In what way do “the women” help Marlow in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

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bianchijoe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "women" that Charlie Marlow refers to are those who help him to find employment. He's fairly embarrassed that he had to resort to them, but he had become frustrated by the lack of response he received from the men he knew, who "did nothing," when he "began to worry them." As a last resort to get "get charge" of a steamship, he "tried the women,"  specifically his aunt, an "enthusiastic soul," who apparently had some connections with the Company, and who made "no end of fuss to get [him] appointed skipper of a river steamship." Marlow discovers at some point that she had "represented [him] to the wife of [a] high dignitary," which garnered him his position.

Interestingly, Marlow criticizes this same woman for believing that the Company had noble intentions in the Congo, noting that she subscribes to such "rot" she has encountered "in print and talk just about that time." Conrad thus begins his presentation of women as naive souls who are hopelessly "out of touch with truth," which continues all the way to the end of the book, when he encounters Kurtz's "Intended."

The other way Marlow's aunt inadvertently helped him emerges when Marlow meets the Brickmaker at the Central Station. The brickmaker assumes that Marlow was hired by the same people who hired Kurtz, and that he is among "the new gang of virtue," which Marlow allows him to believe. He remarks that his "dear aunt's influential acquaintances were producing an unexpected effect" on the Brickmaker, which Marlow decides to use to his advantage.

In spite of his criticism of women and reluctance to seek their help, Marlow's adventure would not have occurred without them, and the reputation that preceded him to the Congo would not have materialized.

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Heart of Darkness

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