Heart of Darkness

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Women Symbol Icon
Marlow believes that women exist in a world of beautiful illusions that have nothing to do with truth or the real world. In this way, women come to symbolize civilization's ability to hide its hypocrisy and darkness behind pretty ideas.

Women Quotes in Heart of Darkness

The Heart of Darkness quotes below all refer to the symbol of Women. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Heart of Darkness published in 1990.
Part 3 Quotes
I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. 'I knew it—I was sure!' . . . She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle.
Related Characters: Marlow (speaker), Kurtz's Intended (speaker), Kurtz
Related Symbols: Women
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

In his story’s final scene, Marlow visits Kurtz's “Intended” (fiance) who asks him to recite Kurtz’s last words. Fearful that admitting they were “The horror! The horror!” would betray Kurtz’s descent into madness, Marlow decides to lie and tell her Kurtz spoke her name. Marlow debates whether the lie makes him ethically complicit in colonialism, or whether it was necessary to preserve the Intended’s illusions.

The certainty with which the Intended responds speaks to how blind and distant Europeans are from the actual events in the Congo. She is entirely convinced by the idealistic image of Kurtz as a bearer of Enlightenment—and of him as a man faithful to her. (Remember that he had a mistress in the Inner Station!) Marlow stresses how ridiculous this certainty is by first quoting and then paraphrasing the lines. “I knew it” becomes “She knew”; “I was sure” becomes “She was sure.” In the distance between first and third person, we see a tone both ironic and despairing.

The Intended's certainty causes Marlow to wonder about the ethics of his lie. Though the stakes of the individual lie may be small, they stand for a larger lie about the avarice and human terror he witnesses on his journey. To swap the Intended’s name for "the horror" is a metaphor for how "civilized" Europeans obscure the horror of the Congo (and of all humanity). So Marlow expects divine retribution for this lie…except nothing of the sort occurs. That this discrepancy causes Marlow to consider the lie “such a trifle,” returns us to the question of scale ever-present in this book. Even if the lie stands for a human heart of darkness, Marlow claims, that lie is still a trifle when compared to the earth and the heavens.

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Women Symbol Timeline in Heart of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the symbol Women appears in Heart of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Colonialism Theme Icon
The Hollowness of Civilization Theme Icon
The Lack of Truth Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
...missionary work, and expresses amazement to his friends on the boat how out of touch women are with the truth. (full context)
Part 3
The Hollowness of Civilization Theme Icon
The Lack of Truth Theme Icon
...ship the natives gather. Among them, next to the ship a "savage and superb" African woman paces back and forth. The Russian's comments about her imply that she was Kurtz's mistress. (full context)