Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Charlie Marlow Timeline and Summary
- While chilling out on the Nellie stuck on the flooded Thames River, Marlow tells his story to his shipmates.
- When he was a young man, he acquired a steamboat with the Company to travel up the Congo and re-supply the ivory stations.
- From the beginning, things got twisted, with knitting women and African slaves kind of freaking him out.
- When he gets to the first station, Marlow sees manacled black slaves futilely trying to blow up a cliff to clear a path for a railway.
- Not cool. Even worse, not far from the work site, a bunch of sick slaves are lounging around beneath a grove of trees.
- Oh, except they're not "lounging" so much as "dying."
- During his stay at this first station, Marlow hears about a dude named Kurtz, a top agent working in the interior.
- After ten days, Marlow treks to the interior with a caravan of pilgrims and black slaves.
- At Central Station, Marlow learns that his steamboat is busted. Three months pass, during which time he starts to really dislike the mediocre and emotionless manager.
- After a shed burns down in the Central Station, Marlow chances across a chatty brickmaker. For reasons yet to be revealed, the brickmaker tries to get information out of Marlow.
- Marlow plays along to figure out exactly why, and we find out that the brickmaker has a burning desire to move up the company ladder and become the assistant manager. He hopes to do so with the recommendation of Marlow's aunt's connections.
- Marlow is highly amused.
- Soon, a dubious group of explorers called the Eldorado Exploring Expedition arrive, headed by the manager's portly uncle.
- Marlow doesn't like this guy. Shocking.
- So he has no problem eavesdropping on the manager and his uncle while they smack-talk Kurtz. (They're just jealous.)
- Finally, Marlow starts up the river to the Inner Station and Kurtz. He travels with the manager, the brickmaker, a bunch of white pilgrims, and black cannibals.
- Marlow finds himself extremely freaked out by the whole trip—so freaked out that he actually starts to identify with the "savages" out in the bush.
- At the Inner Station, Marlow meets a curious man he calls the harlequin, who tells him a lot about Kurtz—like that the Africans adore him.
- Also, those ornamental balls on the posts outside Kurtz's hut are, um, human skulls.
- Ooh, and here comes Kurtz! On a stretcher.
- Turn out, Kurtz is super sick—but he still has no desire to leave the Interior.
- Marlow basically forces him on the boat, conspiracy theories and all, and narrowly escapes being attacked by the Africans.
- In the next few days, the steamboat breaks down and they have to wait to repair it.
- Kurtz chooses this convenient moment to die.
- Marlow doesn't bother to go see the corpse, which for some reason makes his men want to mutiny against him.
- But they don't, and, after a long and apparently serious illness, Marlow reaches Europe safely.
- Back in Western society, Marlow feels out of place and cannot hide his contempt for normal people who haven't traveled down the Congo and witnessed evil firsthand.
- His experience has changed him so much that he sees the troubles of everyday life—like cellphones that just won't stay charged or hitting all the red lights on the way home—as petty.
- He decides to return Kurtz's personal effects to his fiancée, called the Intended.
- She's super pretty, but she didn't know the real Kurtz at all. Marlow decides not to tell her; in fact, he lies and says that Kurtz's last words were her name.
- Marlow justifies his lie to her by saying that telling her the truth would simply be too dark.
- The end.