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 Heart of Darkness: Marlow’s aunt, Kurtz’s mistress, and Kurtz’s “Intended.” Marlow mentions these female characters in order to give the literal aspect of his tale more substance. While they definitely play specific roles in the story, they do not relate with the primary theme of the story. The primary theme focuses more on how Marlow’s journey into the heart of darkness 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.
In the beginning of Marlow’s story he tells how he, “Charlie Marlow, set the women to work–to get a job.” He tells this in the context that he was so desperate 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 to ask her for help whenever he needed it. 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, it was intended by Conrad to illustrate Marlow’s opinion of women’s inferior role in society, which embodied traditional 19th century society.
The two other female characters are not mentioned until much later in the story, after Marlow has arrived at the Inner Station. When Marlow reaches this point in his tale, he jumps ahead and tells a little bit about The Intended, Kurtz’s fianceé who was to marry Kurtz when he returned. The Intended woman does not appear until the very end of the novelette, in which Marlow visits her and lies to her about Kurtz’s dying words. 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 main theme of the story.
The third female character, Kurtz’s African mistress, is briefly mentioned two times near the end of the novel.
Running into Darkness in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Heart Of Darkness: Running from the Truth
In the novel Heart Of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad, the main
character makes a decision to go against his convictions by telling a
lie about Kurtz¹s death to the intended. After careful analysis of the
situation, one can see that Marlow is justified in lying to the
intended because the lie enables Marlow live the rest of his life
without having to bear the weight of truth on his shoulders.
There was great meaning in the actual final words uttered by Kurtz.
Kurtz had seen the true heart of man, and he knew of the evil. In his
final words ³the horror, the horror²(68), Marlow comes to understand
and to accept Kurtz¹s view of life. The things that Kurtz had both
done and seen in his life were in fact horrible, but was something
that Marlow was able to look past. This is later clear by what is in
his thoughts as he talks to the woman. He condemning mankind as a
whole with this statement. . This is why Marlow keeps the words to
himself. It allows him to preserve hope both in the intended, and more
importantly in himself.
Early in the story Marlow makes it clear that he detests lies. He
says ³There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies-which
is exactly what I hate and detest in the world(29).² This quote comes
to mind at the end of the book when Marlow blatantly lies to the
intended, but there is plenty evidence that Marlow¹s has not changed,
only his method of avoiding what he hates. He says that he hates the
morality, and the taint of death associated with lies, but in this
case these things are associated with the truth. Marlow tells of a
vision that he has on his way into see the intended. He says that he
saw Kurtz ³on the stretcher opening his mouth voraciously as if to
devour all of the earth with all its mankind² and that he had seen
Kurtz as ³a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful
realities, a shadow darker than the shadow of night,(72). This is a
real and vivid description of his feelings for Kurtz. To Marlow, Kurtz
was an evil force that represented horror of what people could easily
become under the right circumstances.