Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness Chapter 1 Quotes
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He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them—the ship; and so is their country—the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine. (1.9)
What's weird is that Conrad describes seamen as actually kind of sedentary, sitting aboard their ship wherever it takes them rather than actively going out to explore. Marlow, on the other hand, is an explorer in the truest sense of the word. He hasn't come to impose assumptions, but to find meaning and truth—even if he doesn't like what he finds.
[Marlow]: "Imagine him here—the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina - and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages, precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death - death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here." (1.11)
When you head off to backpack around Southeast Asia after college, you end up leaving some of your comforts behind. Some places don't even have cell phone service! Imagine!
[Marlow]: "Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga—perhaps too much dice, you know—coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him—all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. (1.11)
Exploration can be a way of escaping your gambling debts ("too much dice") and starting a new life, but don't expect to find a place to buy your gourmet salt in a savage new land.