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"It was as unreal as everything else - as the philanthropic pretence of the whole concern, as their talk, as their government, as their show of work. The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading-post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages. They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on that account – but as to effectually lifting a little finger - oh, no." (1.56)
Marlow is appalled by these pilgrims’ depth of corruption. It seems utterly "unreal" to him that men could be so hypocritical. The unifying trait between them seems to be greed.
"No, I don't like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work - no man does - but I like what is in the work - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality - for yourself, not for others - what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means." (1.68)
Marlow values work for a rather unconventional reason – because he can find his own version of reality in it. Nobody else, he claims, can see what a worker sees when he does his duty and claims the work as his own. Another can only see the external – the least true – account of reality. That Marlow sees different versions of reality may hint that he is going slightly mad.
"There were moments when one's past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect." (2.5)
Marlow’s very own memories – which should be a source of familiarity and comfort to him – take on the same alien aspect as the wilderness. They seem unfamiliar – wrapped in an "unrestful and noisy dream" – and as unreal as this "strange world." This surrealism makes Marlow feel as though the jungle around them is alive and looking at him "with a vengeful aspect."