There are not many
women in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but the few present are
portrayed in a very unique way. I would even argue that Marlow has a
very particular view of women as a whole, his perception perfectly
encapsulates the lens through which women were viewed when this
novella was written.

Certain women, such
as the intended and Marlow’s aunt, represent the unknowing reader
back home in England

“It’s
queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of
their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can
be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it
would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we
men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation
would start up and knock the whole thing over.”

This quote from
Marlow perfectly presents his belief that women hold true to ideals
and carry with them a certain naivete that makes them believe in
fantasy worlds and utopias that are unrealistic. Marlow believes that
men bear the power to see through this facade. But I personally find
this ironic because there is a certain hypocrisy in saying men are
more realistic and knowing than women but then to also believe that
colonialism is anything more but the abomination it has shown to be.

And, of course you
cannot discuss the portrayal of women without comparing Marlow’s
description of Kurtz’s mistress and the intended.
Firstly, the
intended is almost treated by Kurtz as if she is his property, “My
Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my-” This commentary from
Marlow gives the reader the impression that Kurtz is dehumanizing her
and grouping her with all of the other objects he feels that hes
entitled to. This, along with the fact that he never calls her by her
name, further strengthens the point of how greedy and arrogant Kurtz
really is.

The native mistress
is a complete and utter contrast to Kurtz’s intended.
She is not only bold
and powerful, she is also an embodiment of the African jungle. I
would argue that the fact that the mistress is so connected to this
almost omnipresent jungle only further shows the strong divergence
between her and the innocent and naive intended who has no idea what
horrors lie outside of Europe. The mistress is also described as
“savage and superb” this explains why Kurtz is so willing to be
disloyal towards his intended because we know that his lust and lack
of shame and compassion have helped push him to be something that is
more beast than man.

“This
fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an
ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me. Their glance was
guileless, profound, confident, and trustful.”

Marlow’s
description of the intended displays how he sees European women as
these pure creatures, shes almost like an angel. Her physical
appearance also matches up with how she sees Kurtz as this divine
creature who has brought light in the form of “the idea” to the
center of Africa. Moreover, his mistresses appearance mirrors the
dark primal truths about him and his doings.

There
are two women at the in the first part of the novella who Marlow
briefly encounters at
the office of the Company, “one fat and one slim.” These two are
“guarding the door of Darkness” and are symbolic of the Fates
from Greek mythology, each fate either spins, measures, or cuts the
thread of life. But
the main difference here is that the third fate is missing, I believe
that the missing fate is the fate that cuts the thread, People
are brought to the company, assigned a job, but their death is not a
variable that can be controlled by
the Company.

Another
meaningful allegory
is Kurtz’s
painting. This
painting is a clear representation of colonialism and the descent
into Africa. Whats most interesting is that a white woman is used to
represent the European colonists. She is blindfolded which not only
serves the overlying commentary that women are blind to the truths
of the outside world. Many might say that the torch represents “the
idea” but I would argue that the torch represents the world in
which women are sheltered in. An aura of light which keeps the
closest surroundings
illuminated but the shroud of the darkness is
not revealed at all. Kurtz’s painting also symbolizes his initial
desire. Just like the blind girl, Kurtz once yearned to bring the
“light” of civilization to the “dark” continent of Africa.

There’s
a contrast between the woman in the painting who is a source of light
and the intended who’s room is “growing darker while her forehead
remains “illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief and
love,” almost as if all of the light is being drained and channeled
into her mind. Her mind, as we already know, is full of delusions
that Kurtz was more than the monster that the reader has come to
know.

In
conclusion, I
believe that the
western European women
act as a barrier between the perceived “civilized” world and the
heart of darkness that is human nature. I believe that the point that
Marlow, and in turn Conrad, is trying to make is that without
the innocence of women
mankind’s
fall into primal behavior would be much much more apparent. Marlow
thinks that we need
to preserve the purity of the western women lest we face the dark
truth that is within every man.