Inland to the Company’s Central Station
Eventually the caravan leaves comprising of around sixty men who embark on
the two hundred mile trip overland to the Central Station.
Marlow only has one other white companion and he soon falls ill and has to
be carried by the native bearers.
Some of the natives desert along the way, returning to the jungle.
After fifteen days they arrive at the run-down Central Station to find that
Marlow’s steamer has sunk.
Apparently the General Manager had taken the boat out to try and help Kurtz transport downriver his stock of ivory, but only managed to tear the bottom out of the boat on some rocks. Marlow is not impressed with the General Manager who strikes him as being quite ordinary, lacking in drive and determination. It seems that his only attribute in the eyes of those below him is his resistance to the local tropical diseases i.e. his good survival. It had been rumored that Kurtz had been taken ill which was another reason why the Manager wished to make the trip to Kurtz’s station.
Marlow decides to set about salvaging his ship and repairing it, and this
task takes three months. During this time one of the sheds housing trade goods burns down and the native laborers dance about in delight.
It is suspected that one of the natives started the fire, and he is severely beaten.
Marlow overhears the Manager talking with the Brick maker about Kurtz, so he
joins in the conversation. The Brick maker quizzes Marlow about the Company’s intentions regarding this part of Africa, assuming that Marlow would have this information.
He lets the Brick maker assume that he has influence in the high places of the Company.
Marlow sees a painting on the wall that Kurtz has painted.
It portrays a blindfolded woman holding a torch similar to the Statue of Liberty.
The Brick maker tells him that Kurtz is destined for great things with the
Company. He was sent as a special emissary by the Company’s directors to promote European ideals.
It is clear that the Brick maker had plans to apply for the Assistant
Manager’s job and that Kurtz’s arrival had spoilt any chance he had.
Marlow decides to use his apparent influence in the Company to demand that
rivets are sent up from the coast to repair his ship.
Marlow goes to the ship and tells the foreman that they will have rivets in
three weeks and he dances around in celebration.
However, three weeks pass and the rivets do not arrive. Instead, the Eldorado Exploring Expedition arrives led by the Manager’s uncle who engages in subterfuge with his nephew.
Marlow gives up on ever receiving the rivets and his thoughts turn to the
At this stage of the novel, Marlow’s interests start to change from the
mysterious Congo River to the intriguing Kurtz. The more he learns about this man, the more intrigued he becomes.
This ‘remarkable person’ who obtains more ivory than all the other agents put together seems to fire Marlow’s imagination. Kurtz is clearly a multi-faceted person demonstrated by his artistic prowess illustrated in the painting at the Central Station.
The figure in the painting is intended to represent the embodiment of
European ideals, but the shadows cast by the light of her symbolic torch create an ominous effect which suggest that Imperialism and, therefore, Kurtz’s programme has failed.
It is clear that at the outset the conquering of this part of Africa was
full of good intentions, but the reality is that the greed of man to exploit the resources of this land has taken over.
There are many references to the poor health of the white colonials.
This part of Africa was known as the White Man’s Grave. Just as the whites suffer and die, so do now the blacks equally suffer and die under the yoke of colonial civilization.
Marlow also observes that the General Manager and also the Brick maker are
shallow people and it is clear that to survive in this part of Africa you must have an inner strength. This may be a fatal flaw in regards to both the Manager and the Brick maker.
Marlow wonders if this flaw will be evident in Kurtz’s nature.
The Manager is viewed as a kind of wasted devil who exerts authority through
nothing more than a good constitution and a knack of making those around him feel uneasy. Therefore, his praise of Kurtz may be insincere and Marlow wonders if in fact the grounding of the steamer was
deliberate with a view to putting pressure onto Kurtz.
It should be pointed out that so far the information that Marlow has gleaned about Kurtz has all come to him by third parties. He therefore has no real image of the man to put in his head. This problem is communicated to the listeners in the frame story.
It is clear that Marlow struggles with the problem of this incomplete
picture, which he has of Kurtz and that trying to describe him is like trying to describe a dream.
One could also describe Marlow’s journey up the Congo River as a nightmare, as it differs so much from
what he imagined it would be like.