In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, women are portrayed simplistically in black and white. The white European women are innocent and ignorant. They are misinformed by the men, and Marlow believes this is for society's sake. In his society, the women are powerless and misinformed, and society is civilized. In the Congo, the women are strong and have power, yet the society is being oppressed by white men. In Marlow's mentality, women should live in their own idealistic worlds and not interfere with men, however, this may stem from his fear of the power that women have.
The first women introduced are white European women at the office of the Company. They are knitting black wool, which may symbolize the Natives of the Congo or the Darkness itself. These women unquestionably accept the fate that lies ahead for the men that come in the office, and seem, undisturbed.
They are probably disillusioned about the reality of what goes on in the Congo, much like Marlow's aunt. She helped Marlow get his job on the steam boat eagerly because she felt it was a "noble cause," that is, colonizing and civilizing the Blacks in the Congo. She feels that he will be an "emissary of light," but she overlooks the fact that the Blacks are being exploited for the financial benefits of ivory. Another display of Marlow's opinion that women should be ignorant is in the painting that he admires. It is a painting of a woman that is blindfolded, but carrying a lighted torch. This is an ironic painting in itself, but it goes along with Marlow's view of women in a civilized society; they are surrounded by the truth, but they are kept blind from it.
The reader is then taken into a totally...