What is the view of females in the Heart of Darkness?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The view of females in this novella is particularly interesting. Whilst the noble and savage African queen-figure who is Kurtz's mistress is silent, except of course for her expression of tremendous loss and sadness at the Europeans who take her lover away from her, the Intended and Marlow's aunt are very much outspoken about their beliefs concerning colonialism and what the European exploits in Africa were all about. Note how, when Marlow visits his aunt before taking up his post as the captain of a steamship in Africa, the aunt is shown to express her views about what her nephew is doing and about colonialism in general. Marlow is presented to his aunt's friends and acquaintances in the following terms:

Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle... She talked of "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways," till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable.

The aunt refers to a narrative that seeks to justify the brutal truth of colonialism. By thinking that the Africans as a people are "ignorant," the colonialists therefore have a reason to go into Africa and take power and resources from them, as they can conveniently cover up such exploits through the supposed "good" that they are doing through taking Christianity and civilisation out to Africa with them. The truth of what really goes on in Africa is ignored by both the aunt and by the Intended, and the darkness that surrounds her as she has her interview with Marlow suggests the evil of such myopia: a refusal to acknowledge the truth of colonialism, Conrad suggests, is just as wrong as the actual acts that constituted colonialism itself.

StephanieRR | Student

Along with what the previous post says, there is also an idea about women that Marlow expresses at a couple different points of the story. The first time is after he visits his aunt and she delivers her opinion on colonialism and the business they are doing over in Africa.

"It's queer how out of touch with the truth women are! They live in a world of their own and there had 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."

Later, Marlow mentions Kurtz's intended in passing and then says a few words about her before moving on with his narrative.

"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."

Both of these quotes point to this idea that women can't possibly grasp what really goes on in the world or how things actually work. In some ways, it seems Marlow is criticizing this way women think, as it makes them seem ignorant and unrealistic. However, there seems to be a part of Marlow that genuinely wants to preserve this female worldview, as he always follows up his comments with the statement that men should do what they can to help keep these women in their ideal bubble, their "beautiful world" that has no room for truth.