Discuss the representation of white women, and any symbolic representation that might be present in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most significant white woman portrayed in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness would be Kurtz's fiancee (his "intended"). When Marlow sees her almost a year after Kurtz's death, she is still mourning as if he had died yesterday or even that day: her sorrow has not abated at all. However, she is a part of the "civilized" world and knows nothing about what Kurtz had become while in the jungles of the Congo.

She asks Marlow questions, and he works hard to say what she wants or even needs to hear—without revealing the ugly truth, though it might be safe to infer that this woman so idolized Kurtz that she might never have believed anything but the highest praise of him.

"You knew him well," she murmured...

"Intimacy grows quickly out there," I said. "I knew him as well as it is possible for one man to know another."

"And you admired him," she said. "It was impossible to know him and not to admire him. Was it?"

Marlow treads carefully as he speaks to her. Her admiration and devotion to Kurtz is obvious. She mistakes Marlow for Kurtz's friend, and turns almost with desperation to Marlow to tell him of her worthiness of the man she believed she knew better than anyone else. She pours out her pain to Marlow for she has no one else to tell: no one who knew Kurtz. She is sure that everyone admired him.

He drew men towards him by what was best in them.

Ironically, without knowing how truly she speaks, Kurtz's fiancee notes:

He died as he lived.

Marlow begins to get angry inside, and his rebuttal reflects what he knows of Kurtz that she will never—must never—know:

"His end," I said, with dull anger stirring in me, "was in every way worthy of his life."

Kurtz's fiancee needs some kind of ease for the loss of the love of this man she knew, seemingly not at all—or at least not as he had become in the Congo—so Marlow lies in an effort to give her some peace:

"The last word he pronounced was—your name."

She is greatly comforted, though Marlow expects to be struck down by heaven for such a blatant lie, especially when Kurtz's last words were nothing so dear as his intended's name—they were actually, "The horror! The horror!" It seems there was no place in his mind for Kurtz to remember her at the end for it would seem he had lost even himself.

This woman has no true knowledge of what Kurtz had become. In a sense, she is symbolic of Europe. The women with their lovely fans and pianos that created music of such beauty, were also immersed in the oblivion that surrounded the circumstances of retrieving ivory so that it could be turned into a "cool" profit, while being cherished and enjoyed.

For Marlow, even recalling his horror, he could find no way to share the truth with the grieving woman. She would go on in ignorance, just as Europe did—until word of the atrocities in the Congo began to spread. Until then, the fiancee represents society's peace and complacency—found only in ignorance.

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Heart of Darkness

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