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"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. It was only months and months afterwards, when I made the attempt to recover what was left of the body, that I heard the original quarrel arose from a misunderstanding about some hens. Yes, two black hens. Fresleven—that was the fellow's name, a Dane—thought himself wronged somehow in the bargain so he went ashore and started to hammer the chief of the village with a stick. Oh, it didn't surprise me in the last to hear this, and at the same time to be told that Fresleven was the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs. No doubt he was; but he had been a couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause, you know, and he probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck, till some man, - I was told the chief's son, - in desperation at hearing the old chap yell, made a tentative jab with a spear at the white man—and of course it went quite easy between the shoulder-blades." (1.21)
On the surface, this is a description of African brutality and violence. If you read it closely, though, it's more about how the Africans are forced into brutality by Fresleven's own viciousness—and they don't even mean to kill him. Who comes off looking bad in this little exchange?
"Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a twopenny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital—you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman [Marlow's aunt], living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways," till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable." (1.27)
Marlow finds that his aunt expects him to be something of a missionary—a man on the way to Africa to teach the native Africans—but all this talk makes Marlow uncomfortable. He knows that he's not traveling for altruistic ends.
"It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares." (1.31)
The fact that Marlow refers to his journey as a "pilgrimage" implies that his mission is one so pure as to be blessed by God. Um, not so much. We bet that lie helps him sleep better at night, though.