Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness Charlie Marlow Quotes
"I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too – God knows! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it - no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there…He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story?" (1.61)
To Marlow, "Kurtz" is "just a word." Any rumors and words about Kurtz are empty for Marlow. He believes in Kurtz only as one would believe in a fairy tale.
"I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am not used to such ceremonies, and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though I had been let into some conspiracy – I don’t know – something not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In the outer room the two women knitted black wool feverishly. People were arriving, and the younger one was walking back and forth introducing them. The old one sat on her chair […]. She wore a starched white affair on her head, had a wart on one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her nose. She glanced at me above the glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of that look troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheery countenances were being piloted over, and she threw at them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She seemed to know all about them and about me too. An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinising the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again – not half, by a long way." (1.25)
Marlow begins feeling nervous about his trip right after he signs his papers. The two knitting women increase his anxiety by gazing at him and all the other sailors with knowing unconcern. Their eerie looks suggest that they know what will happen (the men dying), yet don’t care. This is the first time Marlow feels as if his trip might be ill-omened, but he quickly shakes it off.
"In the street – I don't know why – a queer feeling came to me that I was an imposter. Odd thing that I, who used to clear out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours' notice, with less thought than most men give to the crossing of a street, had a moment – I won't say of hesitation, but of startled pause, before this commonplace affair. The best way I can explain it to you is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the centre of a continent, I were about to set off for the centre of the earth." (1.29)
Here, Marlow’s earlier sense of unease deepens. He feels inexplicably that he is an imposter on this journey. Instead of taking this trip in stride – as he is accustomed to doing – he feels suddenly a stab of nervous anticipation, as if he is headed on a perilous journey towards the center of the earth, from which he may not come back alive.