At the Company’s Central Station
One evening Marlow rests on the deck of his dilapidated steamer and
overhears a conversation between the Station Manager and his uncle, who as we have said, is the leader of the Eldorado Expedition.
In essence they are scheming the downfall of Kurtz. The Manager complains that Kurtz has not fulfilled his promise to turn the Stations into the beacons of civilization. There has also been no improvement to the moral and spiritual well being of the natives. Instead, Kurtz has directed all his efforts into producing as much ivory as possible without regard to the effects on the environment.
The Manager goes on to say that Kurtz had sent a huge load of ivory of the
highest quality in canoes with his Clerk. Kurtz had turned back after three hundred miles to his Station, presumably once he was sure that the load of ivory was safe. However, the Clerk indicated that
Kurtz was not well and although he was making a recovery it is not thought he will return to full fitness.
There has also been trouble with a wandering trader and the Manager’s uncle
tells him that he has the authority to have him hanged if he can be caught and no-one would challenge his right to do this.
It is clear that the Manager is angling to obtain Kurtz’s position, probably
based on avarice. He expresses the hope that Kurtz will succumb to either the harsh conditions or one of the local diseases.
Marlow is alarmed at this conversation and this conspiracy that the two men
are hatching, and he decides to reveal himself to the two men below.
They are startled and move off without acknowledging Marlow’s presence.
Soon after this, the Eldorado Expedition sets off into the wild lands and no
further word is heard of them apart from the fact that all their donkeys died.
This part of the novel deals with the Manager’s efforts to increase his
power by engaging in a conspiracy with his uncle at Kurtz’s expense.
The Manager hopes that the untamed Congo jungle will take its toll on Kurtz
bringing about his death as has happened with so many white people before, but if this fails he has taken steps to undermine the work that Kurtz has done, albeit he may have satisfied the quotas required for ivory
produced, but he has failed to civilize the area and care for the natives surrounding the Company’s stations.
One obtains the impression that Kurtz has created his own empire based at
the Inner Station and this may be one of the reasons why he returned without seeing his haul of ivory delivered. On the other hand, it may be for health reasons that he returned whether these were physical or
Marlow is fascinated by this image of Kurtz turning back from civilization
to return to his work in the interior, and this will urge Marlow on to repair his steamer so that he can travel up river to meet Kurtz.
Marlow appears unique amongst the colonials in that despite the conditions
he works hard to repair his vessel. This is an important factor in him keeping a grip of reality, unlike his fellow white colleagues.
He views his work on the ship as almost a spiritual endeavor which helps protect him from the dark, malevolent realities of the world that is Darkest Africa.
In this section of the novel Conrad gives the reader some of the most
concentrated passages, which include sentences such as ‘It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention’. At first this seems to be a contradiction, but it is Marlow’s way of
trying to describe what it is like traveling through the dense jungle, a transition from civilization to a primeval world. He suggests that language is incapable of providing the reader with the full picture
of the terrors and marvels of this part of Africa.
Certainly, his companions on the Nellie will not be able to fully appreciate
what Marlow is driving at all the while they stay secure in Europe.
Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is Marlow’s story and the road that he has
taken which will bring him face to face with his own soul. Thus the novel is both impressive and mysterious, and the reader can rely on certain things and be thrown off at a tangent by others.
Conrad is carefully preparing the reader for the eventual meeting between
Marlow and Kurtz by providing him with key details of Kurtz’s lifestyle and character.