Study Guide

Heart of Darkness Quotes

  • Madness

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    "The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of something else the while. "Good, good for there," he mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my head. Rather surprised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like calipers and got the dimensions back and front and every way, talking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man in a threadbare coat like a gaberdine, with his feet in slippers, and I thought him a harmless fool. "I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there," he said. "And when they come back too?" I asked. "Oh, I never see them, " he remarked; "and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know." He smiled, as if at some quiet joke. "So you are going out there. Famous. Interesting too." He gave me a searching glance and made another note. "Ever any madness in your family?" he asked, in a matter-of-fact tone. I felt very annoyed. "Is that question in the interests of science too?" "It would be," he said, without taking notice of my irritation, "interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot, but […]." (1.26)

    The doctor implies that going into the interior changes men's psyches and he tries to measure their skulls before they leave. You know, for science. Marlow thinks this is all lunacy, but we suspect he might change his mind once he sees the actual skulls that Kurtz has impaled around his hut.

    "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 like to work 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. Um, if Marlow really is seeing different versions of reality, we're not sure that he's totally sane at this point.

    "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. (Nice words coming from someone who's heading to the Interior for profit himself.)

    "I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn't a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do. I don't know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside." (1.38)

    This random hole is another sign that people go crazy in the wilderness. (Maybe it's aliens?) But it isn't harmless eccentricity—when Marlow almost falls into another little ravine, we get the feeling that the madness is getting dangerous.

    "In the steady buzz of flies the homeward-bound agent was lying finished and insensible; the other, bent over his books, was making correct entries of perfectly correct transactions; and fifty feet below the doorstep I could see the still tree-tops of the grove of death." (1.48)

    Marlow draws our attention to the madness of the situation by juxtaposing two very different images together—one of a man lying on his deathbed, and another of the accountant quietly going about his business as if nothing were wrong.

    "The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. It was something natural, that had its reason, that had a meaning." (1.30)

    Marlow's isolation from other men and the unchanging scenery of the coast lulls him into a comforting and false sense of security. In retrospect, he knows that he was living a "senseless delusion" in which nature is "a positive pleasure" and even makes sense. The further he gets into the interior, the more he becomes disillusioned.

    "He [Marlow's white companion] was very anxious for me to kill somebody, but there wasn't the shadow of a carrier near. I remembered the old doctor—'It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot.' I felt I was becoming scientifically interesting." (1.50)

    Both Marlow's companion and Marlow himself find themselves going mad because the white friend has obviously been attacked. He wants Marlow to kill the assaulters, but there is nobody around. Marlow jokes that because his world no longer makes sense, he is becoming "scientifically interesting."

    "I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence […] I've never seen anything so unreal in my life." (1.54)

    Marlow convinces himself that the only way he can remain sane is to work by himself, obsessing about fixing the steamboat. However, he finds himself sneaking peeks at his fellow men and discovering that everything is as absurd as he'd feared. The men are so aimless that Marlow compares them to pilgrims who have lost their faith or been bewitched. He seems to hate their aimlessness because it contradicts so sharply with his keen sense of purpose.

    "For a time I would feel I belonged still to a world of straightforward facts; but the feeling would not last long. Something would turn up to scare it away. Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out of sight somewhere." (1.30)

    Marlow is going down the rabbit hole here. One of the first acts of madness he sees is a man-of-war firing at a totally empty coastline—which sounds pretty crazy to us, too.

    "Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from over the sea. All their meager breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily up-hill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages." (1.36)

    It's a mad, mad, mad world: the chained slaves are so beaten down that they don't even notice their surroundings. They're the opposite of dangerous enemies—in fact, it's the Europeans who are the dangerous enemies.

    "He had come out for a moment, he said, 'to get a breath of fresh air. The expression sounded wonderfully odd, with its suggestion of sedentary desk-life." (1.43)

    Wait, if you're actually living in the wilderness in a hut, why do you need to come outside for air? It's as though the accountant is trying to live the same kind of life he'd be living back in Brussels—which sounds pretty crazy to us.

    "I was smoking my pipe quietly by my dismantled steamer, and saw them all cutting capers in the light, with their arms lifted high, when the stout man with moustaches came tearing down to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured me that everybody was 'behaving splendidly, splendidly,' dipped about a quart of water and tore back again. I noticed there was a hole in the bottom of his pail." (1.55)

    A man with a broken pail is trying to put out the fire: yep, we're thinking this is symbolic. He's the only one who seems to care about the fire, but—in the context of this scene—trying to put it out seems insane.

    [The Swede]: "'The other day I took up a man who hanged himself on the road. He was a Swede, too.' 'Hanged himself! Why, in God's name?' I cried. He kept on looking out watchfully. 'Who knows? The sun too much for him, or the country perhaps.'" (1.33)

    Marlow gets his first taste of danger when he learns that the sun has actually driven the "Swede" to suicide. Is this a clear argument for nature making men go crazy?

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "I own to you that just then I perceived - in a new light, as it were—how unwholesome the pilgrims looked, and I hoped, yes, I positively hoped, that my aspect was not so - what shall I say?—so—unappetizing: a touch of fantastic vanity which fitted well with the dream-sensation that pervaded all my days at that time." (2.14)

    Marlow hopes he looks prettier than the pilgrims, even though his stunning good looks might get him eaten by his own cannibal aides. In this situation, caring about your appearance goes beyond vanity right toward madness. (Seriously, wouldn't the rational response be to uglify yourself as much as possible?)

    "You can't understand. How could you? - with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums - how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man's untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude - utter solitude without a policeman - by the way of silence - utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering of public opinion? These little things make all the great difference. When they are gone you must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness…The earth for us is a place to live in, where we must put up with sights, with sounds, with smells, too, by Jove! - breathe dead hippo, so to speak, and not be contaminated." (2.29)

    Marlow claims that his audience cannot understand his feeling of utter loneliness and the ensuing madness without being there. He describes how isolation from one's fellow man can mess with one's sense of reality, that without public opinion, one cannot judge the morality of one's actions.

    "The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us—who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign—and no memories." (2.7)

    Catching sight of wild native Africans in their homeland rouses fear in the pilgrims. They feel as if they have traveled to a place where nothing is comprehensible. They cannot read the attitude of the Africans towards them. Marlow compares their mental state to that of inmates in an insane asylum right before an outbreak—teetering on the edge of insanity.

    "Were we to let go our hold of the bottom, we would be absolutely in the air - in space. We wouldn't be able to tell where we were going to - whether up or down stream, or across - till we fetched against one bank or the other - and then we wouldn't know at first which it was." (2.15)

    Marlow knows that if he follows the manager's orders and begins sailing again in the fog, left will become right, upstream will become downstream, and they will probably die. It's good to know that he's clinging to some shred of sanity.

    "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 comfy memories start to seem just as alien as the wilderness. This surrealism makes Marlow feel as though the jungle around them is alive and looking at him "with a vengeful aspect," and—as we all know—thinking that the world is out to get you is a pretty good sign of madness. (Usually. Unless there's a good reason they're after you.)

    [During the fog]: What we could see was just the steamer we were on, her outlines blurred as though she had been on the point of dissolving, and a misty strip of water, perhaps two feet broad, around her—and that was all. The rest of the world was nowhere, as far as our eyes and ears were concerned. Just nowhere. Gone, disappeared; swept off without leaving a whisper or a shadow behind. (2.13)

    If you've ever been in a thick fog, you might know this feeling: that you're the only one left on earth. (Stephen King wrote a pretty freaky book about it.) When you think about it, this is probably how Kurtz feels: that he's the only (white) man left on earth, or at least the only one worth caring about.

    "You should have seen the pilgrims stare! They had no heart to grin, or even to revile me: but I believe they thought me gone mad - with fright, maybe. I delivered a regular lecture." (2.17)

    The pilgrims think their captain Marlow has gone mad with fear when he does something as mundane as giving a lecture while everyone else is freaking out from paranoia.

    "The current ran smooth and swift, but a dumb immobility sat on the banks. The living trees, lashed together by the creepers and every living bush of the undergrowth, might have been changed into stone, even to the slenderest twig, to the lightest leaf. It was not sleep — it seemed unnatural, like a state of trance. Not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard." (2.13)

    In this scene of madness, every aspect of the wilderness seems struck dumb, as if all of nature has turned to stone.

    "There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!' The curious part was that he had apparently forgotten all about that valuable postscriptum, because, later on, when he in a sense came to himself, he repeatedly entreated me to take good care of 'my pamphlet'(he called it), as it was sure to have in the future a good influence upon his career." (2.29)

    Here is one of the first signs of Kurtz's madness: the fact that the tone of his postscriptum differs so sharply from the rest of the manuscript. Kurtz isn't rational and idealistic anymore; he's desperate and deranged—so desperate and deranged that he apparently doesn't even remember it later, or doesn't think that it's, um, slightly problematic.

    "The original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and - as he was good enough to say himself — his sympathies were in the right place. His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz […]." (2.29)

    The fact that "all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz" and the subsequent fact that Kurtz went mad in the wilderness suggests that all of Europe contributes something to mankind that makes them susceptible to madness. Maybe something is wrong with the way Europe is conditioning and educating and raising its citizens. Or maybe everyone has the seeds of madness, and maybe the Africans would be just as bad in the same situation.

    "You can't breathe dead hippo waking, sleeping, and eating, and at the same time keep your precarious grip on existence." (2.14)

    Yep: the madness-inducing stink of rotting hippo meat is what passes for comic relief in Heart of Darkness.

    Chapter 3

    "[…] as a rule Kurtz wandered alone, far in the depths of the forest." (3.4)

    Kurtz willingly isolates himself from his friend, the harlequin—and by now, we know that isolation is a major warning sign for subsequent insanity. (We knew we needed to get out more.)

    "Kurtz—Kurtz—that means short in German—don't it? Well, the name was as true as everything else in his life - and death. He looked at least seven feet long." (3.9)

    As true as everything else, which means … complete false. One of the biggest signs of madness in Heart of Darkness is the way that language and meaning don't match up at all—in fact, they're so at odds that we end up with no meaning at all.

    The Harlequin

    [The harlequin]: "'You can't judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man. No, no, no! Now - just to give you an idea - I don't mind telling you, he wanted to shoot me, too, one day - but I don't judge him.' 'Shoot you!' I cried 'What for?' 'Well, I had a small lot of ivory the chief of that village near my house gave me. You see I used to shoot game for them. Well, he wanted it, and wouldn't hear reason. He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased. And it was true, too. I gave him the ivory. What did I care! But I didn't clear out. No, no. I couldn't leave him. I had to be careful, of course, till we got friendly again for a time.'" (3.4)

    It looks like the harlequin has gone a little crazy, too, sticking to Kurtz even though Kurtz threatened to kill him for ivory. Don't know about you, but we prefer our friends not to be homicidal maniacs.

    [The harlequin]: "'He [Kurtz] made me see things—things.'" (3.2)

    We have to ask: did Kurtz happen to pass along any pharmaceuticals, too? Because if he's making the harlequin "see things" (unnamed things) just with words—that's pretty crazy. In all senses of the word.

    Charlie Marlow

    "There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He [Kurtz] had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! He had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air." (3.29)

    Kurtz has "kicked himself loose" of all things that humans know, which means that he has no set of morals and no definitions of good or evil anymore. Does that make him crazy? And does that mean that "crazy" is just relative to our expectations?

    "I fancy I had some vague notion of falling upon him and giving him a drubbing. I don't know. I had some imbecile thoughts. The knitting old woman with the cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most improper person to be sitting at the other end of such an affair. I saw a row of pilgrims squirting lead in the air out of Winchesters held to the hip. I thought I would never get back to the steamer, and imagined myself living alone and unarmed in the woods to an advanced age. Such silly things—you know." (3.26)

    When Marlow goes chasing after Kurtz, he is confused and has evil thoughts like beating him or "giving him a drubbing" when he finds him. He is confused and certain images burst into his mind. Marlow is concerned mainly with an inevitable sense of catastrophe (which is why he thinks of the old woman who represents Fate) and fear (represented by the pilgrims shooting blindly from their hips).

    "I've been telling you what we said - repeating the phrases we pronounced—but what's the good? They were common everyday words - the familiar, vague sounds exchanged on every waking day of life. But what of that? They had behind them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares." (3.29)

    By this point, Marlow is basically living in a waking nightmare. He seems to be at a point where he can't even tell what's real.

    "Sometimes I ask myself whether I had ever really seen him—whether it was possible to meet such a phenomenon! […]." (3.22)

    The harlequin is so hilariously weird that Marlow can't help wondering if he was really real, or if he was just some deranged hallucination of the interior. We have to say, it doesn't seem impossible that Marlow just imagined him.

    "But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had—for my sins, I suppose—to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. No eloquence could have been so withering to one's belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it—I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself." (3.29)

    Marlow claims that being alone in the wilderness has made Kurtz crazy, but it's complicated: Kurtz knows he's crazy, but he doesn't know that it's his own lack of self-restraint—or maybe, lack of human restraint—that's made him that way. He can't get out. In fact, it seems like he's made himself mad.

    "He [Kurtz] hated all this, and somehow he couldn't get away. When I had a chance I begged him to try and leave while there was time; I offered to go back with him. And he would say yes, and then he would remain; go off on another ivory hunt; disappear for weeks; forget himself amongst these people - forget himself - you know. 'Why! he's mad,' I said." (3.4)

    Even though Kurtz "hates all this," he won't leave it willingly. And that, somehow, is the final clue that Marlow needs to decide that Kurtz is totally crazy. (Really, Marlow? We got there a lot faster than you.)

    Mr. Kurtz

    "One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him [Kurtz] say a little tremulously, 'I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, 'Oh, nonsense!' and stood over him as if transfixed." (3.41)

    We're pretty sure that this blindness is metaphoric: Kurtz is blinded by the darkness and evil of his soul.

    "He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

    'The horror! The horror!'" (3.42-43)

    Wow. This is not what we want to be whispering on our deathbed. We don't exactly know what Kurtz is seeing, but we know it's not good.

    "[…] I heard him mutter, 'Live rightly, die, die…' I listened. There was nothing more. Was he rehearsing some speech in his sleep, or was it a fragment of a phrase from some newspaper article? He had been writing for the papers and meant to do so against, 'for the furthering of my ideas. It's a duty.'" (3.39)

    Kurtz just gets crazier and crazier as he dies, sputtering random words like a mid-grade hip-hop artist.

    [Marlow with the doctor]: "As we sat over our vermouths he glorified the Company's business, and by-and-by I expressed casually my surprise at him not going out there. He became very cool and collected all at once. "I am not such a fool as I look, quoth Plato to his disciples," he said sententiously, emptied his glass with great resolution, and we rose." (1.25)

    The doctor implies that going into the interior is something only a "fool" would do and suggests that the journey can only end badly. Anyone who starts it is only setting himself up for madness and defeat. We actually think he has a point.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    "At last we opened a reach. A rocky cliff appeared, mounds of turned-up earth by the shore, houses on a hill, others with iron roofs, amongst a waste of excavations, or hanging to the declivity. A continuous noise of the rapids above hovered over this scene of inhabited devastation. A lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants. A jetty projected into the river. A blinding sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence of glare. 'There's your Company's station,' said the Swede, pointing to three wooden barrack-like structures on the rocky slope." (1.34)

    We hope Marlow wasn't expecting much, because the Company station looks pretty pathetic: three wooden barrack-like structures. Nice. Do you think they have high-speed wireless?

    "The smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove! was in my nostrils, the high stillness of primeval forest was before my eyes; there were shiny patches on the black creek. The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver—over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn't talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there?" (1.61)

    Okay, this is about the time that we'd be checking Expedia for last-minute flights back to civilization: Marlow starts to see Nature as a living being, too big and too eerily silent for human comprehension. But notice how he's still clinging to his Englishness—"by Jove!" and "confoundedly big" are slang phrases that seem much more appropriate to cozy fireside chats than mute, primeval forests. It seems like maybe he still doesn't quite get it.

    "I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders, and also for an undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty rails. To the left a clump of trees made a shady spot, where dark things seemed to stir feebly." (1.35)

    The creepiest part about all this nature is how it turns even manmade objects into extensions of itself, like the railway-truck resembling the carcass of some dead animal. Is Conrad suggesting that there really isn't much distinction between the natural world and the human world? Or that the natural world is more powerful?

    "I had a cup of tea—the last decent cup of tea for many days—and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady's drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside." (1.27)

    Ah, England: good food, lots of doilies on the chairs, and "chatting" by the fireside. And Marlow wants to give up all this to go sail up a river in a jungle filled with hungry cannibals? No thanks. We'd miss our Hulu subscription too much.

    "We called at some more places with farcical names, where the merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb; all along the formless coast bordered by dangerous surf, as if Nature herself had tried to ward off intruders; in and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened into slime, invaded the contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair." (1.31)

    Check out how Marlow personifies "Nature" as wanting to "ward off" intruders. From this perspective, the Interior of Africa almost sounds like a woman trying to protect herself.

    "And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion." (1.53)

    Here, Marlow describes Nature as a gigantic living thing that puts up with man's trivial attempts to conquer it. It's so much bigger and more powerful than anything the humans have that it's "invincible" like absolute concepts of "evil or truth." But we have to ask: if part of Heart of Darkness is specifically about how concepts like "evil" and "truth" aren't so obvious, what is Conrad saying about the wilderness?

    "The great wall of vegetation, an exuberant and entangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves, boughs, festoons, motionless in the moonlight, was like a rioting invasion of soundless life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to topple over the creek, to sweep every little man of us out of his little existence. And it moved not." (1.70)

    Nature is a living, silent, immobile, and malevolent mass: we're thinking that Marlow knew about kudzu.

    "This one [coast] was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness. The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers - to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and on we went. Every day the coast looked the same, as though we had not moved; but we passed various places - trading places - with names like Gran' Bassam, Little Popo; names that seemed to belong to some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister back-cloth." (1.30)

    When Marlow sets out, he describes the wilderness as ominous—but mostly just big. Man seems puny beside it—his settlements "no bigger than pinheads." Individual lives seems a lot less important in a colossal jungle than they do drinking tea by a cozy fireplace.

    "Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser's dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That's backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character." (1.43)

    This is sort of like putting on your party clothes to go camping: silly at best, and downright dangerous at worst. Either way, you end up looking like a dummy—a "hairdresser's dummy," in this case. Marlow sarcastically claims that the accountant's "starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts" are "achievements of character" when, in actuality, they mean quite the opposite to him.

    "A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds, a dead silence, grass sprouting right and left, immense double doors standing ponderously ajar. I slipped through one of these cracks, went up a swept and ungarnished staircase, as arid as a desert, and opened the first door I came to." (1.23)

    Well, this is a rather unflattering view of civilization: the Company's Brussels office is narrow, filthy, and tense. In other words, just like our grad school apartment.

    "[…] afterwards he arose and went out—and the wilderness without a sound took him into its bosom again." (1.56)

    The black man blamed for the fire eventually abandons the Central Station and heads back into the wilderness. But does Nature protect him or kill him? "Took him into its bosom" isn't exactly clear.

    "One evening a grass shed full of calico, cotton prints, beads, and I don't know what else, burst into a blaze so suddenly that you would have thought the earth had opened to let an avenging fire consume all that trash." (1.55)

    We're guessing that the Company trades these cheap Western goods—calico and cotton are inexpensive fabrics; beads are inexpensive decoration—for the African's ivory. Is it a fair trade? Nature doesn't seem to think so.

    "After this I got embraced, told to wear flannel, be sure to write often, and so on - and I left." (1.29)

    Civilization seems to have a lot to do with trivialities like wearing flannel or writing letters. The wilderness has other ideas—more primal ideas, like impaling heads on sticks. Awesome.

    The Brickmaker

    [The brickmaker to Marlow]: "There was an old hippo that had the bad habit of getting out on the bank and roaming at night over the station grounds. The pilgrims used to turn out in a body and empty every rifle they could lay hands on at him. Some even had sat up o' nights for him. All this energy was wasted, though. 'That animal has a charmed life,' he said; 'but you can say this only of brutes in this country. No man - you apprehend me?—no man here bears a charmed life.'" (1.68)

    In case you had any doubts about which side Nature is on, this passage should clear things up: the animals'.

    Chapter 2

    "[…] the uncle said, 'The climate may do away with this difficulty for you. Is he alone there?'" (2.1)

    The uncle says that nature (the climate) might "do away" with Kurtz, freeing up a rung on the corporate ladder for him and his nephew. Let's see: heat, darkness, wild animals, cannibals—yep, things are looking pretty dire for Kurtz. (Of course, the subtext is that the manager and his nephew might be running into some of these problems, too.)

    "The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness." (2.7)

    Nature itself seems to be cutting the pilgrims off from returning to civilization and condemning them to live forever in its nightmarish jungle. It almost holds a grudge against them for invading its territory, that heart of darkness of the novel's title.

    "Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish […]. On silvery sand-banks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps." (2.5)

    As the pilgrims travel upriver, they feel like they're heading back in time—all the way back to the prehistoric ages when wild beasts ruled the world. Want to hear our thoughts about this time travel? Check out what we have to say in "Setting."

    [The manager's uncle]: "'Ah! my boy, trust to this—I say, trust to this.' I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence." (2.2)

    The manager hopes that nature will kill Kurtz, even though, honestly, isn't it just as likely that the jungle will kill him instead? Isn't the point of evil that it's not too picky about its victims? (Well—unless you're a virgin in a horror movie, that is. Then you're probably safe.)

    Charlie Marlow

    "I had to lean right out to swing the heavy shutter, and I saw a face amongst the leaves on the level with my own, looking at me very fierce and steady; and then suddenly, as though a veil had been removed from my eyes, I made out, deep in the tangled gloom, naked breasts, arms, legs, glaring eyes—the bush was swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening of bronze colour." (2.21)

    Here, the forest swarms with human activity—furthering the association of Nature with the living. Nature's ill will towards the pilgrims is now manifested in the native Africans' surprise attack on Marlow's steamboat. The Africans are depicted as an extension of Nature and minions of her will.

    "Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing, that feeling. After all, if you were small, the grimy beetle crawled on—which was just what you wanted it to do." (2.7)

    Though it would be understandable for Marlow to feel overwhelmed by his smallness, he twists his situation rather optimistically, saying that while a beetle is small, it still crawls towards its destination. Um, okay. And we're still going to smash it with our shoe.

    "The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there - there you could look at a thing monstrous and free." (2.8)

    The earth is compared to an unchained monster, giving it the feel of an alien evil. Like a Predator.

    "We had just floundered and flopped round a bend, when I saw an islet, a mere grassy hummock of bright green, in the middle of the stream. It was the only thing of the kind; but as we opened the reach more, I perceived it was the head of a long sand-bank, or rather of a chain of shallow patches stretching down the middle of the river. They were discoloured, just awash, and the whole lot was seen just under the water, exactly as a man's backbone is seen running down the middle of his back under the skin." (2.18)

    The riverbank, a manifestation of nature, is compared to a man's backbone. This is another instance of Marlow considering the wilderness a live thing.

    "Perhaps I had a little fever, too. One can't live with one's finger everlastingly on one's pulse. I had often 'a little fever,' or a little touch of other things—the playful paw-strokes of the wilderness, the preliminary trifling before the more serious onslaught which came in due course." (2.14)

    Aw, look, nature is a little kitty cat! Oh, wait. Not a little kitty cat; more like a hungry cheetah. Nature is depicted as wickedly playing with Marlow's health for its own amusement before hitting him with a real assault.

    Chapter 3
    Charlie Marlow

    "[…] she [the Intended] went on, and the sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other sounds, full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had ever heard - the ripple of the river, the sighing of the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an eternal darkness." (3.61)

    Marlow associates the Intended's low voice with sounds of the wilderness. Sure, these are slightly friendlier sounds than we're used to hearing from the wilderness—trees swaying, rivers rippling—but they still make us wonder if the line between civilization and the natural word is all that firm.

    "The woods were unmoved, like a mask—heavy, like the closed door of a prison - they looked with their air of hidden knowledge, of patient expectation, of unapproachable silence." (3.4)

    Look, we get that Marlow is a little freaked about by all this nature, but we're starting to suspect that he's taking it too seriously. They're just trees. Right? Right??

    "The long reaches that were like one and the same reach, monotonous bends that were exactly alike, slipped past the steamer with their multitude of secular trees looking patiently after this grimy fragment of another world, the forerunner of change, of conquest, of trade, of massacres, of blessings." (3.38)

    Marlow seems to see the wilderness as existing in a separate time from civilization, a sort of eternal land of the lost effect that makes civilization equivalent to change. Wow, that's a lot to get out of "monotonous bends."

    "But the wilderness had found him [Kurtz] out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude - and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating." (3.5)

    Check out how Marlow describes the wilderness almost like Kurtz's lover—whispering to him, hanging out alone with him, being all sexy and "irresistibly fascinating." How could he pass that up?

    "Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling, half-shaped resolve. She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose." (3.15)

    Like the wilderness (yep, we're still on this), the warrior woman is "fierce" but also "dumb" or silent. Her purpose is uncertain and only "half-shaped," as if the wilderness has not yet decided what to do about its invaders. (You have to love how Marlow sees women, right? Not.)

    "It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul." (3.51)

    The tables turn! Instead of the explorers "invading" the wilderness, the wilderness is invading the explorers. Hm. Doesn't feel so good when someone does it to you, does it, Marlow?

    "I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations." (3.29)

    Marlow totally gets it: he feels the spell of the wilderness, just like Kurtz does, but he's not going to succumb to it. Really. He promises.

    "We broke down—as I had expected—and had to lie up for repairs at the head of an island. This delay was the first thing that shook Kurtz's confidence." (3.39)

    Marlow's steamboat breaks down again. Gee, it's almost like nature doesn't want them to take Kurtz back to civilization.

    "I looked around, and I don't know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness." (3.3)

    Nature seems to Marlow completely "hopeless" and "dark," completely inaccessible to the human mind, incomprehensible and merciless to human weakness.

    "She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul." (3.14)

    Like the wilderness, the warrior woman is savage, wild, magnificent, and, oh yeah, ominous, almost as though she's the soul of the wilderness. (And if she is the soul of the wilderness, what does it mean that she's also probably Kurtz's mistress?)

    "One of the agents with a picket of a few of our blacks, armed for the purpose, was keeping guard over the ivory; but deep within the forest, red gleams that wavered, that seemed to sink and rise from the ground amongst confused columnar shapes of intense blackness, showed the exact position of the camp where Mr. Kurtz's adorers were keeping their uneasy vigil. The monotonous beating of a big drum filled the air with muffled shocks and a lingering vibration. A steady droning sound of many men chanting each to himself some weird incantation came out from the black, flat wall of the woods as the humming of bees comes out of a hive, and had a strange narcotic effect upon my half-awake senses." (3.23)

    This kind of sounds like the last night of summer camp, but we're guessing Conrad meant it to be a lot more menacing, what with the hellish, eerie colors of fiery red and "intense blackness." Also, cannibals.

    "I noticed that the crowd of savages was vanishing without any perceptible movement of retreat, as if the forest that had ejected these beings so suddenly had drawn them in again as the breath is drawn in a long aspiration." (3.9)

    The native Africans are merely an extension of the wilderness—a living, breathing wilderness that is drawing its minions back in as it inhales. Yikes.

    "She turned away slowly, walked on, following the bank, and passed into the bushes to the left. Once only her eyes gleamed back at us in the dusk of the thickets before she disappeared." (3.16)

    If the warrior woman is supposed to be something like Mother Nature (which we kind of think she is), this is a pretty menacing show of potential power.

  • Race

    Chapter 1

    "[…] with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. After all, I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings." (1.36)

    Conrad mocks the idea of imperialism as humane by contrasting adjectives like "exalted," "high," and "just" with the brutal reality of the chained slaves. Those are some big words to describe the exploitation of cheap black labor.

    [After the shed fire]: "'What a row the brute makes!' said the indefatigable man with the moustaches, appearing near us. 'Serve him right. Transgression—punishment—bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That's the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future. I was just telling the manager…'" (1.60)

    Nice. The so-called pilgrims' goodness pitilessly beat the black man blamed for the fire. They have no compassion for his suffering; his whimpers are registered only as a "row" made by "the brute." They treat the man like an animal, as if he will only learn his lesson from repeated beatings.

    Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!…The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. (1.6)

    The colonists are described as shiny, altruistic pioneers sallying forth into the dark uncivilized world to bring salvation and civilization to the ignorant races. Oh, but also terror, rape, enslavement, and forced conversion. Awesome!

    [The accountant]: "'What a frightful row,' he said. He crossed the room gently to look at the sick man, and returning, said to me, "he does not hear. 'What! Dead?' I asked, startled. 'No, not yet,' he answered, with great composure. Then, alluding with a toss of the head to the tumult in the station-yard, 'When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages—hate them to death.'" (1.47)

    Ugh it is so annoying when we're trying to get our work done and the other agents keep dying. Where'd be put our Bose noise-canceling headphones?

    "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?

    Charlie Marlow

    "I had then, as you remember, just returned to London after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas - a regular dose of the East - six years or so, and I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your work and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilize you." (1.16)

    Marlow makes fun of the colonist's motto—to civilize savages—by comparing it to an idle traveler imposing himself on hosts too generous to make him leave. The implication is that the colonists' arrival with all their rhetoric of civilization is ultimately undesired by the native African inhabitants. What, you mean the native Africans don't actually want to be civilized?

    [Marlow]: "Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it's the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea." (1.13)

    Aaaand, now Marlow undermines everything he just said about the nobility and good intentions of the explorers. He's seen how messed up colonization really is, and he knows that the colonizing countries care only about efficiency and profit. The explorers aren't heroes; they're robbers and murderers who just wanted to bring home profit.

    [On the black slaves at the first station]: "[…] but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from over the sea. All their meager breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily up-hill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages." (1.36)

    Ooooh, how scary: a bunch of beaten, abused slaves are such a threat that the overseers still somehow think it necessary to chain them up. But how could these men be considered dangerous enemies.

    "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 of 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." (1.39-41)

    Here we see the true consequences of imperialism—mistreated and overworked slaves who are left to die on their own. They're given no food, care, or medicine, and are left to die outdoors. But notice how Marlow calls them "bundles," "creatures," and phantoms"? They're treated so inhumanely that Marlow can't even see them as fully human.

    "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.

    Chapter 2

    "He [Kurtz] began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings - we approach them with the might of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm." (2.29)

    Kurtz honestly believes, or used to believe, in the goodness of imperialism. He believed that the white man could bring goodness and enlightenment to the black Africans. But to Kurtz, this is only possible if the white man plays the part of a god. Kurtz envisions a utopia not of equality between the two races, but of a peaceful and benevolent reign of the white man over the black—a kind of master/ slave relationship. But Kurtz seriously underestimates what that means.

    Charlie Marlow

    "It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled, and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to your self that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend." (2.8)

    Marlow begins to feel a teeny, tiny sense of kinship with the native Africans, and he even says that he's starting to understand their screams. At this point, Marlow is turning away from the traditional views of imperialists, who do not see the conquered native Africans as human.

    "And between whiles I had to look after the savage who was fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind-legs. A few months of training had done for that really fine chap. He squinted at the steam-gauge and at the water-gauge with an evident effort of intrepidity—and he had filed teeth too, the poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer patterns, and three ornamental scars on each of his cheeks. He ought to have been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge. He was useful because he had been instructed; and what he knew was this—that should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance. So he sweated and fired up and watched the glass fearfully (with an impromptu charm, made of rags, tied to his arm, and apiece of polished bone, as big as a watch stuck flatways through his lower lip), while the wooded banks slipped past us slowly…." (2.8)

    Marlow may not be a total racist jerk, but he still doesn't consider the native Africans his equal. He sees them instead as animals, calling this fireman "a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind-legs." They don't bother teaching him anything about hydraulics or engineering; they just tell him that an evil spirit will take revenge if the boiler ever becomes empty. This is essentially the same as getting your kid to stay in bed by telling her that there's a monster under it.

    Chapter 3

    "'He [the harlequin] suspected there was an active ill-will towards him on the part of these white men that—.' 'You are right,' I said, remembering a certain conversation I had overheard. 'The manager thinks you ought to be hanged.'" (3.21)

    The manager's racism extends towards Russians as well. He wants to kill the harlequin simply because he's different from the others. That, or maybe he just doesn't like the guy's silly clothes.

    [When leaving the Inner Station with Kurtz]: "In front of the first rank, along the river, three men, plastered with bright red earth from head to foot, strutted to and fro restlessly. When we came abreast again, they faced the river, stamped their feet, nodded their horned heads, swayed their scarlet bodies; they shook towards the fierce river-demon a bunch of black feathers, a mangy skin with a pendant tail—something that looked like a dried gourd; they shouted periodically together strings of amazing words that resembled no sounds of human language; and the deep murmurs of the crowd, interrupted suddenly, were like the responses of some satanic litany." (3.30)

    White men view the native Africans as "savages" in their paint and armed with their strange weapons. Their language is so alien that it sounds like a "satanic litany." Which, unless it says "here's to my sweet Satan" when played backwards, sounds like a stretch to us.

    "I had no idea of the conditions, he [the harlequin] said: these heads were the heads of rebels. I shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What would be the next definition I was to hear? There had been enemies, criminals, workers—and these were rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on their sticks." (3.6)

    Add "language" to the list of things that don't quite hold up to close inspection. The white men have called the Africans "enemies, criminals, workers" and now "rebels"—which is especially ridiculous, because the Africans haven't been allowed nearly enough power or freedom of choice to be called such things. (But it sure does make sticking their heads on sticks a lot more justifiable.)

    "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.

    "More than once she [the steamboat] had to wade for it, with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing. We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows—cannibals—in their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo-meat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils. Phoo! I can sniff it now." (2.7)

    Before you start patting Marlow on the back for being all evolved and anti-racist, notice that he only calls them "fine fellows" if they're "in their place." They're also forced to give up their habit of cannibalism to put their employers at ease. (Although, we're kind of behind that move, to be honest.)

  • Good vs. Evil

    Chapter 1

    The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman lighthouse, a three-legged thing erect on a mudflat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars. (1.7)

    Conrad isn't giving us some simple light = good/ dark = bad equation. Check out how even the light isn't very cheerful: the sunshine is "brooding" and the town glares "luridly" under the stars.

    A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth. (1.2)

    Dark air; "Gravesend" and a "mournful gloom." Hm. Already, it sounds like this "greatest town on earth" (London) might not be as great as we want to think.

    [The accountant]: "What a frightful row," he said. He crossed the room gently to look at the sick man, and returning, said to me, "He does not hear." "What! Dead?" I asked, startled. "No, not yet," he answered, with great composure. Then alluding with a toss of the head to the tumult in the station-yard, "When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages—hate them to the death." (1.47)

    There's a weird contrast here between the accountant's "gentle" room crossing and his callous attitude towards the dying slaves. Is this another version of Conrad's binaries? Is there less difference between compassion and callousness than we think?

    Flames glided in the river, small green flames, red flames, white flames, pursuing, overtaking, joining, crossing each other—then separating slowly or hastily. The traffic of the great city went on in the deepening night upon the sleepless river. (1.14)

    Hmmm. The river is dark, but it's reflecting little flames. Light in darkness—this is sounding pretty familiar by now. But not just any kind of light: green, red, and white light. This sounds a little hellish, doesn't it?

    "When a truckle-bed with a sick man (some invalid agent from upcountry) was put in there, he exhibited a gentle annoyance. 'The groans of this sick person,' he said, 'distract my attention. And without that it's extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.'" (1.45)

    You could offer a dying slave some food—or you could get irritated because he's dying. Your pick.

    It was difficult to realize that his [the Director of Companies] work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom. (1.3)

    The Company's work is done in the darkness and gloom, not on the lit water. We're going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the Company's work might be just a little shady.

    "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)

    Better put away that wedding dress: white, usually a sign of purity, here is inverted to mean the exact opposite. The phrase "whited sepulchre" comes from the Christian Bible's Book of Matthew, and it refers to people who are outwardly pure and inwardly filthy with deceit. This suggests that the Company is inwardly corrupt—and it's probably true. Belgian colonies were notorious for being particularly brutal toward Africans.

    "He struck a match, and I perceived that this young aristocrat had not only a silver-mounted dressing-case but also a whole candle all to himself. Just at that time the manager was the only man supposed to have any right to candles…The business intrusted to this fellow was the making of bricks - so I had been informed; but there wasn't a fragment of a brick anywhere in the station, and he had been there more than a year - waiting." (1.56)

    The brickmaker is surrounded by awesome possessions—silver-mounted canes, whole candles, iPads. But he didn't get these by actually doing his work; he got them by being totally (if vaguely) corrupt.

    "They [the slaves] were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, - nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. These moribund shapes were free as air—and nearly as thin. I began to distinguish the gleam of eyes under the trees. Then, glancing down, I saw a face near my hand. The black bones reclined at full length with one shoulder against the tree, and slowly the eyelids rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me, enormous and vacant, a kind of blind, white flicker in the depths of the orbs, which died out slowly." (1.40)

    The white colonists snatch Africans from their homes, take them to alien places, feed them unfamiliar food, and then work them to death. Nice. Here, white doesn't represent purity or truth, but the last gasp of miserable life before succumbing to death.

    But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel, but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine. (1.9)

    Up is down, in is out, light is dark, Jon Snow is actually a Targaryen. (What, you don't think that's where George R. R. Martin is going?) Here, Conrad inverts the relationship between light and dark to suggest that you need both light and dark to see.

    "He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination - you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate." (1.11)

    This is a lot of fancy words to describe a simple and familiar human emotion: not being able to look away from something disgusting but fascinating. Like the comments on a YouTube video.

    "This devoted band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, and I believe they were sworn to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe." (1.72)

    The Eldorado Exploring Expedition is a really neutral name for a really evil company. Their sole intention is to rob and rape the earth of its treasures for profit, and they don't even bother pretending to have a moral justification. At least they're honest?

    "The shed was already a heap of embers glowing fiercely." (1.56)

    Light is all friendly and illuminating when you just have to flip on a switch, but when the light is produced by a burning shed, it doesn't seem quite so harmless.

    "My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed to me I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno." (1.38)

    Ahhhh—time to stretch out in the shade and enjoy a refreshing beverage. Well … not quite. It turns out that the cooling shade is pretty hellish—especially for the dying slaves.

    [At the Outer Station]: "A continuous noise of the rapids above hovered over this scene of inhabited devastation. A lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants. A jetty projected into the river. A blinding sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence of glare." (1.34)

    Here, light does not reveal the truth but repeatedly "drown[s]" the true horror of the "inhabited devastation" in a "recrudescence of glare." (Okay, we admit, we had to look that one up: a "recrudescence" is a "new outbreak after a period of abatement.")

    The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.

    And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white, changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.

    Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories. (1.4-6)

    Man, we just love sunsets. Everything is bathed in heavenly white light … oh, wait. Except the western horizon. We're thinking that maybe the West (as in Europe) isn't quite as enlightened as it thinks it is. Check out how the sunlight grows more sinister as it falls towards the western horizon, turning from a friendly white to a "dull red"—you know, like fire. And in case you think that this is just a description and not metaphorical or symbolic, Conrad tells us that they're watching the Thames in the "august light of abiding memories," i.e. that they're looking at it though the lens of all their past experiences.

    "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." (1.28)

    Marlow's aunt thinks that Marlow is altruistic "emissary of light" bringing knowledge to "those ignorant millions." Uh, nope. Marlow calls this all "rot" and "humbug": he's not going to Africa out of the goodness of his heart, but rather to explore and help the Company profit. (This reminds us a lot of the Intended's attitude toward Kurtz at the end. Women, right??)

    Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! (1.6)

    The European pioneers head into the darkness of unknown territory bearing little flares of light like torches or glittering swords that represent their vigor and their enlightenment. This is super conventional imagery, which makes us wonder if we're really supposed to take it seriously. Somehow, we don't think Conrad would be quite so obvious.

    "He [the brickmaker] was a first-class agent, young, gentlemanly, a bit reserved, with a forked little beard and a hooked nose. He was stand-offish with the other agents, and they on their side said he was the manager's spy upon them." (1.56)

    The fact that the brickmaker has a "forked little beard" and is called the "manager's spy" immediately throws his moral purity into doubt. (You think?) At least Conrad is giving us one freebie, since the rest of the book is beyond confusing.

    "Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair." (1.39)

    Notice how the light half-illuminates and half-hides the dying slaves? Yeah, we did too.

    "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)

    Conrad finally says straight out that the men are hypocrites. They pretend that their mission is to philanthropically help the black Africans, but they exploit them instead. They want to make money for their governments, but even here, they won't lift a finger to do an hour of honest work.

    Charlie Marlow

    "It [Africa] had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness." (1.18)

    When he's a kid, Marlow sees the map's blank spaces as full of mystery and wonder. (Notice that "mystery" and "wonder" are exactly the opposite of what we expect to associate with whiteness.) But when Western explorers fill in that map, it becomes dark—another reversal of traditional imagery.

    "I found nothing else to do but to offer him one of my good Swede's ship's biscuits I had in my pocket. The fingers closed slowly on it and held - there was no other movement and no other glance." (1.40)

    Ship's biscuits: compressed cakes of flour and water. Yep, if we were dying that would definitely be the last food we'd want. Still, this little incident lets us see that Marlow is compassionate—or, at least, that he's able to take on the African perspective, just like Kurtz.

    [Marlow]: "It was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me—and into my thoughts. It was somber enough too—and pitiful—not extraordinary in any way—not very clear either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light." (1.15)

    Marlow describes meeting Kurtz as an experience that "throw[s] a kind of light […] into my thoughts." Great! Light probably helps him clear up some of those vague ideas he has about Kurtz, right? Not so much. It's still "not very clear"—and the separation between light and dark is getting even fuzzier.

    (Marlow): "They were men enough to face the darkness." (1.11)

    Darkness here represents the unknown and potentially hostile land. Zzzz. This is so conventional that we have to wonder if Conrad really expects us to believe this—or if Marlow's perspective is as flawed as everyone else's.

    "Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks—these chaps; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at." (1.30)

    Marlow describes the black native Africans as "natural and true," absolutely invigorating in their "wild vitality." They seem happy just to live and, to Marlow, who feels stuck in a dream, they're comforting to watch. Gee, we're sure it must be a real comfort to them to know that they make Marlow so happy.

    [Marlow on Kurtz's painting]: "Then I noticed a small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blind-folded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was somber—almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister." (1.57)

    Kurtz's painting starts out with some pretty conventional symbols: Liberty (symbolized by the torch) and Justice (symbolized by the blindfold). But Kurtz has put his own special twist on it: the background is black, and the torchlight is "sinister." Hmm. Looks like liberty and justice aren't as straightforward as they seem.

    "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)

    Ooh, ooh, we've got this one: the Congo is like a snake, one of the oldest symbols of evil and deception. But Marlow is fascinated by it, hypnotized like a "silly little bird." We guess he just can't look away.

    "You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies - which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world - what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough to it by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I became in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims." (1.61)

    Marlow may hate lies, but he comes pretty close to lying by letting the brickmaker think he's influential. And in the end, he admits that he's become "as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims" by letting himself lie. Sigh. There are just no heroes any more.

    "I let him run on, this papier-mâché Mephistopheles [the brickmaker] […]." (1.61)

    Just in case we haven't picked up on the fact that the brickmaker is totally corrupt, Marlow calls him Mephistopheles, the devil figure in Goethe's Faust.

    (Marlow): "Light came out of this river (the Thames) since—you say Knights? Yes; but it's like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker—may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday." (1.11)

    This is essentially a more poetic way of saying that humankind has really only been around for a fraction of a fraction of Earth's history. Conrad associates "light" with humankind—but then immediately undermines all our warm fuzzy feelings about light by using "knights" and "lighting" to make light seem, well, violent and destructive.

    "I've seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men - men, I tell you. But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months later and a thousand miles farther." (1.37)

    Yikes. We wouldn't want to meet these guys in a dark alley. Marlow sees the slavers as devils—but we're fairly sure they wouldn't see themselves the same way. In fact, they probably see themselves a lot more like angels.

    [Marlow]: "Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it's the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea." (1.13)

    Marlow says that "strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others." In other words, he totally undermines any sense that these Western explorers are noble or motivated by emotions other than greed: they're just glorified robbers. Shh, don't tell Ayn Rand.

    "And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the dark places of the earth." (1.8)

    Out of the blue, Marlow declares that London—pretty much the capital of the world in the late nineteenth century—used to be as dark as the interior of Africa. Well, gee, who asked you?

    "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)

    Nice! We love when we benefit from another person's violent death. (How do you think we got this job?) But seriously: Marlow doesn't seem particularly sympathetic, and he also doesn't appear to see that the guy's death might foreshadow his own possible fate.

    The Brickmaker

    [The brickmaker]: "'He [Kurtz] is an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else. We want,' he began to declaim suddenly, 'for the guidance of the cause intrusted to us by Europe, so to speak, higher intelligence, wide sympathies, a singleness of purpose.'" (1.59)

    The brickmaker presents Kurtz to Marlow as a do-gooder, something of a missionary as well as a Company agent, who wants to bring all the 'civilized' European qualities like "pity and science and progress" to Africa. Um, this would be a lot more believable if the brickmaker weren't obviously corrupt.

    [The brickmaker to Marlow]: "'You are of the new gang - the gang of virtue.'" (1.59)

    We're not sure that "virtue" is a word that means anything in this novel, much less anything when applied to the pilgrims.

    Chapter 2

    "'Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.' Conceive you - that ass!" (2.2)

    Sure, a "beacon": a beacon of immorality and evil. The manager is a hypocrite. Nothing he does helps the stations improve. In fact, under his authority, everything has decayed.

    "'We won't be free from unfair competition till one of these fellows is hanged for an example,' he said. 'Certainly,' grunted the other; 'get him hanged! Why not? Anything - anything can be done in this country.'" (2.2)

    In an otherwise confusing book, this seems pretty straightforward: the manager and his uncle are evil, willing to kill a man just to get at Kurtz.

    [The manager's uncle]: "'Ah! my boy, trust to this—I say, trust to this.' I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence." (2.2)

    We're used to thinking of nature as a relatively friendly, nurturing place—Mother Nature, and all that. But the manager's uncle assumes that Nature is evil, and Marlow obviously agrees. Awesome! Another binary smashed.

    There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. (2.5)

    Sunlight is supposed to be symbol of truth or a blessing from God. Here, it's the exact opposite: there's "no joy" in its brilliance or heat. It's oppressive, just like everything else.

    "The dusk came gliding into it long before the sun had set." (2.13)

    The sun may be up, but it's not light outside. In the interior, evil (or darkness, at least) seems to have a greater hold than on the outside.

    Charlie Marlow

    [Marlow describing Kurtz's speech]: "The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out pre-eminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness." (2.24)

    Language can be used for good or evil. Fair enough. We accept that Kurtz has a silver tongue, and he's been using it to manipulate everyone into thinking that he's a swell guy. Okay—so which side is Conrad on?

    "The other explained that it [the ivory] had come with a fleet of canoes in charge of an English half-caste clerk Kurtz had with him; that Kurtz had apparently intended to return himself, the station being by that time bare of goods and stores, but after coming three hundred miles, had suddenly decided to go back, which he started to do alone in a small dugout with four paddlers, leaving the half-caste to continue down the river with the ivory. The two fellows there seemed astounded at anybody attempting such a thing. They were at a loss for an adequate motive. As to me, I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was a distinct glimpse: the dug-out, four paddling savages, and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home—perhaps; setting his face towards the depths of the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station. Perhaps he was just simply a fine fellow who stuck to his work for its own sake." (2.2)

    Talk about moral ambiguity. On the one hand, you could see returning the interior as a positive sign of courage. On the other hand (of course there's another hand), you could see it as pure greed. Which is it?

    [Marlow on Kurtz's writing]: "…the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted him [Kurtz] with the make of a report, for its future guidance…it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them (savages) in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence - of words - of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot on the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!'" (2.29).

    Kurtz's last letter starts off all noble, talking about benevolence and exerting good and bringing light and blah blah blah. Things take a dire turn at the end when he scrawls, "Exterminate all the brutes"—and notice how this rather upsetting sentence is compared to a "flash of lightning"? Yeah, we saw that too.

    "The red-haired pilgrim was beside himself with the thought that at least this poor Kurtz had been properly avenged. 'Say! We must have made a glorious slaughter of them in the bush. Eh? What do you think? Say?' He positively danced, the bloodthirsty little gingery beggar. And he had nearly fainted when he saw the wounded man! I could not help saying, 'You made a glorious lot of smoke, anyhow.' I had seen, from the way the tops of the bushes rustled and flew, that almost all the shots had gone too high." (2.31)

    The red-haired pilgrim shows his evil side by rejoicing at the thought of killing the native Africans who attacked them. He's not only "bloodthirsty" but also a hypocrite, since he "nearly fainted" at the sight of the wounded helmsman. Marlow despises him, obviously.

    "Let the fool gape and shudder - the man knows, and can look on without a wink. But he must at least be as much of a man as these on the shore. He must meet that truth with his own true stuff - with his own inborn strength. Principles won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags - rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief." (2.8)

    Weird. We usually think of principles as being pretty firm, but Marlow seems to think they're nothing more than "pretty rags." So, what's the difference between "principles" and "beliefs"?

    "Their headman, a young, broad-chested black, severely draped in dark-blue fringed cloths, with fierce nostrils and his hair all done up artfully in oily ringlets, stood near me. 'Aha!' I said, just for good fellowship's sake. 'Catch 'im,' he snapped, with a bloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp teeth - 'catch 'im. Give 'im to us.' 'To you, eh?' I asked; 'what would you do with them?' 'Eat 'im!' he said curtly, and, leaning his elbow on the rail, looked out into the fog in a dignified and profoundly pensive attitude. I would no doubt have been properly horrified, had it not occurred to me that he and his chaps must be very hungry: that they must have been growing increasingly hungry for at least this month past." (2.14)

    Marlow just can't help feeling sympathy for the native Africans, even though he knows that what they really want is to nosh on some tasty human flesh. Now that is fellow feeling.

    "No; I can't forget him [Kurtz], though I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was exactly worth the life we lost in getting to him. I missed my late helmsman awfully - I missed him even while his body was still lying in the pilot-house…It was a kind of partnership. He steered for me - I had to look after him, I worried about his deficiencies, and thus a subtle bond had been created, of which I only became aware when it was suddenly broken. And the intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory - like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment." (2.29)

    Marlow may be on the edge, but he hasn't gone over it: unlike Kurtz, he still has some basic human emotion left. He's touched by death and honestly grieves at the loss of a man that he considers his partner. Well, kind of. He still sees the guy as primarily "an instrument" to help him get where he wants to go.

    "It was unearthly, and the men were - No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it - this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity - like yours - the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you - you so remote from the night of first ages - could comprehend." (2.8)

    Marlow is so mixed up that he's even beginning to consider the wild screaming Africans to be human. (Crazy, right?) This means that he has to reformulate what falls in the boundaries of humanness. What he once thought of as savage is actually just part of being human.

    Mr. Kurtz

    "You should have heard him say, 'My ivory.' Oh, yes, I heard him. 'My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my - ' everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places. Everything belonged to him - but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. That was the reflection that made you creepy all over. It was impossible — it was not good for one either - trying to imagine. He had taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land - I mean literally." (2.29)

    Kurtz, in his madness, is being taken over by the "powers of darkness." He no longer belongs to himself, but to the evil wilderness because he has accepted worship from the native Africans, who are described as "devils," and willingly taking his place among them. In essence, Marlow claims, Kurtz has accepted a seat in hell and thus belongs to the darkness.

    Chapter 3

    "I steamed up a bit, then swung down stream, and two thousand eyes followed the evolutions of the splashing, thumping, fierce river-demon beating the water with its terrible tail and breathing black smoke into the air. In front of the first rank, along the river, three men, plastered with bright red earth from head to foot, strutted to and fro restlessly. When we came abreast again, they faced the river, stamped their feet, nodded their horned heads, swayed their scarlet bodies; they shook towards the fierce river-demon a bunch of black feathers, a mangy skin with a pendent tail - something that looked a dried gourd; they shouted periodically together strings of amazing words that resembled no sounds of human language; and the deep murmurs of the crowd, interrupted suddenly, were like the responses of some satanic litany." (3.30)

    Both groups—the white men and black men—come off looking pretty bad in this description. Marlow's steamboat is described as a "fierce river-demon" while the native Africans waiting onshore are painted scarlet and shout in a "satanic litany." Hm. In a game of dodgeball between these two teams, we'd probably just sit out.

    "He [the harlequin] informed me, lowering his voice, that it was Kurtz who had ordered the attack to be made on the steamer. 'He hated sometimes the idea of being taken away - and then again. . . ." (3.22)

    Kurtz is so far gone that he actually orders an attack on the men sent to rescue him. There's literally no difference between black and white to him—but it's not exactly a coca-cola vision of racial harmony. It's more like a jungle nightmare.

    "But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power." (3.37)

    Kurtz may have gone over to the dark side, but he's not exactly going quietly. He's torn between loving and hating Africa and the colonial project—which actually seems like a logical response for someone in his position.

    "The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." (3.87)

    That sound you heard was the anvil of symbolism. Conrad closes the novel with a scene of darkness, suggesting heavy-handedly that evil exists and no one cares. Awesome.

    "This clearly was not a case for fisticuffs, even apart from the very natural aversion I had to beat that Shadow - this wandering and tormented thing. 'You will be lost,' I said - 'utterly lost.' One gets sometimes such a flash of inspiration, you know." (3.28)

    Kurtz is a "Shadow," a "wandering and tormented" soul that will be "lost" if he escapes into the wilderness. And this isn't just any kind of lost—it's lost physically, psychologically, and morally. (You know why they say about men never asking for directions.)

    "A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms, across the glow. It had horns - antelope horns, I think - on its head. Some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt: it looked fiendlike enough." (3.28)

    Blackness, horns, and a fire-illuminated silhouette? Yeah, we'll pass, thanks.

    "And then that imbecile crowd down on the deck started their little fun, and I could see nothing more for smoke." (3.35)

    The "imbecile crowd" of white pilgrims are evil because they want to shoot and kill the native Africans simply for a "little fun." Woohoo! That does sound like a good time. (Not.)

    "I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her [the Intended], before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from which I could not even defend myself." (3.62)

    The Intended believes unwaveringly in the goodness of Kurtz. Too bad it's all a lie. Which makes us ask: do all illusions shine "with an unearthly glow"? If light is an illusion and darkness is truth, which one is really better? Can we even say that one is better?

    "It seemed to me I had never breathed an atmosphere so vile, and I turned mentally to Kurtz for relief - positively for relief." (3.19)

    You know things are bad when you're looking to the depraved warlord for moral and mental relief.

    "She [the Intended] came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning…The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful." (3.52)

    Whew. Now we're back on solid ground: the shining brow and hair of the fair girl indicates her goodness and purity while the darkness represents her sorrow. Right? Right??

    "A grand piano stood massively in a corner, with dark gleams on the flat surfaces like a somber and polished sarcophagus." (3.52)

    Hello, paradox! The piano's surfaces are full of "dark gleams," a sinister oxymoron that has us scratching our heads a bit. The piano reminds Marlow of a "polished sarcophagus," a repository for the dead. We're guessing that pretty much everything reminds Marlow of death now.

    Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. (3.87)

    If Marlow is like the Buddha, then we're assuming that Conrad wants us to think he's been enlightened in some way. Unfortunately, his knowledge isn't exactly comforting.

    "Evidently the appetite for more ivory had got the better of the - what shall I say? - less material aspirations. However he had got much worse suddenly. 'I heard he was lying helpless, and so I came up - took my chance,' said the Russian. 'Oh, he's bad, very bad.'" (3.4)

    Kurtz is a sick, sick man—in both senses of the word. He's physically sick, but he's mentally sick as well. In fact, it seems like we're supposed to identify physical sickness with mental sickness, as though having a migraine means that you're depraved.

    Charlie Marlow

    "My hour of favour was over; I found myself lumped along with Kurtz as a partisan of methods for which the time was not ripe: I was unsound! Ah! but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares." (3.19)

    Heading into the interior teaches Marlow that there's really no such thing as good or evil: there's only evil and slightly less evil.

    [Marlow to the Intended]: "'The last word he pronounced was - your name.'" (3.85)

    This one's tricky. Marlow is lying and lying's wrong, right? Well, yes. Except that he does it to preserve the Intended's lovely illusion of Kurtz. It could be considered an act of mercy—unless you think that it's just another excuse for slavery and coercion.

    "The fact is I was completely unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstract terror, unconnected with any distinct shape of physical danger. What made this emotion so overpowering was - how shall I define it? — the moral shock I received, as if something altogether monstrous, intolerable to thought and odious to the soul, had been thrust upon me unexpectedly." (3.24)

    The "moral shock" that Marlow feels when he realizes Kurtz is gone probably comes from his shock that this guy who's so much like him is gone. The fact that Marlow just recently chose Kurtz over the manager and the Company makes it even worse.

    "I know that the sunlight can be made to lie too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features." (3.48)

    Marlow doesn't trust the sunlight anymore because he has learned from his experience in the interior that light can be deceitful or hellish. (Plus, it can give you wicked sunburns.) However, he trusts the Intended because he believes women are naïve. Hm. We're thinking that's a bad idea.

    "He [Kurtz] hated all this, and somehow he couldn't get away. When I had a chance I begged him to try and leave while there was time; I offered to go back with him. And he would say yes, and then he would remain; go off on another ivory hunt; disappear for weeks; forget himself amongst these people—forget himself—you know.'" (3.4)

    Kurtz can't eat just one. Or do just one evil deed. Even though he claims to hate the whole thing, Kurtz stays in the interior. It's claimed him.

    "I looked around, and I don't know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness." (3.3)

    Nature seems to Marlow completely "hopeless" and "dark," entirely inaccessible to the human mind, incomprehensible and merciless to human weakness. You know, evil.

    "I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, and the darkness of an impenetrable night…" (3.20)

    Check this out: once Marlow decides to go over to the dark side, the imagery starts getting pretty grave. Literally. A weight, damp earth, "corruption," darkness—doesn't it sound a little (okay, a lot) like he's being buried alive?

    "These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing - food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen - and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids - a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber." (3.4)

    Marlow's shocked to find out that those ornamental knobs surrounding Kurtz's house aren't wooden but, er, human. Yep, we're going to go with evil.

    "'You knew him best,' I repeated. And perhaps she did. But with every word spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and white, remained illumined by the unextinguishable light of belief and love." (3.56)

    As the Intended doubles down on her lies, the darkness grows. We're pretty sure it's a metaphorical darkness.

    "But the wilderness had found him (Kurtz) out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude - and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating." (3.5)

    Check out how Marlow personifies the wilderness, making it into a living, breathing force of evil.

    "I did not betray Mr. Kurtz - it was ordered I should never betray him—it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice." (3.25)

    Marlow knows that Kurtz is corrupt, but stays loyal to him anyway. Between the two evils of the Company and Kurtz, he decides to hang with the lesser evil.

    "I had turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr. Kurtz, who, I was ready to admit, was as good as buried." (3.20)

    Marlow seems to see Kurtz and the wilderness as different, but from where we are (safely on the other side of the page) they look pretty similar: dark, evil, and inescapable.

    "His [Kurtz's] ascendancy was extraordinary. The camps of these people surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. They would crawl. '[…] I don't want to know anything of the ceremonies used when approaching Mr. Kurtz,' I shouted. Curious, this feeling that came over me that such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz's windows. After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist—obviously - in the sunshine." (3.6)

    Marlow still has a shred of morality left—let's say, enough to keep from downloading illegal music, but not enough to keep from sharing his Netflix login. He's not horrified at the thought of living in a world where evil can exist openly, but he is terrified by the thought of people (like the native Africans) openly worshipping evil.

    "It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle." (3.86)

    By the end of the novel, Marlow has come to some conclusions about the world: it's ultimately indifferent to good and veil. There are no gods to pass judgment; there's no punishment for a tiny little lie. Hm. Is that a freeing realization—or is it just super depressing?

    "I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror - of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge?" (3.42)

    As Kurtz dies, Marlow sees a parade of negative emotions pass over his face—pride, ruthlessness, terror, and despair. Contrast that with the white, calm connotations of "ivory," and you'll see why this book has us scratching our heads so thoughtfully.

    "His [Kurtz's] was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines." (3.40)

    Kurtz is so evil now that light can't even touch him. Metaphorically.

    The Harlequin

    [The harlequin]: "'I have a canoe and three black fellows waiting not very far. I am off. Could you give me a few Martini-Henry cartridges?' I could, and did, with proper secrecy. He helped himself, with a wink at me, to a handful of my tobacco. 'Between sailors - you know - good English tobacco.' At the door of the pilot-house he turned round - 'I say, haven't you a pair of shoes you could spare?' He raised one leg. 'Look.' The soles were tied with knotted strings sandalwise under his bare feet. I rooted out an old pair, at which he looked with admiration before tucking it under his left arm." (3.22)


    Marlow shows his last vestiges of goodness by generously giving the harlequin some gun cartridges, tobacco, and spare shoes to escape the manager. Well, if we had to choose we'd probably go with the delusional harlequin rather than the creepy manager, too.

    Mr. Kurtz

    [Kurtz]: "'I was on the threshold of great things,' he pleaded, in a voice of longing, with a wistfulness of tone that made my blood run cold. 'And now for this stupid scoundrel—'" (3.29)

    Kurtz thinks himself a force of good while the manager is a "stupid scoundrel," as a force of evil who thwarts his glorious plans. Well, we don't like the manager or anything, but we're pretty sure it's not that simple.

    The Intended

    "She [the Intended] said suddenly very low, 'He died as he lived.'

    'His end,' said I, with dull anger stirring in me, 'was in every way worthy of his life.'" (3.73-74)

    Well, this is a skillfully ambiguous statement. Marlow manages to condemn Kurtz (since his life wasn't so great) while still letting the Intended think that he was a great guy. Nicely done.

    The Manager

    [The manager]: "'He [Kurtz] is very low, very low,' he said. He considered it necessary to sigh, but neglected to be consistently sorrowful. 'We have done all we could for him - haven't we? But there is no disguising the fact, Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously - that's my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time. Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade will suffer. I don't deny there is a remarkable quantity of ivory — mostly fossil. We must save it, at all events - but look how precarious the position is - and why? Because the method is unsound.'" (3.19)

    Let's count the ways in which the manager is depraved: first, he misrepresents Kurtz's condition and twists his words. Second, he tries to attack Kurtz's "method" by calling it "unsound." Finally, his words are just empty—which doesn't sound so bad to us, but is evidently the tipping point for Marlow. This guy is definitely getting unfriended.

  • Power

    Chapter 1

    "Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire set into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory." (1.44)

    Everyone cares only for the ivory; almost anything will be given up in exchange for it—manufactured goods like cotton, beads, brass-wire, and even human slaves.

    "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)

    Woohoo! Untimely death = promotion for our intrepid hero. Check out the way he says that his predecessor died in a "glorious affair"—sure, he's being ironic, but he's not exactly mourning the guy. In fact, he seems downright pleased.

    "When near the buildings I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear." (1.42)

    We were with all this right up until the green-lined parasol. (Seriously? A parasol?) The accountant's fancy clothes let him show off his position of power: no need to get his hand dirty pushing numbers around on an Excel spreadsheet, after all. You can wear your very best clothes for that.

    "He alluded constantly to Europe, to the people I was supposed to know there - putting leading questions as to my acquaintances in the sepulchral city, and so on. His little eyes glittered like mica discs—with curiosity—though he tried to keep up a bit of superciliousness." (1.57)

    The ambitious brickmaker tries to pump information out of Marlow without telling him why, even though Marlow can totally tell what he's after.

    "He, don't you see, had been planning to be assistant-manager by and by under the present man, and I could see that the coming of that Kurtz had upset them both not a little." (1.61)

    Honestly, isn't it kind of pathetic that the goal of all the brickmaker's ambitions is to become the assistant manager? If he's going to be such a slimy suckup, at least he could set his sights a little higher.

    [At the Central Station]: "The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove!" (1.53)

    Everyone at the Central Station wants to get their hands on ivory so badly they actually make ivory into a god. But instead of giving them power, this greed ends up making them into "imbeciles." The whole affair feels as dirty to him as the stench of a corpse.

    "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)

    Let's see: building an overseas empire on the backs of oppressed native Africans, and making a giant profit by exploiting the African Interior. There's no way this can end badly, right?

    "When annoyed at meal-times by the constant quarrels of the white men about precedence, he ordered an immense round table to be made, for which a special house had to be built. This was the station's mess-room. Where he sat was the first place—the rest were nowhere. One felt this to be his unalterable conviction." (1.52)

    Hm. See, we thought the point of a round table was to make everyone equal—but instead, it just ends up making the manager seem more powerful. Wherever he sits, that's the head of the table. This power play keeps the manager on top and his underlings decidedly beneath him. Smooth move!

    The Brickmaker

    [The brickmaker]: "'The same people who sent him [Kurtz] specially also recommended you. Oh, don't say no. I've my own eyes to trust.' Light dawned upon me. My dear aunt's influential acquaintances were producing an unexpected effect upon that young man." (1.59)

    Here, we find out that the brickmaker is trying to get in good with the Company bigwigs, the friends of Marlow's aunts. And we also find out that Kurtz was recommended by the same people as Marlow. Hmmm. That's an interesting parallel.

    Charlie Marlow

    "I am sorry to own I began to worry them. This was already a fresh departure for me. I was not used to get things that way, you know. I always went my own road and on my own legs where I had a mind to go. I wouldn't have believed it of myself; but, then—you see—I felt somehow I must get there by hook or by crook. So I worried them. The men said 'My dear fellow,' and did nothing. Then—would you believe it?—I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work—to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see, the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: 'It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration, and also a man who has lots of influence with,' etc. She was determined to make no end of fuss to get me appointed skipper of a river steamboat, if such was my fancy." (1.20)

    It helps to have friends in high places. Marlow knows that power can be useful—and we even suspect that he'd like to have a little bit of it himself. (But not too much. Not so much that it makes him go crazy, you know.)

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "Besides that, they had given them every week three pieces of brass wire, each about nine inches long; and the theory was they were to buy their provisions with that currency in riverside villages. You can see how that worked. There were either no villages, or the people were hostile, or the director, who like the rest of us fed out of tins, with an occasional old he-goat thrown in, didn't want to stop the steamer for some more or less recondite reason. So, unless they swallowed the wire itself, or made loops of it to snare the fishes with, I don't see what good their extravagant salary could be to them. I must say it was paid with a regularity worthy of a large and honourable trading company." (2.14)

    The Company is so greedy that they assume the Africans are that way, too. Marlow makes fun of this attitude in the last sentence. When the pilgrims cannot offer suitable food to the Africans, they offer useless brass wire as payment. They don't care that brass wire isn't edible, or that the steamboat doesn't pass any villages where the Africans can step off and barter it for food. In other words, they have only themselves to blame that the cannibals are now so eager for human flesh.

    "He [Kurtz] won't be forgotten. Whatever he was, he was not common. He had the power to charm or frighten rudimentary souls into an aggravated witch-dance in his honour; he could also fill the small souls of the pilgrims with bitter misgivings: he had one devoted friend at least, and he had conquered one soul in the world that was neither rudimentary nor tainted with self-seeking. No; I can't forget him, though I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was exactly worth the life we lost in getting to him." (2.29)

    Marlow admires Kurtz's power, but he's not blindly attracted to it like the harlequin is. Why? Does he know that Kurtz is corrupt?

    The Manager

    "'Yes,' answered the manager; 'he sent his assistant down the river with a note to me in these terms: "Clear this poor devil out of the country, and don't bother sending more of that sort. I had rather be alone than have the kind of men you can dispose of with me." (2.1)

    Kurtz is so powerful in the company that he can kick out his assistant and order the Company not to send him any more "of that sort." Must be nice—until it makes you crazy.

    "You should have heard him say, 'My ivory.' Oh, yes, I heard him. 'My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—' everything belonged to him." (2.29)

    Kurtz's sense of ownership has been warped by his status as a "god" amongst the native Africans. He thinks everything, including the wilderness he inhabits, belongs to him. His sense of himself has expanded to include everything around him, in sharp contrast to the other men's (i.e., Marlow's crew's) sense of getting smaller when they're surrounded by the wilderness.

    Chapter 3

    "A voice! a voice! It was grave, profound, vibrating, while the man did not seem capable of a whisper. However, he had enough strength in him—factitious no doubt—to very nearly make an end of us, as you shall hear directly." (3.11)

    Kurtz may look like a skeleton/ ghost/ phantom/ dying man, but he still has enough power in him to almost do away with Marlow and his crew.

    "They [the heads] only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him - some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence." (3.5)

    Er, saying that the beheadings shows that Kurtz couldn't "restrain" his "lusts" seems like a bit of an understatement. This "lack of restraint" ultimately brings about Kurtz's downfall. You think?

    "A clean-shaved man, with an official manner and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, called on me one day and made inquiries, at first circuitous, afterwards suavely pressing, about what he was pleased to denominate certain 'documents.' I was not surprised, because I had had two rows with the manager on the subject out there. I had refused to give up the smallest scrap out of that package, and I took the same attitude with the spectacled man. He became darkly menacing at last, and with much heat argued that the Company had the right to every bit of information about its 'territories.' And said he, 'Mr. Kurtz's knowledge of unexplored regions must have been necessarily extensive and peculiar - owing to his great abilities and to the deplorable circumstances in which he had been placed: therefore - ' I assured him Mr. Kurtz's knowledge, however extensive, did not bear upon the problems of commerce or administration. He invoked then the name of science. 'It would be an incalculable loss if,' etc., etc. I offered him the report on the 'Suppression of Savage Customs,' with the postscriptum torn off. He took it up eagerly, but ended by sniffing at it with an air of contempt. 'This is not what we had a right to expect,' he remarked. 'Expect nothing else,' I said. 'There are only private letters.' He withdrew upon some threat of legal proceedings […]." (3.49)

    The Company has all kinds of arguments about why they really need Kurtz's papers—devotion to science, legal right, etc.—but they obviously just want one thing: profit.

    Charlie Marlow

    "I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the manager said afterwards that Mr. Kurtz's methods had ruined the district. I have no opinion on that point, but I want you clearly to understand that there was nothing exactly profitable in these heads being there." (3.5)

    All of a sudden, Marlow seems awfully concerned with the Company's profits. Like the manager, he disagrees with Kurtz's judgment here, saying that beheading native Africans wasn't exactly profitable. Callous? Cynical? Satiric? You decide.

    "'Kurtz got the tribe to follow him, did he?' I suggested. He fidgeted a little. 'They adored him,' he said. The tone of these words was so extraordinary that I looked at him searchingly. It was curious to see his mingled eagerness and reluctance to speak of Kurtz. The man filled his life, occupied his thoughts, swayed his emotions. 'What can you expect?' he burst out; 'he came to them with thunder and lightning, you know—and they had never seen anything like it—and very terrible. He could be very terrible." (3.4)

    Kurtz is so powerful that he manages to convince the native Africans to help him steal ivory from their fellow tribes. What's weird is we can't quite tell if the Africans worship him because they think he's awesome, or because they're terrified of him. Is it the same?

    Mr. Kurtz

    "At this moment I heard Kurtz's deep voice behind the curtain: 'Save me!—save the ivory, you mean. Don't tell me. Save me!'" (3.18)

    Kurtz is so debauched by greed that he assumes everyone feels the same way. He believes that the manager does not actually want to save him, but to save the ivory in order to look good to the Company. He is, of course, correct.

    [Kurtz]: "'Sick! Sick! Not so sick as you would like to believe. Never mind. I'll carry my ideas out yet—I will return. I'll show you what can be done. You with your little peddling notions - you are interfering with me. I will return.'" (3.18)

    Kurtz—apparently ignoring the fact that he is literally dying—still thinks he's going to win. He considers not only that the manager himself is less powerful than he, but that the manager's ideas are merely "little peddling notions" beside his own great ambitions.

  • Language and Communication

    Chapter 1

    "Now letters went to the coast every week. . . . 'My dear sir,' he cried, 'I write from dictation.' I demanded rivets. There was a way – for an intelligent man." (1.68)

    The brickmaker’s role as the manager’s puppet is furthered when we find out that he writes all the letters asking for supplies word-for-word (or by "dictation") from the manager. Not even his written words are his own – they originate from another’s mouth. Marlow insults his intelligence for being such a mindless automaton.

    We exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason or other we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. (1.4)

    Even early in the book, the breakdown of language begins. The men are too lazy even to speak.

    "He shook hands, I fancy, murmured vaguely, was satisfied with my French. Bon Voyage." (1.23)

    The Dutch head of the Company does not speak English with Marlow and obviously does not try very hard to understand – or confer understanding upon – Marlow. He hears so little of Marlow’s French – a mere well-known phrase – that he cannot possibly judge his French adequately. But it is obvious he does not care about meaningful communication; he sees Marlow as only another opportunity to increase his profits.

    [Unnamed narrator]: For a long time already he [Marlow], sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice. There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep, but I was awake. I listened, I listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word, that would give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river. (1.66)

    Like Kurtz will be later, Marlow has become just a voice to his listeners. The darkness and stillness have rendered them blind to each other and to Marlow; they can use only their sense of hearing.

    "Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy - a smile - not a smile - I remember it, but I can't explain. It was unconscious, this smile was, though just after he had said something it got intensified for an instant. It came at the end of his speeches like a seal applied on the words to make the meaning of the commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable." (1.52)

    The manager’s talk is as meaningless as his expressions and only this mysterious (but empty) smile gives his words any semblance of profundity.

    "He [the manager] began to speak as soon as he saw me. I had been very long on the road. He could not wait. Had to start without me. The up-river stations had to be relieved. There had been so many delays already that he did not know who was dead and who was alive, and how they got on--and so on, and so on. He paid no attention to my explanations, and, playing with a stick of sealing-wax, repeated several times that the situation was 'very grave, very grave.' […] All this talk seemed to me so futile." (1.53)

    The manager’s bumbling and useless talk tells Marlow very little about the situation. He only makes excuses for his incompetence. His talk is so meaningless it is like background babble. To emphasize this fact, Conrad does not even put quotation marks around his speech. Whenever the manager wants to underscore the importance of something, he stupidly repeats it, as in the situation being "very grave, very grave." It is no wonder that Marlow finds this talk a waste of time.

    Charlie Marlow

    "I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too – God knows! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it - no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there…He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story?" (1.61)

    To Marlow, "Kurtz" is "just a word." Any rumors and words about Kurtz are empty for Marlow. He believes in Kurtz only as one would believe in a fairy tale.

    The Brickmaker

    "There was nothing but that wretched, old, mangled steamboat I was leaning against, while he [the brickmaker] talked fluently about 'the necessity for every man to get on.' 'And when one comes out here, you conceive, it is not to gaze at the moon.' Mr. Kurtz was a 'universal genius,' but even a genius would find it easier to work with 'adequate tools – intelligent men.' He did not make bricks – why, there was a physical impossibility in the way – as I was well aware; and if he did secretarial work for the manager, it was because 'no sensible man rejects wantonly the confidence of his superiors.'" (1.67)

    The brickmaker goes all over the place with his speech, flitting from random topic to random topic and trying to make each one sound profound. He does not even notice when Marlow stops listening to him.

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "'You made notes in Russian?' I asked. He nodded. 'I thought they were written in cipher,' I said." (2.37)

    Language does not function well in the interior. For example, Marlow mistakes the harlequin’s Russian notes for cipher simply because he cannot read them.

    "I made the strange discovery that I had never imagined him [Kurtz] as doing, you know, but as discoursing. I didn’t say to myself, ‘Now I will never see him,’ or ‘Now I will never shake him by the hand,’ but, ‘Now I will never hear him.’ The man presented himself as a voice…The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out pre-eminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words – the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness." (2.24)

    Marlow realizes he has imagined Kurtz this whole time not as a man, but only as a voice. Kurtz’s reality – for Marlow, at least – occurs primarily in language. Marlow admires him most for his "gift of expression" which he can use both for good (for making contact with mankind, for making things understood) or for evil (for deceit).

    [Marlow on Kurtz’s writing]: "But it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings - we approach them with the might of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence - of words - of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases […]" (2.29)

    Marlow admires Kurtz’s eloquence even though the content of the words is frightening. Kurtz tells the white men to approach the black native Africans as gods, to incite their worship so they can "exert a power for good practically unbounded." Marlow is carried away by Kurtz’s idealism and his "unbounded power of eloquence." It is Kurtz’s words that deeply move him.

    "[…] I picked up a book. It had lost its covers, and the pages had been thumbed into a state of extremely dirty softness; but the back had been lovingly stitched afresh with white cotton thread, which looked clean yet. It was an extraordinary find. Its title was, "An Inquiry into some Points of Seamanship", by a man Towser, Towson – some such name - Master in his Majesty's Navy. The matter looked dreary reading enough, with illustrative diagrams and repulsive tables of figures, and the copy was sixty years old. I handled this amazing antiquity with the greatest possible tenderness, lest it should dissolve in my hands. Within, Towson or Towser was inquiring earnestly into the breaking strain of ships' chains and tackle, and other such matters. Not a very enthralling book; but at the first glance you could see there a singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work, which made these humble pages, thought out so many years ago, luminous with another than a professional light. The simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases, made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably real. Such a book being there was wonderful enough; but still more astounding were the notes penciled in the margin, and plainly referring to the text. I couldn't believe my eyes! They were in cipher! Yes, it looked like cipher." (2.9)

    Marlow rejoices at the discovery of a book because it gives him a sense of contact with the civilized human world, from which he has been absent from for so long. Despite its boring content, Marlow treasures the book for its attention to how things should be done, its care for correctness – something distinct from Marlow’s activities in the last few months. In this world of strange surrealism, Marlow feels the book is a touchstone to reality, especially when he sees handwritten notes in the margin – proof that other men have existed in this place.

    "'Can you steer?' I asked the agent eagerly. He looked very dubious; but I made a grab at his arm, and he understood at once I meant him to steer whether or no." (2.23)

    It is not the words "can you steer" but the gesture of grabbing the pilgrim’s arm that make him understand that Marlow wants him to steer. Language is ineffective in the interior, but gestures and human contact are not.

    "I slipped the book into my pocket. I assure you to leave off reading was like tearing myself away from the shelter of an old and solid friendship." (2.10)

    Marlow, through the connecting medium of language, feels as though the author of the book is a close friend. It helps stave off some of his loneliness.

    "[…] but I have a voice, too, and for good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced." (2.8)

    In making his claim that the native Africans are human like white men, Marlow is regarded incredulously by his traveling companions; he feels the need to justify himself. He uses his voice as a vehicle of (what he hopes is) truth. He understands how important it is to have a say, especially after living in the oppressive silence of the interior and hearing Kurtz’s harsh and merciless voice.

    "This initiated wraith from the back of Nowhere honoured me with its amazing confidence before it vanished altogether. This was because it could speak English to me. The original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and – as he was good enough to say himself – his sympathies were in the right place." (2.29)

    Kurtz can communicate to Marlow because he speaks English, though English is not his first language. However, Marlow identifies with him because "his sympathies were in the right place." In other words, Kurtz sympathizes with the English.

    "But what made the idea of attack inconceivable to me was the nature of the noise – of the cries we had heard. They had not the fierce character boding immediate hostile intention. Unexpected, wild, and violent as they had been, they had given me an irresistible impression of sorrow. The glimpse of the steamboat had for some reason filled those savages with unrestrained grief." (2.16)

    Despite the fact that the native Africans’ cries had no comprehensible words, Marlow still understood one of the emotions communicated: sadness. While language is not universal, emotions, it seems, are.

    ""We two whites stood over him, and his lustrous and inquiring glance enveloped us both. I declare it looked as though he would presently put to us some questions in an understandable language; but he died without uttering a sound, without moving a limb, without twitching a muscle." (2.23)

    In his dying moments, the black helmsman communicates without words, through a simple gaze. Marlow feels as if he could understand the man if he tried to speak. Again, this understanding is achieved not with language, but with emotion.

    "I fretted and fumed and took to arguing with myself whether or no I would talk openly with Kurtz; but before I could come to any conclusion it occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility." (2.12)

    At the thought of speaking with Kurtz, of perhaps sharing some of his own ideas with this man who has earned his awe, Marlow quickly begins to doubt himself. He feels as if his speech would make no difference to Kurtz or their awful situation. He feels as if words are futile in the interior and carry no power.

    "When deciphered it said: 'Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.' There was a signature, but it was illegible – not Kurtz – a much longer word. 'Hurry up.' Where? Up the river? 'Approach cautiously.' We had not done so. But the warning could not have been meant for the place where it could be only found after approach. Something was wrong above. But what – and how much? That was the question. We commented adversely upon the imbecility of that telegraphic style." (2.9)

    Language breaks down in the interior, making any written signs difficult to decipher and harder to interpret.

    "His [Kurtz’s] name, you understand, had not been pronounced once. He was 'that man.'" (2.2)

    The manager and his uncle refuse to pronounce Kurtz’s name, perhaps in a gesture of awe and fear-inspired respect or simply because they do not want any eavesdroppers (like Marlow) to know whom they are talking about.

    "Before it stopped running with a muffled rattle, a cry, a very loud cry, as of infinite desolation, soared slowly in the opaque air. It ceased. A complaining clamour, modulated in savage discords, filled our ears. The sheer unexpectedness of it made my hair stir under my cap. I don't know how it struck the others: to me it seemed as though the mist itself had screamed, so suddenly, and apparently from all sides at once, did this tumultuous and mournful uproar arise. It culminated in a hurried outbreak of almost intolerably excessive shrieking, which stopped short, leaving us stiffened in a variety of silly attitudes, and obstinately listening to the nearly as appalling and excessive silence. 'Good God! What is the meaning –' stammered at my elbow one of the pilgrims." (2.13)

    None of the men understand the wordless cries of the native Africans onshore. Their inability to communicate linguistically reflects a larger disconnect between the two groups of people.

    Mr. Kurtz

    "There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot on the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’" (2.29)

    Kurtz’s idealistic and moving words change suddenly with this postscriptum. His condemnatory tone here blazes "like a flash of lightning in a serene sky" and sends a message far different from the rest of his report.

    The Harlequin

    [The harlequin]: "'At first old Van Shuyten would tell me to go to the devil,' he narrated with keen enjoyment; 'but I stuck to him, and talked and talked, till at last he got afraid I would talk the hind-leg off his favourite dog, so he gave me some cheap things and a few guns, and told me he hoped he would never see my face again.’" (2.36)

    The harlequin uses language to wear down the Dutchman’s patience. The Dutchman eventually gives in to the harlequin, providing him with some supplies to face the interior. Thus, the harlequin has found that his tongue opens doors for him.

    Chapter 3
    The Intended

    "'No!' she [the Intended] cried. 'It is impossible that all this should be lost – that such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing - but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them, too – I could not perhaps understand - but others knew of them. Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.'

    'His words will remain,' I said." (3.68-69)

    Words, it is suggested, are the only things that remain forever, that can capture memory and not fade away into nothingness.

    [The Intended]: "‘I feel I can speak to you - and oh! I must speak. I want you – you who have heard his last words – to know I have been worthy of him. […] It is not pride. […] Yes! I am proud to know I understood him better than any one on earth – he told me so himself.’" (3.59)

    The Intended equates speaking with understanding, begging Marlow to speak to her of Kurtz because he was one of the few who understood him as she did.

    "'[…] Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?' she (the Intended) was saying. 'He drew men towards him by what was best in them.' She looked at me with intensity. 'It is the gift of the great,' she went on […]." (3.61)

    The Intended puts great store by Kurtz’s words, believing that they lured men to him and earned him his admiration from all mankind. She is naïve about the true motivations of men which are often far darker and more self-serving.

    Mr. Kurtz

    "'To the very end,' I said, shakily. 'I heard his very last words. . . .' I stopped in a fright.

    'Repeat them,' she murmured in a heart-broken tone. 'I want–I want–something – something – to – to live with.'

    I was on the point of crying at her, 'Don't you hear them?' The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. 'The horror! The horror!'" (3.80-82)

    That Kurtz’s last words drum repeatedly in Marlow’s mind reinforces the idea that words last forever.

    "Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now – images of wealth and fame revolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression. My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas – these were the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments." (3.37)

    Even when deprived of his potential kingdom, Kurtz speaks with moving eloquence. But now Marlow realizes just how "barren" and empty his words are. His words are now just hollow reflections of his dreams "of wealth and fame" and his favorite adjective, "my," is meaningless. Kurtz owns nothing now that he has been removed from the interior.

    Charlie Marlow

    "Suppose he [Kurtz] began to shout? Though he could hardly stand, there was still plenty of vigour in his voice." (3.28)

    Marlow recognizes that Kurtz’s voice, the only strong thing about him, can still be a vehicle of communication. Thus, it poses a danger to him.

    [Marlow to the Intended]: "'The last word he pronounced was - your name.'" (3.85)

    The fact that Marlow says this and the Intended believes him is partially due to the fact that names constitute a very important part of language. They are an indication of identity.

    "Kurtz – Kurtz – that means short in German – don't it? Well, the name was as true as everything else in his life - and death. He looked at least seven feet long." (3.9)

    The meaning of the German word "kurtz" is contradicted by reality. Kurtz is not short but "at least seven feet long." This demonstrates the divorce between language and meaning here in the interior.

    "And the memory of what I had heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul. And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said one day, 'This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try to claim it as theirs though. H'm. It is a difficult case. What do you think I ought to do – resist? Eh? I want no more than justice.' […]." (3.51)

    When having flashbacks, Marlow primarily remembers Kurtz’s words, emphasizing his conviction that Kurtz has only a voice, not a true presence.

    "The voice was gone. What else had been there?" (3.46)

    Kurtz is referred to as simply a voice. Now that that is gone, he is truly dead. Marlow does not make any references to Kurtz’s soul as he believes it is lost to perdition. Only emptiness remains in Kurtz’s wake.

    "His [the harlequin’s] voice lost itself in the calm of the evening." (3.7)

    Language is swallowed up and rendered meaningless by the African wilderness.

    "I like to think my summing-up would not have been a word of careless contempt. Better his cry – much better. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, but abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory! That is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even beyond, when a long time after I heard once more, not his own voice, but the echo of his magnificent eloquence thrown to me from a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal." (3.48)

    Marlow suspects that, had he faced such a challenge, he would not have had Kurtz’s courage to judge, to hang on to a true belief. His judgment would have been "a word of careless contempt," perhaps a meaningless one. This is why, he claims, he remains loyal to Kurtz – he wants something to believe in firmly and resolutely and unwaveringly, just as Kurtz did.

    "There was no sign on the face of nature of this amazing tale that was not so much told as suggested to me in desolate exclamations, completed by shrugs, in interrupted phrases, in hints ending in deep sighs." (3.4)

    Nature is depicted in terms of nonverbal communication: "exclamations," "shrugs," "phrases," and "sighs." Each one suggests that Marlow’s tale is "desolate" or "interrupted," incomplete and perhaps unreliable.

    "[…] I heard him [Kurtz] mutter, 'Live rightly, die, die . . .' I listened. There was nothing more. Was he rehearsing some speech in his sleep, or was it a fragment of a phrase from some newspaper article? He had been writing for the papers and meant to do so again, 'for the furthering of my ideas. It's a duty.'" (3.39)

    In his dying stages, Kurtz’s words become incomprehensible to Marlow. He does not know whether Kurtz’s meditations on life and death are meant for himself or for the public.

    The Manager

    [The manager]: "'He [Kurtz] is very low, very low,' he said. He considered it necessary to sigh, but neglected to be consistently sorrowful. 'We have done all we could for him - haven't we? But there is no disguising the fact, Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously - that's my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time. Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade will suffer. I don't deny there is a remarkable quantity of ivory – mostly fossil. We must save it, at all events – but look how precarious the position is – and why? Because the method is unsound.'" (3.19)

    The manager’s words mean nothing. They cannot even get near the heart of the situation because his thoughts are so warped by his own greed and jealousy.

    The Harlequin

    [The harlequin]: "’She got in one day and kicked up a row about those miserable rags I picked up in the storeroom to mend my clothes with. I wasn't decent. At least it must have been that, for she talked like a fury to Kurtz for an hour, pointing at me now and then. I don't understand the dialect of this tribe.’" (3.17)

    The harlequin does not understand the warrior woman’s speech. He assumes that she is talking about his clothing with no hard proof. She could very well have been blaming him for the coming of Marlow’s crew. Readers are as clueless about her tirade as the harlequin is. This is another example of language breaking down in the interior.

  • Identity

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    "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.

    "I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too—God knows! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it - no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I believed it in the same way one of you might believe there are inhabitants in the planet Mars." (1.61)

    Kurtz's name has literally no associations for Marlow—not even your standard Martian face. Does that mean he has no expectations about Kurtz's identity, either?

    [Marlow on the manager]: "He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a … a … faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the station. He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? Perhaps because he was never ill…He had served three terms of three years out there…Because triumphant health in the general rout of constitutions is a kind of power in itself. When he went home on leave he rioted on a large scale—pompously. Jack ashore—with a difference—in externals only. This one could gather from his causal talk. He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that's all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause—for out there there were no external checks. Once when various tropical diseases had laid low almost every "agent" in the station, he was heard to say, "Men who come out here should have no entrails." He sealed the utterance with that smile of his, as though it had been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping. You fancied you had seen things—but the seal was on." (1.52)

    The manager is basically as empty of distinction as a human being can be. He has no genius, no initiative, and no talent for organizing things. Even more disturbing, he seems to have no insides—nothing for diseases to infect. Bonus: his amazing good health has allowed him to never miss a day of work! Someone print him a certificate!

    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.

    [Marlow on the brickmaker]: "I let him run on, this papier-mâché Mephistopheles, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe." (1.61)

    Not only do we know that the brickmaker's words are empty, but Marlow describes him as a "papier-mâché" figure, implying that he's hollow inside. (And maybe filled with tasty candy and fun prizes?)

    "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.

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "The lustre of inquiring glance faded swiftly into vacant glassiness." (2.23)

    Marlow associates death with emptiness since he describes the dead foreman's eyes as "vacant" as opposed to a once living "luster." Now just get a whole bunch of them and send them after an intrepid band of heroes, and you'll have a hit TV show!

    "Mind, I am not trying to excuse or even explain - I am trying to account to myself for—for—Mr. Kurtz—for the shade of Mr. Kurtz. This initiated wraith from the back of Nowhere honoured me with its amazing confidence before it vanished altogether." (2.29)

    Kurtz isn't a whole human being; he's a "shade" or "wraith," something that is literally a ghost of its former self and on the verge of vanishing into nothingness. It seems that he's completely lost his identity in the jungle.

    "[…] how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man's untrammeled feet may take him into the way of solitude—utter solitude without a policeman—by the way of silence—utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard by the whispering of public opinion?" (2.29)

    Alone in the interior, isolation warps your mind. (The same might be said of sitting alone in front of a computer all day. Ahem.) After a few days of silent isolation, the men can't judge things properly.

    "It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It's really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition of one's soul - than this kind of prolonged hunger. Sad, but true. And these chaps [the cannibals], too, had no earthly reason for any kind of scruple." (2.14)

    This is typical of how Europeans of the time might have viewed the native Africans. They think that they had "no earthly reason for any kind of scruple," never taking into account that perhaps they do have scruples, just different ones. For example, we never see any Africans brutally beating and chaining any Europeans, do we?

    "And the lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the hair goes on growing sometimes, but this—ah—specimen, was impressively bald. The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and—lo!—he had withered; it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation." (2.29)

    This isn't your run-of-the-mill male pattern baldness: this is some crazy wilderness sorcery. Like his hair, Kurtz's flesh has been "consumed" and his soul has been "sealed"—cut off from the rest of humanity. Mr. Kurtz has lost both physical and spiritual aspects of a human being; he's no longer whole.

    "Not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard. You looked on amazed, and began to suspect yourself of being deaf—then the night came suddenly, and struck you blind as well. About three in the morning some large fish leaped, and the loud splash made me jump as though a gun had been fired. When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standing all around you like something solid." (2.13)

    The interior deprives men of their senses. Here, the eerie stillness of the wilderness and the darkness of night render the men both deaf and blind. Without eyes or ears, they have no frame of reference—and without a frame of reference, they have no clear identities.

    Chapter 3
    The Intended

    "'No!' she [the Intended] cried. 'It's impossible that all this should be lost — that such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing—but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them, too - I could not perhaps understand - but others knew of them. Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.'" (3.68)

    The Intended can't deal with Kurtz being totally gone from the world. Luckily, Conrad wrote this book to keep his memory alive.

    "He [Kurtz] rose, unsteady, long, pale, indistinct, like a vapour exhaled by the earth, and swayed slightly, misty and silent before me […]." (3.27)

    Kurtz is a "vapour," "misty" and insubstantial before the wholly human form of Marlow. Pro tip: eat more protein, Kurtz!

    "But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core […]." (3.5)

    The evil wilderness drains Kurtz of his heart and his humanity, leaving him "hollow at the core." Brain snack: the idea that we're all "hollow" at the core and that there's no clear meaning is basically the major idea of early twentieth-century writing. T.S. Eliot wrote a whole poem about it.

    "Glamour urged him on, glamour kept him unscathed. He surely wanted nothing from the wilderness but space to breathe in and to push on through. His need was to exist, and to move onwards at the greatest possible risk, and with a maximum of privation. If the absolutely pure, uncalculating, unpractical spirit of adventure had ever ruled a human being, it ruled this bepatched youth. I almost envied him the possession of this modest and clear flame. It seemed to have consumed all thought of self so completely, that even while he was talking to you, you forgot that it was he—the man before your eyes—who had gone through these things." (3.1)

    The harlequin is depicted as a shell of a man driven on only by "glamour" or the "pure…spirit of adventure."

    "He [the manager] leaned back, serene, with that peculiar smile of his sealing the unexpressed depths of his meanness." (3.44)

    The manager may have feelings about Kurtz's death (we doubt it), but we'll never know: the depths of his "meanness" are locked up by his vacant smile. As expected, he shows no real emotion at the news.

    "I was struck by the fire of his eyes and the composed languor of his expression. It was not so much the exhaustion of disease. He did not seem in pain. This shadow looked satiated and calm, as though for the moment it had had its fill of all the emotions." (3.10)

    Kurtz isn't even a whole human any more: he's a "shadow." Pros: because he's no longer fully human, Kurtz doesn't feel the pain of his disease as his body wastes away; he seems calm in a wholly inhuman way. Cons: He's, um, not fully human.

    Charlie Marlow

    "And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman." (3.13)

    The fact that this woman is described as an "apparition" suggests that Marlow does not consider women, especially this native African one, to be as fully human or as capable as men. Similar language comes up with the Intended shows up at the end of the novel—not the "wild" bit, but the "apparition" part.

    "I have wrestled with death. It's the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary." (3.48)

    The dominant feature of Marlow's struggle with death is its emptiness. It takes place without anything underneath or around it, without the possibility of human contact, without noise or glory, without the desire to win or fear of losing. Most tragically, it's fought without conviction in one's own beliefs. It's as empty and meaningless a struggle as can be.

    "I shall see this eloquent phantom [Kurtz] as long as I live, and I shall see her (the Intended), too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one (the warrior woman), tragic also…" (3.73)

    Marlow describes Kurtz, the Intended, and the warrior woman all as incomplete humans, as mere phantoms or shades. Does that make Kurtz feminized in some way? Or are women just always a little crazy?

    "I was within a hair's breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. […] True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible." (3.48)

    Hm, this is interesting. Marlow believes that he's just as empty as the rest of them, and that only Kurtz managed to hold on to something real. Kurtz had something to say, something of importance and meaning, while he and the rest of the crew spoke meaninglessly. Marlow believes that the only way to not completely lose one's humanity in the interior is to "step over the edge." That sounds … pretty paradoxical to us, actually.

  • Fear

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    "In the street – I don't know why – a queer feeling came to me that I was an imposter. Odd thing that I, who used to clear out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours' notice, with less thought than most men give to the crossing of a street, had a moment – I won't say of hesitation, but of startled pause, before this commonplace affair. The best way I can explain it to you is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the centre of a continent, I were about to set off for the centre of the earth." (1.29)

    Here, Marlow’s earlier sense of unease deepens. He feels inexplicably that he is an imposter on this journey. Instead of taking this trip in stride – as he is accustomed to doing – he feels suddenly a stab of nervous anticipation, as if he is headed on a perilous journey towards the center of the earth, from which he may not come back alive.

    "I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am not used to such ceremonies, and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though I had been let into some conspiracy – I don’t know – something not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In the outer room the two women knitted black wool feverishly. People were arriving, and the younger one was walking back and forth introducing them. The old one sat on her chair […]. She wore a starched white affair on her head, had a wart on one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her nose. She glanced at me above the glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of that look troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheery countenances were being piloted over, and she threw at them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She seemed to know all about them and about me too. An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinising the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again – not half, by a long way." (1.25)

    Marlow begins feeling nervous about his trip right after he signs his papers. The two knitting women increase his anxiety by gazing at him and all the other sailors with knowing unconcern. Their eerie looks suggest that they know what will happen (the men dying), yet don’t care. This is the first time Marlow feels as if his trip might be ill-omened, but he quickly shakes it off.

    "We capered on the iron deck. A frightful clatter came out of that hulk, and the virgin forest on the other bank of the creek sent it back in a thundering roll upon the sleeping station. It must have made some of the pilgrims sit up in their hovels." (1.70)

    The pilgrims, sitting up fearful in bed, are ironically hearing only the wild celebration of their fellow men, not something frightful coming from the wilderness.

    Chapter 2

    "I had to keep guessing at the channel; I had to discern, mostly by inspiration, the signs of hidden banks; I watched for sunken stones; I was learning to clap my teeth smartly before my heart flew out, when I shaved by a fluke some infernal sly old snag that would have ripped the life out of the tin-pot steamboat and drowned all the pilgrims; I had to keep a lookout for the signs of dead wood we could cut up in the night for next day's steaming." (2.5)

    Marlow lives in constant fear for the well-being of his steamboat, which is the pilgrims’ one means of survival. He learns a healthy respect and fear for this hostile and vengeful beast that is the wilderness.

    "You should have seen the pilgrims stare! They had no heart to grin, or even to revile me: but I believe they thought me gone mad - with fright, maybe. I delivered a regular lecture." (2.17)

    The pilgrims think their captain Marlow has gone mad with fear when he does something as mundane as giving a lecture while everyone else is freaking out from paranoia.

    "'Will they attack?' whispered an awed voice. 'We will be all butchered in this fog,' murmured another. The faces twitched with the strain, the hands trembled slightly, the eyes forgot to wink." (2.14)

    The pilgrims fear attack from the native Africans, who’ve just screamed somewhere beyond the blinding fog. Their fear is so potent that it has physical effects: their faces twitch involuntarily, their hands tremble, and their eyes watch the perimeter unblinkingly.

    "They swore aloud together – out of sheer fright, I believe – then pretending not to know anything of my existence, turned back to the station." (2.3)

    The manager and his uncle exemplify the constant fear induced by the wilderness.

    "Before it stopped running with a muffled rattle, a cry, a very loud cry, as of infinite desolation, soared slowly in the opaque air. It ceased. A complaining clamour, modulated in savage discords, filled our ears. The sheer unexpectedness of it made my hair stir under my cap. I don't know how it struck the others: to me it seemed as though the mist itself had screamed, so suddenly, and apparently from all sides at once, did this tumultuous and mournful uproar arise. It culminated in a hurried outbreak of almost intolerably excessive shrieking, which stopped short, leaving us stiffened in a variety of silly attitudes, and obstinately listening to the nearly as appalling and excessive silence. 'Good God! What is the meaning – ' stammered at my elbow one of the pilgrims - a little fat man, with sandy hair and red whiskers, who wore side-spring boots, and pink pyjamas tucked into his socks. Two others remained open-mouthed a while minute, then dashed into the little cabin, to rush out incontinently and stand darting scared glances, with Winchesters at 'ready' in their hands." (2.13)

    The bloodcurdling cries of the native Africans, hiding somewhere in the underbrush on the riverbank, scare the men badly. Their fear is exacerbated by the former eerie silence and their inability to understand what is being communicated by the screeches. Though sensible Marlow does not panic, the pilgrims are either rendered speechless or run to grab their guns.

    "'It is unpleasant,' grunted the uncle. 'He has asked the Administration to be sent there,' said the other, 'with the idea of showing what he could do; and I was instructed accordingly. Look at the influence that man must have. Is it not frightful?'" (2.1)

    The manager and his uncle fear Kurtz for his ability to survive in the interior; therefore, they fear having to survive the interior themselves.

    "Not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard. You looked on amazed, and began to suspect yourself of being deaf – then the night came suddenly, and struck you blind as well. About three in the morning some large fish leaped, and the loud splash made me jump as though a gun had been fired. When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standing all around you like something solid." (2.13)

    The interior deprives men of their senses and drives them slowly into madness. Here, the eerie stillness of the wilderness and the darkness of night render the men both deaf and blind. Any noise – even the mundane splashing of leaping fish – startles them and makes them fear immediately for their lives. When daylight comes, the fog still blinds them, seeming even more sinister than the night.

    Charlie Marlow

    "I had put on a dry pair of slippers, I dragged him out, after first jerking the spear out of his side, which operation I confess I performed with my eyes shut tight." (2.30)

    Marlow has an irrational fear of touching the dead helmsman.

    "The man had rolled on his back and stared straight up at me; both his hands clutched that cane. It was the shaft of a spear that, either thrown or lunged through the opening, had caught him in the side, just below the ribs; the blade had gone in out of sight, after making a frightful gash; my shoes were full; a pool of blood lay very still, gleaming dark-red under the wheel; his eyes shone with an amazing lustre. The fusillade burst out again. He looked at me anxiously, gripping the spear like something precious, with an air of being afraid I would try to take it away from him. I had to make an effort to free my eyes from his gaze and attend to the steering. With one hand I felt above my head for the line of the steam whistle, and jerked out screech after screech hurriedly. The tumult of angry and warlike yells was checked instantly, and then from the depths of the woods went out such a tremulous and prolonged wail of mournful fear and utter despair as may be imagined to follow the flight of the last hope from the earth." (2.22)

    At the sight of his foreman dying at his feet, Marlow feels a stab of fear and a weird fascination with death that forces him to "make an effort to free my eyes from his gaze." After the Africans evoke his fear, Marlow returns the favor. He blows the steam whistle loudly and repeatedly, scaring the attacking Africans away.

    Chapter 3

    "Only the barbarous and superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms after us over the sombre and glittering river." (3.34)

    The warrior woman is the only one of the native Africans who doesn’t fear the noise of the steam whistle. She doesn’t budge. Perhaps this is because she represents the wilderness, which does not fear the men but is only amused by their antics.

    "His [Kurtz’s] ascendancy was extraordinary. The camps of these people surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. They would crawl. […] 'I don't want to know anything of the ceremonies used when approaching Mr. Kurtz,' I shouted. Curious, this feeling that came over me that such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz's windows. After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist – obviously – in the sunshine." (3.6)

    Marlow is still clinging to his morals, if only by a thread. He is no longer horrified at the thought of living in a world where evil can exist openly. He is, however, scared badly by the thought of people (like the native Africans) openly worshipping evil – as symbolized by Kurtz.

    Mr. Kurtz

    [Kurtz]: "'The horror! The horror!'" (3.43)

    Kurtz’s final judgment on his life, his actions, mankind in general, imperialism, or his fate is one of deep and profound fear.

    Charlie Marlow

    "The fact is I was completely unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstract terror, unconnected with any distinct shape of physical danger. What made this emotion so overpowering was – how shall I define it? – the moral shock I received, as if something altogether monstrous, intolerable to thought and odious to the soul, had been thrust upon me unexpectedly. This lasted of course the merest fraction of a second, and then the usual sense of commonplace, deadly danger, the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or something of the kind, which I saw impending, was positively welcome and composing. It pacified me, in fact, so much that I did not raise an alarm." (3.24)

    Marlow is struck senseless with fear, an absolutely pure terror, at the realization that Kurtz is gone. He describes this as a "moral shock" that quickly subsides into a more rational and less bleak fear of commonplace danger. It is disconcerting that "commonplace, deadly dangers, the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre" are "positively welcome and composing."

    "These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing - food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen – and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids – a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber." (3.4)

    Marlow’s lack of fear at this horrifying discovery is telling. He has become desensitized to the horrors of the interior.

  • Other

    Chapter 1

    "Mind," he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower […] (1.13)

    The Buddha represents enlightenment, truth, and reconciliation with the world, so it's pretty impressive that the narrator is comparing the narrator to him. Hm. Maybe it's just us, but if we're listening to some god-like figure tell a really, really long story, we'd want it to end a little more conclusively.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Chapter 1

    (At Brussels): "Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool. The slim one got up and walked straight at me – still knitting with downcast eyes – and only just as I began to think of getting out of her way, as you would for a somnambulist, stood still, and looked up. Her dress was as plain as an umbrella-cover, and she turned round without a word and preceded me into a waiting-room." (1.23)

    These two women represent the Greek Moirae, or Fates, who spin and cut every human being’s thread of life. The slim one who gets up is described as a somnambulist (or sleep-walker) who is so engrossed in her spinning (of men’s destinies) that she does not really see Marlow.

    "But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months later and a thousand miles farther. For a moment I stood appalled, as though by a warning." (1.37)

    Fate allows Marlow to see what horrors lie in store for him, specifically a new kind of devil which Marlow is not familiar with. For one brief moment, he has doubts about whether or not he should go on after perceiving Fate’s warning. But he allows this doubt to rule him only for an instant.

    "I heard the name of Kurtz pronounced, then the words, 'take advantage of this unfortunate accident.'" (1.56)

    The fact that the manager wants to take advantage of this so-called "unfortunate accident" brings into question whether it was a bad turn of luck or someone’s willful attempt to sabotage (indirectly) Kurtz.

    [The accountant]: "'Oh, he [Kurtz] will go far, very far,' he began again. 'He will be a somebody in the Administration before long. They, above – the Council in Europe, you know - mean him to be.'" (1.47)

    Kurtz is presented as a man destined for great things.

    Charlie Marlow

    "I felt somehow I must get there [to the Congo] by hook or by crook. So I worried them. The men said, ‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then – would you believe it? – I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work – to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: ‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration, and also a man who has lots of influence […].’" (1.19)

    Marlow feels inevitably drawn to Africa, as if by destiny, and thus makes the choice to begin hounding his relatives to help him procure a steamboat. This leads to a chance meeting with his aunt in which she uses her influence with the Company to help him get exactly what he wants. Therefore, both chance and choice bring Marlow to Kurtz.

    "In the street – I don’t know why – a queer feeling came to me that I was an imposter. Odd thing that I, who used to clear out for any part of the world at a twenty-four hours’ notice, with less thought than most men give to the crossing of a street, had a moment – I won’t say of hesitation, but of startled pause, before this commonplace affair. The best way I can explain it to you is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the centre of a continent, I were about to set off for the centre of the earth." (1.30)

    Marlow feels a nervous anticipation about starting his journey, as though Fate believes he is not capable.

    [At the Central Station]: "One of them, a stout, excitable chap […] informed me […] that my steamer was at the bottom of the river. I was thunderstruck. What, how, why? Oh, it was "all right." The "manager himself" was there. All quite correct […]

    I did not see the real significance of that wreck at once. I fancy I see it now, but I am not sure – not at all. Certainly the affair was too stupid – when I think of it – to be altogether natural. Still…but at the moment it presented itself simply as a confounded nuisance. The steamer was sunk. They had started two days before in a sudden hurry up the river with the manager on board, in charge of some volunteer skipper, and before they had been out three hours they tore the bottom out of her on stones, and she sank near the south bank….the repairs when I brought the pieces to the station, took some months." (1.50-51)

    What seems at first an accident, Marlow later suspects to have been a planned attempt at sabotage.

    "I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am not used to such ceremonies, and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though I had been let into some conspiracy – I don’t know – something not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In the outer room the two women knitted black wool feverishly. People were arriving, and the younger one was walking back and forth introducing them. The old one sat on her chair…She wore a starched white affair on her head, had a wart on one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her nose. She glanced at me above the glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of that look troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheer countenances were being piloted over, and she threw at them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She seemed to know all about them and about me too. An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinising the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again – not half, by a long way." (1.25)

    After signing his papers, Marlow gets an inexplicable feeling of uneasiness, as if he has just entered into some unclean conspiracy. The old knitting women do nothing to calm him, but only increase his discomfort with their placid, knowing looks. They seem to know each man’s fate and acknowledge visions of their upcoming deaths with careless acceptance.

    Chapter 2

    "And I didn't do badly either, since I managed not to sink that steamboat on my first trip. It's a wonder to me yet. Imagine a blindfolded man set to drive a van over a bad road. I sweated and shivered over that business considerably, I can tell you […] I don't pretend to say that steamboat floated all the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing." (2.7)

    Marlow manages to get the steamboat whole and unscathed up the Congo and to the Inner Station. He endures a great deal of difficulty keeping it afloat and one wonders whether or not he was meant to get there alive. Marlow himself admits that he scraped the bottom more than once with the steamboat. But Fate seems to be on Marlow’s side.

    "I couldn't have felt more of lonely desolation somehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed my destiny in life […]." (2.25)

    Marlow has felt all this time that it was his destiny to meet Kurtz – now he feels cheated out of it.

    "It appears these niggers do bury the tusks sometimes - but evidently they couldn't bury this parcel deep enough to save the gifted Mr. Kurtz from his fate." (2.29)

    The black native Africans’ attempts to hide Kurtz’s stash of ivory could not save him from his destiny – that of being discovered by Marlow’s crew and eventually of being taken away from the interior.

    [The manager’s uncle]: "Ah! my boy, trust to this – I say, trust to this." I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek the mud, the river – seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence […] (2.2)

    The jungle is so ominous that Marlow expects whatever dark force resides there to emerge from the darkness and strike down the manager’s uncle for daring to believe it would ever bow to his will. His journey to the interior now seems more ill-starred than ever.

    Charlie Marlow

    "Poor fool! If he [the helmsman] had only left that shutter alone." (2.30)

    Marlow laments his helmsman’s fate and wishes that he could have had the foresight to prevent his death. It is as if the helmsman was destined to die.

    The Harlequin

    [The harlequin]: "'So many accidents happen to a man going about alone, you know. Canoes get upset sometimes – and sometimes you've got to clear out so quick when the people get angry.'" (2.37)

    The harlequin comments on the fickle nature of Fate in the interior. It gives men "many accidents," as if trying to kill those who dare venture into the interior.

    Chapter 3
    Charlie Marlow

    "I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of unextinguishable regrets." (3.48)

    Marlow shows contempt for Fate. He cannot fathom it or its purpose. But he does learn from it; he learns of his deepest self but is also left with "a crop of unextinguishable regrets." In Heart of Darkness, Fate does not seem to have a happy ending for anyone.

    "But I am of course aware that next day the pilgrims buried something in a muddy hole.

    And then they very nearly buried me." (3.46-47)

    Marlow is almost fated to die alongside Kurtz. This is not remarkable per se. Marlow and Kurtz’s lives paralleled each other – it should come as no surprise that they almost share the same death.

    "I was strangely cocksure of everything that night. I actually left the track and ran in a wide semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to myself) so as to get in front of that stir, of that motion I had seen - if indeed I had seen anything. I was circumventing Kurtz as though it had been a boyish game. " (3.27)

    Marlow knows that since he chose to be on Kurtz’s side instead of the manager’s, he is fated to be "numbered with the dead" as far as the crew is concerned. Marlow comes to terms with this unfriendly fate, this "choice of nightmares" that was really not his choice; the circumstance forced this decision upon him.

    "I was strangely cocksure of everything that night. I actually left the track and ran in a wide semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to myself) so as to get in front of that stir, of that motion I had seen - if indeed I had seen anything. I was circumventing Kurtz as though it had been a boyish game. " (3.27)

    Marlow, driven by destiny, is sure of all his movements when chasing after Kurtz. He has enough confidence in fate to leave the manmade trail in the woods and strike out into the wilderness blindly, knowing he will find Kurtz. To him, it seems like a "boyish game," which is exactly what it is to the knitting Fates.

    "The knitting old woman with the cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most improper person to be sitting at the other end of such an affair." (3.26)

    As Marlow chases Kurtz through the woods, the image of the old knitting woman (representing Fate) intrudes on his thoughts. Though it is only subconsciously, Marlow knows he is destined to find Kurtz in the wilderness and bring him back; he is destined to allow the greater evil to win.

    "They had come together unavoidably, like two ships becalmed near each other, and lay rubbing sides at last." (3.2)

    It seems destined that Kurtz and the harlequin should meet each other.

    "I did not envy him [the harlequin] his devotion to Kurtz, though. He had not meditated over it. It came to him, and he accepted it with a sort of eager fatalism." (3.1)

    When it comes to Kurtz, the harlequin seems to have no free will. He does not think (or "meditate") over Kurtz’s purpose but accepts his words thoughtlessly, fatefully. Marlow thinks him an eager fatalist whose blind devotion to Kurtz can only end badly.

  • Time

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    "I asked myself what I was to do there, now my boat was lost. As a matter of fact, I had plenty to do in fishing my command out of the river. I had to set about it the very next day. That, and the repairs when I brought the pieces to the station, took some months." (1.51)

    Marlow is so intent on making his journey that he loses no time in beginning repairs on the steamboat. However, the damage is done and he must delay his trip yet again.

    "I had to wait in the station for ten days – an eternity." (1.45)

    Marlow hates delay and wants to get started as soon as possible on his journey into the heart of Africa. He is impatient. This is interesting, given that the Nellie is itself delayed while he tells his story.

    [Marlow]: "Of course in this you fellows see more than I could then. You see me, whom you know […]." (1.65)

    The current, story-telling Marlow emphasizes the differences between himself now and himself as a character in his tale. His maturation from these events of a year ago has now given him a wisdom and perspective he previously lacked.

    And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes, ‘followed the sea’ with reverence and affection, that to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames. The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea. It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled - the great knights-errant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning with her rotund flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen's Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests – and that never returned. It had known the ships and the men. (1.6)

    Marlow’s love for the sea turns his eyes to its past and glorious history. He recounts all the pioneers of the Thames River, all commissioned to exploration by the crown. It is obvious from Marlow’s tone that he reveres these historical figures.

    "However, they were all waiting – all the sixteen or twenty pilgrims of them – for something; and upon my word it did not seem an uncongenial occupation, from the way they took it, though the only thing that ever came to them was disease – as far as I could see. They beguiled the time by back-biting and intriguing against each other in a foolish kind of way. There was an air of plotting about that station, but nothing came of it, of course." (1.56)

    Conrad plays with time to give the situation a feeling of futility and ineptitude. Everyone experiences a sense of delay and, particularly in Marlow’s case, a sense of endless ennui in the constant waiting.

    We looked on, waiting patiently – there was nothing else to do till the end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, "I suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a bit," that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow's inconclusive experiences. (1.14)

    Marlow’s story is told in a period of delay as the Nellie cannot sail for lack of a sufficient tide. The crew resigns itself to hearing about one of Marlow’s past inscrutable journeys.

    "Oh, these months!" (1.55)

    Conrad uses these delays to increase the sense of suspense and give Marlow (and the readers) more time to grow curious about Kurtz.

    The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide. (1.1)

    The story begins with an interruption. The Nellie, stranded by a flood, can do nothing but wait for the tide to turn to continue her journey. It is during this delay that Marlow tells his story.

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "I don't think a single one of them had any clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages have. They still belonged to the beginnings of time […]." (2.14)

    Marlow observes that the native Africans’ concept of time is far different from the linear European one. However, he is arrogant about it and assumes that they have no concept of time whatsoever, never entertaining the thought that theirs might simply be different.

    "[…] the memory of that time itself lingers around me, impalpable, like a dying vibration of one immense jabber, silly, atrocious, sordid, savage, or simply mean, without any kind of sense." (2.27)

    In the present, Marlow comments that the memory of his journey up the Congo remains with him, as if he is constantly caught in that journey and cannot break free of it.

    "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." (2.5)

    In the weird, prehistoric world of the interior, Marlow’s own past comes flashing back to him. Though one would expect this to give him reassurance, to help him remember who he is and remain sane, it does quite the opposite. For the memories come back not as he remembers them, but wrapped in the unfamiliar disguise of an "unrestful and noisy dream." Thus, even one’s own memories become alien and unfamiliar in the reality-warping interior.

    "Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings." (2.5)

    The Congo River is a linear representation of time; the further the men go up it, the more they feel as if they are traveling backwards in time. The jungle they encounter is so thick and untouched that they feel as if they are traversing a prehistoric world.

    "We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil." (2.7)

    Marlow and his crew feel as if they have stepped into a deep past; he believes they are the first men ever to walk this savage planet. Marlow feels as if he is charged with the duty to tame this wild earth at the cost of personal turmoil. Such is the power of the interior.

    "We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign – and no memories." (2.7)

    The men are completely devoid of any understanding of their surroundings; even though they are traversing the prehistoric past, they cannot access their own pasts, their own memories.

    Chapter 3

    "The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and Kurtz's life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into the sea of inexorable time." (3.36)

    Going downstream on the Congo River, which we have by now equated with traveling through time, is much faster than moving upstream. Since Marlow and his crew are headed back towards civilized Europe, they feel as if they are traveling forward in time.

    Charlie Marlow

    "All that had been Kurtz's had passed out of my hands: his soul, his body, his station, his plans, his ivory, his career. There remained only his memory and his Intended – and I wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in a way – to surrender personally all that remained of him with me to that oblivion which is the last word of our common fate." (3.50)

    One of the reasons Marlow wants to get rid of Kurtz’s letters is so that he can put Kurtz and his whole journey behind him, so that he can resign it peacefully to the past.

    "I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man's life – a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before the high and ponderous door, between the tall houses of a street as still and decorous as a well-kept alley in a cemetery, I had a vision of him on the stretcher, opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the earth with all its mankind. He lived then before me; he lived as much as he had ever lived – a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence. The vision seemed to enter the house with me - the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a heart – the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul. And the memory of what I had heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul. And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said one day, 'This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try to claim it as theirs though. H'm. It is a difficult case. What do you think I ought to do - resist? Eh? I want no more than justice.' […] He wanted no more than justice - no more than justice. I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel – stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, "The horror! The horror!" (3.51)

    The past comes powerfully and vividly alive for Marlow as he makes his way to the Intended’s house. He finds that his memories are not the "vague impress on the brain" that he has been accustomed to. In contrast, he remembers his meeting with Kurtz quite lucidly.

    The Harlequin

    "The glamour of youth enveloped his [the harlequin’s] parti-coloured rags, his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wanderings. For months - for years - his life hadn't been worth a day's purchase; and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearances indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflecting audacity." (3.1)

    The harlequin has survived in the wilderness for years, despite the fact that back in Europe, he is not worth a "day’s purchase" – or a single payday. However, in the interior, time becomes as warped as reality.

    [The harlequin]: "'We talked of everything,' he said, quite transported at the recollection. 'I forgot there was such a thing as sleep. The night did not seem to last an hour." (3.2)

    The harlequin’s conversations with Kurtz were so engaging that time seemed to fly for them. Words have a way of warping time.

    Mr. Kurtz

    "It was more than a year since his death, more than a year since the news came; she [the Intended] seemed as though she would remember and mourn forever […]. But while we were still shaking hands, such a look of awful desolation came upon her face that I perceived she was one of those creatures that are not the playthings of Time. For her he had died only yesterday. And, by Jove! the impression was so powerful that for me, too, he seemed to have died only yesterday – nay, this very minute. I saw her and him in the same instant of time – his death and her sorrow – I saw her sorrow in the very moment of his death. Do you understand? I saw them together – I heard them together." (3.53)

    Kurtz’s Intended seems as if she is not susceptible to the ravages nor the comforts of passing time. She stretches the time of mourning into eternity.

  • Exploration

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    [Marlow]: "Imagine him here—the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina - and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages, precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death - death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here." (1.11)

    When you head off to backpack around Southeast Asia after college, you end up leaving some of your comforts behind. Some places don't even have cell phone service! Imagine!

    "I had plenty of time for meditation, and now and then I would give some thought to Kurtz. I wasn't very interested in him. No. Still, I was curious to see whether this man, who had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort, would climb to the top after all and how he would set about his work when there." (1.74)

    Despite himself, Marlow becomes more and more curious about this faceless figure of Kurtz. From the brickmaker's description of him, Marlow assumes that Kurtz came out "equipped with moral ideas of some sort," probably the sort that try to justify imperialism. When compared to the godlessness of the crew surrounding Marlow, Kurtz seems like a good alternative.

    "One day he [the accountant] remarked, without lifting his head, 'In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.' On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at this information, he added slowly, laying down his pen, 'He is a very remarkable person.' Further questions elicited from him that Mr. Kurtz was at present in charge of a trading-post, a very important one, in the true ivory-country, at 'the very bottom of there. Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together […].'" (1.46)

    Marlow wasn't too interested in Kurtz at first, but he's starting to get curious. As the details pile up—he's a first-class agent, he's a remarkable person, he sends in quantities of ivory—our hero can't help wanting to, um, explore.

    He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them—the ship; and so is their country—the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine. (1.9)

    What's weird is that Conrad describes seamen as actually kind of sedentary, sitting aboard their ship wherever it takes them rather than actively going out to explore. Marlow, on the other hand, is an explorer in the truest sense of the word. He hasn't come to impose assumptions, but to find meaning and truth—even if he doesn't like what he finds.

    "Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South 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)

    There's just something about a blank space on a map that makes Marlow want to fill it up. Come on, we're not the only ones hearing something a little sexual here, right?.

    [Marlow]: "Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga—perhaps too much dice, you know—coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him—all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. (1.11)

    Exploration can be a way of escaping your gambling debts ("too much dice") and starting a new life, but don't expect to find a place to buy your gourmet salt in a savage new land.

    It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled - the great knights-errant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning with her rotund flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen's Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests - and that never returned. It had known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich, from Erith - the adventurers and the settlers; kings' ships and the ships of men on 'Change; captains, admirals, the dark 'interlopers' of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned 'generals' of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. (1.6)

    Marlow lists off a bunch of famous figures who explored the Thames River and the sea. The first half of his list catalogs royally commissioned explorers and plunderers, while the latter half are businessmen who developed trade with foreign countries. Marlow seems to view all of them as pioneers who struck out to bring civilization to dark unknown lands—but we're not so sure he really feels that way.

    "[…] on one end a large shining map, marked with all the colours of a rainbow. There was a vast amount of red - good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there, a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and, on the East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progress drink the jolly lager-beer. However, I wasn't going into any of these. I was going into the yellow. Dead in the centre. And the river was there—fascinating—deadly—like a snake." (1.23)

    All the colors on the map means Africa isn't a blank space any more—it's been parceled up and handed out to Western countries. But even if there's no blank space left, that river is still there.

    Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns—and even convictions. (1.4)

    Well, when you're stuck on a ship together for months at a time, there's plenty of opportunity to explore each other's psyches. And plenty of time for really long stories.

    "Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you - smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, 'Come and find out.'" (1.30)

    Pro tip: when the coast starts talking to you, it's probably time for some shore leave.

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "'And by the way, I suppose Mr. Kurtz is dead as well by this time.'

    "For the moment that was the dominant thought. There was a sense of extreme disappointment, as though I had found out I had been striving after something altogether without a substance. I couldn't have been more disgusted if I had travelled all this way for the sole purpose of talking with Mr. Kurtz." (2.23-24)

    Marlow just can't leave it alone: Kurtz is dead, but he's still obsessed with the man—so obsessed that he visits the Intended. We hope he got what he was looking for.

    "Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled to I don't know. To some place where they expected to get something. I bet! For me it crawled towards Kurtz—exclusively […]." (2.7)

    This has quickly stopped being curiosity and become obsession: Marlow doesn't see the wilderness as his destination anymore, but just Kurtz. (Or are they really that different?)

  • Women and Femininity

    Chapter 1
    Charlie Marlow

    "It's queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It's too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over." (1.28)

    Marlow thinks that women are naïve and idealistic, believing in fantastic and utopian worlds that would never work in the reality he knows. Dummies. (Okay, but he's secretly totes jealous.)

    "Then—would you believe it?—I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work—to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see, the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: 'It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It's a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration, and also a man who has lots of influence with,' etc. She was determined to make no end of fuss to get me appointed skipper of a river steamboat, if such was my fancy." (1.20)

    Look at that—only twenty paragraphs into the book, and we've already met a powerful woman. Sure, she only has power because she knows powerful men, or powerful men's wives, but it still counts, right?

    Chapter 2
    Charlie Marlow

    "Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she's out of it - completely. They - the women, I mean - are out of it - should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse." (2.29)

    At the first mention of the Intended, Marlow scoots back to his opinion of women as completely out of touch with reality. But their fantastic visions of world peace are so touching and beautiful that he does not want to disillusion them with the ugly truth, since they probably couldn't handle it.

    Chapter 3
    Charlie Marlow

    "And the girl talked, easing her pain in the certitude of my sympathy; she talked as thirsty men drink." (3.60)

    This conversation with the Intended doesn't do much to change Marlow's mind about women.

    [Marlow]: "'It was impossible not to—'

    'Love him,' she [the Intended] finished eagerly, silencing me into an appalled dumbness. 'How true! how true! But when you think that no one knew him so well as I! I had all his noble confidence. I knew him best.'" (3.56-57)

    Oh girl, you don't know him at all.

    "She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her." (3.14)

    Notice how Marlow describes this warrior woman's magnificent brass ornaments in terms of their value? We did, too, and we're thinking this isn't much different from judging European women based on the value of their ornaments.

    "She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step." (3.14)

    Woman or warrior? She walks regally and fearlessly, her hair is "done in the shape of a helmet," and she wears protective brass coverings. She's basically the opposite of the soft, fragile Intended—but does she serve the same purpose for the Africans? She seems to be a rallying symbol for the Africans just like the blonde European women are for Marlow.

    "She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul." (3.14)

    Just like the Intended is a symbol of civilization, with its fires and its tea and its couches, the warrior woman is a symbol of the wilderness—elephant tusks and all.

    "Their [the Intended's eyes'] glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful. She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, 'I - I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.'" (3.53)

    Marlow sees the Intended as pure and "guileless," especially noting the honest expression of pain in her eyes. But is she really, or is this just, like, his opinion, man?

    "She struck me as beautiful—I mean she had a beautiful expression. I know that the sunlight can be made to lie, too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features. She seemed ready to listen without mental reservation, without suspicion, without a thought for herself." (3.50)

    Marlow is attracted to Kurtz's Intended not only because of her feminine beauty, but for her seemingly open expression and innocence.

    "'Yes, I know,' I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from which I could not even defend myself.

    'What a loss to me—to us!'—she corrected herself with beautiful generosity; then added in a murmur, 'To the world.' By the last gleams of twilight I could see the glitter of her eyes, full of tears—of tears that would not fall." (3.62-63)

    The Intended is so blinded by her love for Kurtz and her idealism that she immerses herself in the lie she created and does not even consider questioning its veracity. Marlow does not dare destroy her beautiful illusion, even when she goes so far as to call his death a tragedy on a global scale. (Er, there is a global tragedy here—but it's not Kurtz's death. It's the destruction of a continent.)

    "She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them back and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of the window. Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her, too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness." (3.73)

    In case you weren't sure, Marlow tells us that we're supposed to be seeing some parallels between the warrior woman and the Intended, who both want to believe that Kurtz reciprocated their love absolutely. It's interesting that they both want the same thing when they live in such different worlds, right? Women.

    [Marlow to the Intended]: "'The last word he pronounced was—your name.'"

    "I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. 'I knew it—I was sure!' […] She knew. She was sure. (3.85-86)

    To Marlow, all this is just one more piece of evidence that women don't get it.

    "There was an eddy in the mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny cheeks rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted something, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless utterance." (3.31)

    The warrior woman seems to speak for all the native Africans, which makes us wonder if she's actually their leader. Wouldn't that be crazy—a woman leader! Nonsense. Next you'll be telling us that a woman might be president some day.

    "Suddenly she opened her bared arms and threw them up rigid above her head, as though in an uncontrollable desire to touch the sky, and at the same time the swift shadows darted out on the earth, swept around on the river, gathering the steamer into a shadowy embrace. A formidable silence hung over the scene." (3.15)

    The warrior woman is an extension of the wilderness—a sexy one. Notice words like "desire" and "embrace" and "bared arms"? We're starting to understand why Kurtz doesn't want to leave.

    "'. . . Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?' she [the Intended] was saying. 'He drew men towards him by what was best in them.' She looked at me with intensity. 'It's the gift of the great,' she went on…" (3.61)

    The Intended puts great store by Kurtz's words, believing that they lured men to him and earned him his admiration from all mankind. She's naïve about the true motivations of men, which we have seen to be far darker and more self-serving.

    "Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling, half-shaped resolve. She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose." (3.15)

    Is this just an individual woman who's worried about Kurtz—or is this really the wilderness, ticked off that these white men are ripping through the jungle?

    "'If she had offered to come aboard I really think I would have tried to shoot her,' said the man of patches, nervously. 'I have been risking my life every day for the last fortnight to keep her out of the house." (3.17)

    The harlequin feels threatened by the warrior woman, so much so that he works to keep her away from Kurtz.

    "She turned away slowly, walked on, following the bank, and passed into the bushes to the left. Once only her eyes gleamed back at us in the dusk of the thickets before she disappeared." (3.16)

    Like the wilderness, the warrior woman seems content only to show off her power, not to actually harm the pilgrims...yet.

    "And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman." (3.13)

    The fact that the woman is described as an "apparition" makes us think that Marlow isn't quite sure this woman even belongs in the same category as white women. You know how he's all chivalrous and protective of the Intended? We're pretty sure he doesn't feel the same way about this lady.