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America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, 'When I grow up I will go there.'…But there was one yet - the biggest, the most blank, so to speak - that I had a hankering after."(1.17)
Marlow wants to fill the blank spaces on the map with all his discoveries, and so he's drawn to the "most blank" of them all—Africa. (Blank, that is, unless you're actually living there.) Er, we might be reading too much into this (never!), but we think that the desire to "fill" the "blank spaces" has a kind of sexual feeling to it.
"Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone." (1.41)
Marlow doesn't see the black Africans as complete human beings but as objects, ghosts, or through animal imagery: "acute angles," "phantom," "creature," "woolly head." You might want to put away that Nobel Peace Prize.
[Marlow on the manager]: "He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a … a … faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the station. He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? Perhaps because he was never ill…He had served three terms of three years out there…Because triumphant health in the general rout of constitutions is a kind of power in itself. When he went home on leave he rioted on a large scale—pompously. Jack ashore—with a difference—in externals only. This one could gather from his causal talk. He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that's all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause—for out there there were no external checks. Once when various tropical diseases had laid low almost every "agent" in the station, he was heard to say, "Men who come out here should have no entrails." He sealed the utterance with that smile of his, as though it had been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping. You fancied you had seen things—but the seal was on." (1.52)
The manager is basically as empty of distinction as a human being can be. He has no genius, no initiative, and no talent for organizing things. Even more disturbing, he seems to have no insides—nothing for diseases to infect. Bonus: his amazing good health has allowed him to never miss a day of work! Someone print him a certificate!