“They- the women I mean- are out of it- should be out of it. We (men) must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse. ” The representation of gender in the text Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a very patriarchal one, seen through the eyes of the main character, a male, Charlie Marlow. Women are significantly omitted from the narrative and when they are present or talked about, they are not given names and are known as the `aunt’, the `knitting women’ and the `mistress’. Regardless of this, when they are included in the story, they all convey power that is not typical to what the men believed woman should have.
Marlow’s aunt, who had a small part at the very beginning of the novel, was a vital character in Marlow’s story. If it was not for her he would have, quite possibly, never had the chance to become a skipper on the river steamboat Thames and travel to the Congo in Africa. Receiving a job from a woman in Marlow’s time was not very common and Marlow considered this shameful: “Then- would you believe it? I tried the woman. I Charlie Marlow, set the woman to work- to geta job.
Heavens! ” What he didn’t realise, was that his power was given to him by her- therefore making her powerful. Furthermore, the aunt obtained some of her power from another woman: “I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration… I (Marlow) had been represented to the wife of the high dignitary… an exceptional and gifted creature… ” Knowing other powerful people can often make a person more powerful themselves and this proved itself in the case of Marlow’s aunt and it was she who started him off on his `powerful’ adventure.
Before Charlie Marlow’s adventure began, he came across two women, knitting black wool, at the front of the Company headquarters. They symbolised four different `characters of power’. Marlow considered them as taking on a role of “guarding the door of Darkness”. These women are defined by classical mythology: Clotho and Lachesis- the spinners of men’s lives and Atropos who decided when each man died- by cutting the string. Marlow thought them to be “uncanny and fateful”.
They are not characters in their own right but the mythological connotations that are connected with them make them appear to readers more powerful than just `knitting women’ as they (symbolically) were the deciders of fate. This meant they acquired power over every living thing, deciding such things as health or illness and life or death- like a god who is considered almighty and powerful. Marlow suggested that they appeared very knowledgable: “… quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She seemed to know all about them and about me too. ” Knowledge is a type of power: knowing things that others don’t or before others, puts you ahead and makes you more aware.
One of the women was described as having “…a cat reposed on her lap… a wart on each cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her nose. ” She was also called “the old one” . These are attributes which are commonly found in witches. Witches- who were women- (a second representation of power) had supernatural powers which were powers beyond mortal men; they used magic and spells to get what they wanted. Marlow used a Latin quote directed towards the knitting women: “Ave! Morituri te salutant. ” (“Hail! Those who are about to die salute you. “) This was what Roman gladiators used to say to their Emperor.