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"But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird - a silly little bird." (1.18)
The Congo River resembles a snake, one of the most primal symbols of evil and deception. Yet Marlow is fascinated by the snake, hypnotized like an innocent bird. This is another instance of man’s helpless, almost instinctive fascination with evil.
"I got my appointment - of course; and I got it very quick. It appears the Company had received news that one of their captains had been killed in a scuffle with the natives. This was my chance, and it made me the more anxious to go… through this glorious affair I got my appointment, before I had fairly begun to hope for it." (1.21)
Marlow shows a streak of vice by rejoicing in another man’s death simply because it frees up a position for him to carry out his dream. He shows little sympathy for this murder and does not seem to care that it cost a man his life to get him into the Company. It does not occur to Marlow that this man’s death may spell both physical and moral danger for him if he goes ahead with his plan.
"In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre. Prejudice no doubt. I had no difficulty in finding the Company's offices. It was the biggest thing in the town, and everybody I met was full of it. They were going to run an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade." (1.22)
White, usually a sign of purity, here is inverted to mean the exact opposite. In the Biblical phrase alluded to by "whited sepulchre," people who are outwardly pure are inwardly filthy with deceit. This suggests that the Company is inwardly corrupt.