Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness book cover
Start Your Free Trial

In Heart of Darkness, how are the two women outside the secretary's office symbolic?  

Expert Answers info

Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write10,186 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

As was mentioned in the previous post, the two women Marlow interacts with during his doctor's visit symbolize two of the three Fates found in Greek mythology. The Fates were personified as three old women who spun the threads of human destiny. Clotho is the name of the woman who spins the thread, Lachesis distributes the amount of thread, and Atropos determines the person's death by cutting the thread. Interestingly, only two of the three Fates are represented in Marlow's visit to the doctor. Marlow recalls seeing a younger nurse introduce the arriving men, while the older nurse gives the men quick glances of "unconcerned wisdom." These nurses give Marlow an uneasy feeling and he mentions,

"Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes" (Conrad, 15).

According to Greek mythology, the Fates represented various stages in one's life. However, Conrad only represents the youngest and oldest Fate in the scene at the doctor's office. This leaves the significant question as to why the third Fate, possibly the middle-aged one, is missing from the scene. The middle-aged Fate, Lachesis, represents life. Her possible absence suggests that Marlow's life has taken a turn for the worse. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write1,918 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

The two women who are sitting outside of the secretary's are symbolic of the Fates from Greek Mythology.The three women were usually characterized as Clotho, a spinner of the thread of life; Lachesis, who was the measurer and choses the kind and length of life of a person. Finally, there is Atropos, who at death cuts through the tread of life with her scissors. As representative of the Fates, these knitting women are put in the place as judges of Marlow, able to determine his fate. The fact there are two, not three women, indicates one is missing---possibly Atropos, indicating Marlow is not near to death.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

ivory | Student

The symbolic of the two women that marlow met when he first intered the trade company in Brusseles, is looke like the gaurdians of hell because they look like dead, didn't talk, knitting wool as if they knit coffins.

The two women gave Marlow and us -as readers- a negative view to what will happen next.