In Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s view of women embodies the typical 19th-century view of women as the inferior sex. There are only three relatively minor female characters in the Heart of Darkness: Marlow’s aunt, Kurtz’s mistress, and Kurtz’s “Intended,” who was Kurtz’s fiancï¿½. Marlow mentions these female characters to give the literal aspect of his tale more substance. While they play specific roles in the story, they do not relate to the story’s primary theme. The primary theme focuses on how Marlow’s journey into the Heart of Darkness. It contrasts the “white” souls of the black people and the “black” souls of the whites who exploit them and how it led to Marlow’s self-discovery.
From the starting of Marlow’s story, Conrad tells how he, “Charlie Marlow, set the women to work–to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see, the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: ‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration and a man who has lots of influence with,’ etc. She was determined to make no end of fuss to get me appointed skipper of a river steamboat if such was my fancy.” (page 20) He tells the quote in the context that he was anxious to travel in the trade industry that he did what was unthinkable in those times: he asked a woman for financial assistance.
The woman, his aunt, also transcended the traditional role of women in those times by telling Marlow that she would be delighted to help him and ask her for help whenever he needed it. She was the connection to the Company in which Marlow receives a position. This incident did not have much to do with the symbolic theme of the story; it simply served to tell the reader how Marlow managed to be able to travel to the Congo. On a higher level, Conrad intended to illustrate Marlow’s opinion of women’s inferior role in society, which embodied traditional 19th-century society. Marlow’s aunt is one of the few women with power, but only because she knows powerful men.
The two other female characters are not mentioned until much later after Marlow has arrived at the Inner Station. When Marlow reaches this point in his tale, he jumps ahead and talks a minimal amount about “The Intended,” Kurtz’s naï¿½ve fiancï¿½ who was to marry Kurtz when he returned. The Intended woman does not appear until the very end of the novel, in which Marlow visits her and lies to her about Kurtz’s dying words. Her unshakable certainty about Kurtz’s love for her reinforces Marlow’s belief that women live in a dream world, well insulated from reality. “Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she is out of it – completely. They – the women, I mean – are out of it – should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse.” (Part 2, page 29)
At the first mention of the Intended, Marlow reverts to his opinion of women as completely out of touch with reality. However, he finds their fantastic visions of world peace so touching and beautiful that he does not want to disillusion them with the ugly truth. Instead, he claims that men should help keep women dreaming their beautiful dreams. The way Kurtz’s wife is described in this novel shows how women were known during this time. Women during this time were known to be inferior to men. They always stayed under the men. The Intended had a more significant role in the story than Marlow’s aunt; however, her role as a whole was somewhat limited and did not affect the story’s main theme.
The third female character, Kurtz’s African mistress, is briefly mentioned two times near the novel’s end. She appears while Marlow talks to the Russian and the Russian growls at her and says she makes mischief. “She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, and innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men that hung about her glittered and trembled at every step.”(Part 3, page 14) In the book Heart of Darkness, This seductive native African woman has the air of a warrior.
She walks regally, and without fear, her hair is “done in the shape of a helmet,” and she wears protective brass coverings on her limbs. Later on, she appears when Marlow and Kurtz depart on the steamboat and is not scared off when Marlow blows the whistle. She stretches her arms out towards the steamer, and that is the last time she is seen. The limited depiction of female characters in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and how Marlow refers to the three female characters reflect Marlow’s view of women as inferior. Marlow’s opinion of women manifests the typical 19th-century views of women. While the women play key roles in the plot of the story, they do not influence the main theme of the story, which is Marlow’s exploration of the darkness inherent in the human soul.