Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness Chapter 3 Summary
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 3
- Apparently, Kurtz keeps the harlequin around so he has someone to listen to him. But for the most part, Kurtz wanders alone among the Africans.
- In his expeditions, Kurtz raids various villages for ivory. He even gets the native Africans—who adore him—to help out with the raids.
- He's so obsessive about ivory that he even threatened to shoot the harlequin one day unless he handed over his own personal supply of ivory.
- The harlequin promptly gave it up.
- We discover that the harlequin nursed Kurtz through two bouts of sickness and is rather proud of himself for doing so.
- At this point, Marlow makes a gruesome discovery. The "knobs" on the ends of the stakes he noticed from a distance are not ornamental. They're skulls of dead Africans.
- To Marlow, these skulls show that Kurtz "lacked restraint," a fault that Marlow seems to despise. In fact, he despises it so much that he'll make reference to this "lack of restraint" at least two more times before the end of the book. So keep an eye out.
- Marlow begins to reflect that Kurtz, whose reputation is larger than life, has violent, ruthless, "savage" qualities—and a "hollow core"—that even Kurtz himself may not realize consciously until the end of his life.
- In this light, Kurtz is an obsessed, lustful, maniacal imperialist who didn't mind perpetrating horrific cruelties for ivory and other treasures he found in the African land.
- Hmm. We're feeling a little critique of colonialism coming through here.
- The harlequin tries to justify Kurtz's actions by saying those skulls "were the heads of rebels."
- Marlow's eyes roll involuntarily at the word "rebel."
- Suddenly, a party of native Africans arrives carrying a man on a stretcher.
- It's Kurtz!
- And he's not looking too good. In fact, he's grotesquely thin and ghostly, like Death personified. Marlow calls him "that atrocious phantom." The only substantial thing about him is his voice. That, and the fact that's he's tall (even though "Kurtz" means "short" in German.)
- Kurtz knows who Marlow is and is stoked to have some company.
- But first, the manager shows up, and Marlow leaves the two alone to chat.
- In the meantime, a group of native Africans has gathered outside. For the first time, we see a woman.
- Now, it could be that Marlow hasn't seen a woman in several months, but he describes her as wild and gorgeous, a warrior woman, with brass trappings to boot.
- Too bad she's super sad and never speaks—just gestures at the sky and then disappears into the wood.
- Spooky. Plus, the harlequin wants to shoot her for maybe being Kurtz's lover, since that's a … crime?
- The manager and Kurtz argue. The manager loses, obviously.
- After leaving Kurtz, he tells Marlow that Kurtz's method of collecting ivory is "unsound" and he wants to remove Kurtz from the interior.
- Marlow kisses his career goodbye by taking Kurtz's side, and at this point things get a little too hot for the harlequin, who decides to peace out.
- Before he does, he reveals that Kurtz ordered the earlier attack on Marlow's steamer. Which, we think, is the third explanation we've heard for the poison arrows, so we really don't trust this guy now.
- Despite the mistrust, Marlow very helpfully provides him with a few spare items (shoes, cartridges, etc.) before the harlequin leaves.
- Marlow again remarks on the remarkability of the man. (Pun intended.)
- Hours later, Marlow wakes up around midnight and goes to check on Kurtz who, in a dramatic and suspenseful moment, is not there.
- Instead of raising the alarm, Marlow goes after Kurtz himself. After all, the guy is sick and probably crawling through the jungle, so he can't have gone that far.
- And, in fact, he does find Kurtz. Hooray!
- Kurtz tells Marlow to hide himself. He's very bitter about his fight with the manager, since his dreams of greatness have now been smashed to pieces.
- Marlow ignores Kurtz and lets himself be drawn in by the hypnotic spell of night. He watches some native Africans dancing and confuses the drums with his own heartbeat.
- Finally, after threatening to kill Kurtz if he calls out to the Africans, Marlow cuddles the man in his arms like a baby and brings him back out of the jungle.
- The next day, they all leave aboard the steamer. A group of Africans gathers on the shore.
- Suddenly the warrior woman breaks through and shouts at the departing steamer, riling up everyone.
- Marlow prevents disaster by blowing the steam-whistle and scaring everyone away.
- Well, everyone except the woman, who is apparently unperturbed by the whistle.
- Kurtz seems to understand what is going on, but he's keeping quiet—maybe since he's on the edge of death and is having all these mood swings and incomprehensible ravings.
- Meanwhile, the Westerners have turned against Marlow because he's sided with Kurtz. This seems like it's going downhill fast.
- The steamboat breaks down and they have to lay up for a few days to fix it.
- Kurtz loses his sight, saying that he lies in the dark when he's actually in sunlight. (Remember what we said about "seeing" being important? Yeah.)
- In his dying moments, Marlow sees Kurtz's face change into a mask of despair. His very last words are, "The horror! The horror!"
- These are super famous last words, by the way.
- When news hits that Kurtz has died, everyone rushes to see the body. Marlow, on the other hand, seems to have no desire to stop eating dinner.
- Weirdly, this almost causes his men to mutiny against him. But they don't.
- The next day, the men bury Kurtz.
- After this whole bizarre episode, it's no wonder that Marlow gets sick. Eventually, he makes it back to England. Whew.
- Back in England, Marlow realizes that he can't identify with normal folk anymore, since they're all petty and irritating.
- Marlow tries to figure out what to do with Kurtz's papers, which the late Kurtz entrusted to him. The Company is jonesing to see those papers, thinking that they may say something along the lines of "all of the ivory on the entire world is buried at X" followed by a map with a large red X. Even when the Company threatens legal action, Marlow refuses to give them the papers, saying they're personal.
- A man visits Marlow, claiming to be Kurtz's cousin. He leaves with some worthless private letters.
- We're suspicious.
- Marlow decides to return the rest of the papers to Kurtz's "Intended," which is nineteenth-century British for "fiancée."
- When we meet her, we learn that she's a beautiful woman with a distinctive golden hair. Despite the fact that she's wearing all black, Marlow associates her with light as opposed to Kurtz's darkness.
- She looooooves Kurtz, but as she talks it becomes increasingly apparent that she has no idea who Kurtz really was.
- This woman (who, by the way, is also nameless), begs for Marlow to tell her what Kurtz's last words were.
- Marlow … lies. Obviously. (At this point you might consider flipping back to Chapter One and finding that bit about lying.) He tells her that Kurtz's last words were her name.
- She totally knew they would be!
- Marlow justifies his lie by claiming "it would have been too dark" to tell her the truth.
- Aboard the Nellie, Marlow wraps things up. The Director remarks that the tide has come, and this stirs our unnamed narrator, who was telling us about Marlow, who was telling us about Kurtz.
- He looks off at the horizon and seems to see the "heart of an immense darkness."
- On that note, we end.
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 3
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