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Heart of Darkness


The Author
In Europe
Belgian Congo Coast
To Central Station
At Central Station
To Inner Station
At Inner Station
Home to Europe



At the Inner Station


On the shore stands a white man whose clothes are patched all over in bright colors and he reminds Marlow of a harlequin (perhaps this is Kurtz’s jester). He informs them that Kurtz is up in the station house and Marlow views the area with his binoculars.  He sees stakes circling the station house with severed heads impaled on them all facing towards Kurtz’s home.

The white man is the Russian Trader who had left the wood for Marlow’s steamboat. He tells them that the heads on the stakes belong to rebels.

Suddenly Marlow sees a group of natives appear around the corner of the house bearing Kurtz on a stretcher.  Natives emerge from the surrounding jungle and Marlow is concerned that they may attack again. All on the steamboat stand still in anticipation. However, Kurtz raises an emaciated arm and the natives return to the cover of the jungle.

The Manager leaves the boat with some of the pilgrims and they bring Kurtz on board and place him in one of the cabins.

Marlow has a conversation with the Russian who informs him that he has spent many nights with Kurtz in the jungle and they have discussed a wide range of topics. These sessions have enabled the Russian to broaden his mind and improve his knowledge.  He says that the natives will not do any harm to the Company men all the while Kurtz is in control. They merely fear that Kurtz will be taken away from them.

Marlow gives the Russian his book on seamanship realizing that the code was in fact Russian handwriting.

The Russian tells Marlow that Kurtz had arranged for the attack on the steamship, as he does not wish to travel back down the river, and he hoped that this show of force might have persuaded the pilgrims that the station had been attacked as well, and that he was dead.

On the steamship Kurtz is in a heated debate with the Manager who emerges from the meeting trying to look calm, but he is clearly agitated.  Kurtz has amassed a remarkable quantity of quality ivory, but the Company are concerned that he has outgrown his usefulness. They are fearful that Kurtz’s methods will leak back to Europe and that this will have an adverse effect on the standing of the Company. Marlow is suspicious that Kurtz’s white rescuers are actually here to do him harm recalling the conversation he overheard between the Manager and his uncle.

Marlow also advises the Russian that he too may be in danger revealing that the Manager has the power to hang him if he wishes, without any repercussions.   The Russian decides that he will leave and he asks Marlow for some rifle cartridges and shoes, and also to protect Kurtz’s reputation when he returns to Europe.

Marlow is surprised by Kurtz’s appearance. Clearly he has suffered from recent bouts of illness, which the Russian had nursed him through. His skin is white resembling old ivory and he is emaciated.  Despite this he still exerts power over the natives who regard him as a god. 

During the night the jungle is filled with the sounds of drums and natives yelling and performing pagan rites.  Marlow decides to check on Kurtz and finds that he has escaped. He goes ashore and finds a trail through the long grass, presumably made by Kurtz. He follows it and finds Kurtz crawling on all fours. They are quite close to the jungle’s edge and the fires of the natives. Marlow suddenly realizes the danger of his situation as Kurtz could quite easily call out to the natives and he could be killed on the spot.  However, when Kurtz was reading his backlog of mail one letter contained details about Marlow and Kurtz looks on him favorably, perhaps the only ally working in the Company. Kurtz tells him to go and hide and Marlow looks over to see an imposing figure of a native witchdoctor. Marlow asks Kurtz if he is clear what he is trying to do and eventually persuades him to return back to the ship.

They will travel back down the river next day.



The crew of the steamboat has arrived in the realm belonging to Kurtz who has absolute power over the local inhabitants. He even has a court jester who appears like a harlequin, this being the Russian Trader. The trader is a true adventurer and Marlow is envious of him and realizes that like him, he came to Africa not for material gain, but to perhaps do good and obtain some personal enlightenment. Kurtz is like a god and even his ‘palace’ or run-down station house has the heads of his rivals surrounding it.

The Russian explains that these heads belong to rebels, but Marlow doubts this and guesses that they belong to those who oppose Kurtz.

The whole novel is concerned with the meeting of Marlow and Kurtz and in some respects Marlow’s life mirrors that of Kurtz’s.

Conrad suggests that if Marlow remains in Africa long enough he too could degenerate the way Kurtz has, for Kurtz is not a benevolent god, but a despot. 

However, none of the events that had gone before prepared Marlow for the actual image of Kurtz. The ivory god actually looks as if he is made of old white ivory because of his emaciated state.  The Russian Trader has clearly had his mind extended through the conversations he has had with Kurtz on a one-to-one basis.  He has been sucked in to Kurtz’s court and he is a willing servant of this god-like figure. As a dutiful servant, he has nursed Kurtz through two illnesses and has gone on expeditions with him to obtain ivory.  He suggests that Kurtz cannot be judged as one would judge a normal man because he has moved beyond the level that his fellow man is at and achieved a god-like status.  This is not just an illusion in Kurtz’s mind for all the neighboring tribes pay homage to him even though the Company forced some into slavery. They show loyalty only to Kurtz and there were quite willing to attack the Company steamboat at Kurtz’s request.

Marlow decides to side with Kurtz which at first seems an odd choice.  However there are several reasons for this.  Clearly Kurtz has the power here of life and death and to come out against Kurtz might endanger Marlow’s life.  Also Marlow admires Kurtz because he has moved beyond the confines of morality and the accepted criteria for right and wrong.  He has ‘kicked himself loose of the earth’ which metaphorically suggests that Kurtz has broken free from all the restraints of basic morality. He has, in fact, dismissed the idea of morality altogether. The Company wants to dispose of Kurtz because he exposes the falseness of their methods. He is able to accumulate more ivory than any other agent because of his single-minded obsession to acquire this commodity regardless of the effects it has on the people and environment.

Marlow sees Kurtz as an example of what can happen to colonials who come to this Dark Continent.  The primeval part of all of us (our Heart of Darkness) is reawakened when in the confines of this prehistoric world.  Marlow has made the journey into the Dark Heart of this Continent and sees in Kurtz what can happen to him and all others who make this journey. One’s own dark-side that is suppressed in the civilized world emerges to take control.

Marlow had originally been cautious about his voyage into the Heart of this unknown Continent, but what he fears now is not the land, but the unknown recesses of his soul into which he has now journeyed.

Underneath the fa'ade of civilization there lurks in every man the ‘brute’.  Most people contrive to suppress this part of them, but Kurtz chose to exploit it.

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