Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness Charlie Marlow Quotes
"Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser's dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That's backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character." (1.43)
This is sort of like putting on your party clothes to go camping: silly at best, and downright dangerous at worst. Either way, you end up looking like a dummy—a "hairdresser's dummy," in this case. Marlow sarcastically claims that the accountant's "starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts" are "achievements of character" when, in actuality, they mean quite the opposite to him.
"And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion." (1.53)
Here, Marlow describes Nature as a gigantic living thing that puts up with man's trivial attempts to conquer it. It's so much bigger and more powerful than anything the humans have that it's "invincible" like absolute concepts of "evil or truth." But we have to ask: if part of Heart of Darkness is specifically about how concepts like "evil" and "truth" aren't so obvious, what is Conrad saying about the wilderness?
"The smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove! was in my nostrils, the high stillness of primeval forest was before my eyes; there were shiny patches on the black creek. The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver—over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn't talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there?" (1.61)
Okay, this is about the time that we'd be checking Expedia for last-minute flights back to civilization: Marlow starts to see Nature as a living being, too big and too eerily silent for human comprehension. But notice how he's still clinging to his Englishness—"by Jove!" and "confoundedly big" are slang phrases that seem much more appropriate to cozy fireside chats than mute, primeval forests. It seems like maybe he still doesn't quite get it.