At the Coast of the Belgian Congo
The steamer bringing Marlow to Africa eventually arrives, but Marlow is
frustrated that before reaching his destination, the boat stops at various staging posts to land customhouse officers and soldiers.
He eventually reaches the mouth of the River Congo where he joins a smaller steamer that will take him up to the Company’s outer station.
The Company’s main business in this area of the world is ivory.
He notices a French warship firing its guns indiscriminately into the
jungle, presumably intimidating rebellious natives.
The journey up to the station is around thirty miles and Marlow makes
friends with the Captain of the ship who is a young Swede and they share sea yarns together.
The young Captain tells Marlow an unpleasant story about a fellow countryman
who he had recently taken up the river and he had hanged himself. It is strange what this country can do to white people.
Marlow disembarks at the Company’s outer station, which comprises of three
wooden huts on a rocky escarpment.
They are in a terrible state of dilapidation. Close by men are attempting to blast away the cliff with limited success and without any apparent reason. About lies scattered pieces of machinery, rusting away indicating much waste and inefficiency.
A group of black prisoners walk by in chains under the guard of another
black man in a shabby uniform.
Close by is a grove of trees under which lie a group of native laborers
apparently dying. One of them has a piece of white European yarn tied around his neck. Marlow wonders at its significance.
He meets the well-dressed Company’s Chief Accountant who advises Marlow that
he will need to wait here for ten days until the next caravan leaves for the Company’s central station where Marlow’s steamer awaits him as Captain.
The best agent that the Company has is Mr. Kurtz. He acquires more
ivory than all the other agents put together and the Company’s Chief Accountant asks Marlow to convey a message to him, this being the most secure method.
The Accountant describes Kurtz as a ‘remarkable person’ who is being groomed
for a high-up position in the Company’s administration section. The Accountant impresses on Marlow to tell Kurtz that everything is satisfactory here at the outer station.
We assume that Marlow is shocked at the real Africa that he sees all around
him compared with the romantic notion he had regarding the Dark Continent.
He sees the effects of the corrupt colonial rule in this part of Africa
demonstrated in the waste and inefficiency all around.
The outer station is in decay and for its inhabitants it is a dismal place
in which to live. All around lies broken machinery and some colonials spend their time blasting a cliff for no apparent reason. There is no organized distribution of supplies and while some starve to death,
others lie comfortable with an abundance of food.
The description of the French warship that discharges its canon blindly into
the wilderness is a symbol of the war that the colonial nations are making on the continent itself.
Marlow is appalled that the local inhabitants are merely part of the
economic structure and are viewed by the Company as tools for extracting as much ivory as possible from the land regardless of the effects it has on the environment.
Marlow tries to relate to the natives’ situation and sympathizes with them regarding their suffering.
Marlow is also disturbed that he appears to be the only white person who is
appalled by the specter of men and women dying in the streets and in the grove of death.
Initially Marlow was impressed by the African coast and its seductive hold
over him, but now that he is close to the land, he can see all the corruption and ugliness of the environment brought about by the abuse of power of the white man.
Again there is reference to black and white, good and evil, and the reader
has to decipher which is which e.g. the dying black laborer who wears a piece of white cloth around his neck, the meaning of which Marlow fails to grasp, must be a symbol of good (Conrad flags this with a white
cloth to symbolize that the native is in essence good). The Company’s Chief Accountant must take responsibility for the decay and waste, which flag him as evil even although he is a white colonial.
Marlow clearly gives an accurate observation of the natives’ conditions and the reader can be confident
that the situation is not overstated.