins, measures, or cuts thethread of life. Butthe main difference here is that the third fate is missing, I believethat the missing fate is the fate that cuts the thread, Peopleare brought to the company, assigned a job, but their death is not avariable that can be controlled bythe Company.
Anothermeaningful allegoryis Kurtz’spainting. Thispainting is a clear representation of colonialism and the descentinto Africa. Whats most interesting is that a white woman is used torepresent the European colonists. She is blindfolded which not onlyserves the overlying commentary that women are blind to the truthsof the outside world. Many might say that the torch represents “theidea” but I would argue that the torch represents the world inwhich women are sheltered in. An aura of light which keeps theclosest surroundingsilluminated but the shroud of the darkness isnot revealed at all. Kurtz’s painting also symbolizes his initialdesire.
Just like the blind girl, Kurtz once yearned to bring the”light” of civilization to the “dark” continent of Africa.There’sa contrast between the woman in the painting who is a source of lightand the intended who’s room is “growing darker while her foreheadremains “illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief andlove,” almost as if all of the light is being drained and channeledinto her mind. Her mind, as we already know, is full of delusionsthat Kurtz was more than the monster that the reader has come toknow.Inconclusion, Ibelieve that thewestern European womenact as a barrier between the perceived “civilized” world and theheart of darkness that is human nature.
I believe that the point thatMarlow, and in turn Conrad, is trying to make is that withoutthe innocence of womenmankind’sfall into primal behavior would be much much more apparent. Marlowthinks that we needto preserve the purity of the western women lest we face the darktruth that is within every man.