Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness Charlie Marlow Quotes
"The fact is I was completely unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstract terror, unconnected with any distinct shape of physical danger. What made this emotion so overpowering was – how shall I define it? – the moral shock I received, as if something altogether monstrous, intolerable to thought and odious to the soul, had been thrust upon me unexpectedly. This lasted of course the merest fraction of a second, and then the usual sense of commonplace, deadly danger, the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or something of the kind, which I saw impending, was positively welcome and composing. It pacified me, in fact, so much that I did not raise an alarm." (3.24)
Marlow is struck senseless with fear, an absolutely pure terror, at the realization that Kurtz is gone. He describes this as a "moral shock" that quickly subsides into a more rational and less bleak fear of commonplace danger. It is disconcerting that "commonplace, deadly dangers, the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre" are "positively welcome and composing."
"I felt somehow I must get there [to the Congo] by hook or by crook. So I worried them. The men said, ‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then – would you believe it? – I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work – to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: ‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration, and also a man who has lots of influence […].’" (1.19)
Marlow feels inevitably drawn to Africa, as if by destiny, and thus makes the choice to begin hounding his relatives to help him procure a steamboat. This leads to a chance meeting with his aunt in which she uses her influence with the Company to help him get exactly what he wants. Therefore, both chance and choice bring Marlow to Kurtz.
"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 cheer 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)
After signing his papers, Marlow gets an inexplicable feeling of uneasiness, as if he has just entered into some unclean conspiracy. The old knitting women do nothing to calm him, but only increase his discomfort with their placid, knowing looks. They seem to know each man’s fate and acknowledge visions of their upcoming deaths with careless acceptance.