Another example of this fantasy world that women live in occurs when Marlow tells the Intended of Kurtz’s last words. Like Marlow’s aunt, the Intended represents women of Victorian England in that her reality was based on “the faith that was in her…that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness” (133). To Marlow, women must live in a perfect world: “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 get worse” (97). Again, women are shown to be ignorant of reality and are treated in view of that, such as when Kurtz describes the Intended as one item in a list of his property: “My intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my-” (97). Note, however, that only Marlow and Kurtz make these comments on the ignorance of women, and it is because of this view that Marlow lies to the Intended.
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In contrast to the Intended, the native mistress’ first appearance gives readers an image of a bold and courageous woman. She alone stands on the shore as men fire guns at the natives and is described as a “wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman…savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent” (113). The image she radiates seems unlike that of Marlow’s aunt or the Intended, in that the native woman has a commanding presence within her tribe. In actuality, despite the appearance of importance, she is regarded by men as expendable. The Russian says, “If she had offered to come aboard I really think I would have tried to shoot her” (114). Marlow and his men are allowed to help Kurtz, but the native woman is not even allowed to suggest helping.
This inferiority of the native mistress in the Congo parallels the same role of the Intended in European civilization: women are helpless without men. This is evident when “the barbarous and superb woman…stretched tragically her bare arms after us over the somber and glittering river” (122), identical to when the Intended “put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them back and with clasped pale hands…resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness” (134). Symbolically, this motion signifies the inexplicable female dependence on men in that both women reached out for Kurtz. Furthermore, the gesture demonstrates a side of women cultured by men, a refusal to accept reality. This is also shown by the native woman’s apparent unawareness of Kurtz’s atrocities.
When taking into consideration all the male influences on women in the novel, it is impossible to support the notion that women were in any sense important. In the entire Heart of Darkness, few women are mentioned. Those that are have minor roles and are either regarded as inferior to men or detached from reality, despite having an artificial sense of value. This view of women is representative of the Victorian era in that women were male property. The importance of this notion, however, is that it is blatantly exemplified in the novel, raising the question of whether Conrad also held the same view as the men in the story.
This is not only prevalent in Heart of Darkness, but it can be seen everywhere in history, even today.
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