Heart of Darkness
Identity Quotes Page 1
How we cite our quotes:
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.
"A door opened, a white-haired secretarial head, but wearing a compassionate expression, appeared, and a skinny forefinger beckoned me into the sanctuary. Its light was dim, and a heavy writing-desk squatted in the middle. From behind that structure came out an impression of pale plumpness in a frock-coat. The great man himself. He was five feet six, I should judge, and had his grip on the handle-end of ever so many millions." (1.23)
The Dutch head of the Company is never described as a whole human being. Instead, we see him only in parts—a head, a forefinger—and when we finally see him in person, he's just "an impression," like a fat ghost. Someone call an ambulance! (Or the ghostbusters.) Oh wait: right at the end, Conrad suggests that this man's greed—his "grip on the handle-end of ever so many millions"—has made him less than human.
"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.