The Journey to the Inner Station (Heart of Darkness)
At last Marlow’s steamer is repaired and he is making all preparations for
the two months trip upriver to Kurtz. He will take with him the Manager and several pilgrims (the term used for the greedy Agents of the Central Station).
The river above the Central Station is hazardous and the trip will be
difficult so it will be necessary to use the help of a crew of cannibals who are an even-tempered gang of workers.
They start their journey and see very little life on the thickly wooded
banks of the river. Occasionally they spot natives engaged in primitive dancing, and at night they can hear their drums like the beat of a giant heart.
Marlow has a strange feeling of brotherhood with these primitive natives,
but he has little time to ponder on this as he is fully employed in keeping the ship afloat and running correctly.
They make steady but slow progress up the river until they reach a point
just fifty miles away from the Inner Station. There is a hut with a stack of firewood with a note saying ‘Wood for you, hurry up, approach cautiously’.
The signature is illegible but it clearly does not belong to Kurtz.
Inside the hut Marlow discovers rubbish, which indicates that the tenant was
white. He finds a book concerned with seamanship and with some mysterious writing, which Marlow assumes is a code. He slips the book in his pocket.
The Manager suggests that the wandering trader, which he and his uncle had
discussed, previously must have left the wood.
They continue up the river Marlow working vigorously to keep the steamer
going and struggling to navigate the river. When they are just eight miles from Kurtz’s Station Marlow wants to journey at night, but the Manager tells him that the river is too dangerous.
The next day they are surrounded by an oppressive fog and they hear the
sound of savage voices and, therefore, they prepare themselves for an attack by these hostile natives when the fog lifts.
The headman of the cannibals advises Marlow that his people would like to
eat the owners of the voices in the fog.
He then realizes that the cannibals must be really hungry for their type of food especially when there food supplies which consisted of rotting hippo meat was thrown overboard by the pilgrims. They decide to continue their journey in the fog rather than staying dead in the water hoping to outrun the natives on the shore. It is clear from the noise of the natives that their intentions are warlike. The fog lifts when they are only a mile and a half from the Station and the natives on the shore immediately attack the boat.
The boat has to travel underneath a steep cliff from which a dense shower of
The channel is quite narrow here and there is little room for maneuver. All on board ship run for cover. Marlow notices that the brush is swarming with natives. Just up ahead there is a snag in the river and Marlow tries to negotiate this.
The pilgrims have organized themselves and they start shooting at the
natives with their Winchester rifles.
The helmsman leaning out of the window with his gun takes a spear in his
side and falls at Marlow’s feet.
Marlow frightens the natives by sounding the steam whistle repeatedly and they make off into the jungle with cries of fear. The helmsman dies and strangely Marlow changes his shoes and socks and makes the statement ‘I expect Kurtz is dead now as well’.
Marlow then drags the dead helmsman’s body out of the pilothouse and throws
This shocks everyone on board, the pilgrims because they wanted to give him a proper burial and the cannibals because they wanted to eat him. They have assumed incorrectly that these natives have overrun Kurtz’s camp so they are surprised when they arrive to find the Station intact, although run down.
This part of the journey is the final stage in the transition from the
civilized world to a prehistoric age and Marlow feels that he is degenerating the further he travels up the river towards Kurtz.
It is strange that Marlow admits that he feels a brotherhood with the
savages on the shore despite being bewildered at their customs and wild dances.
Marlow has a feeling of being lost on his tiny boat with the immense forest
of the Congo all about him, but he is not depressed by this situation. He sees the inhabitants of the forest as representatives of man at his earliest existence on this planet.
Although he is hard pressed to keep the steamer going, he finds that his
thoughts more and more turn to his destination and Kurtz. He realizes that he can have little effect on Kurtz and so he does not know whether he will speak bluntly to him when they meet.
When the helmsman dies, Marlow engages in the strange act of changing his
socks and shoes before discarding the body into the river.
Marlow’s thoughts then immediately turn to the Inner Station and its probable destruction and Kurtz’s death. Although he has never met Kurtz he feels grief-stricken at this prospect.
The Company may not have brought enlightenment to Africa, but Marlow is
increasingly illuminated about his own humanity.
Another interesting aspect is the use of cannibals to crew the steamboat,
which to the reader is a disturbing factor. In the Congo this seems normal practice and the cannibals way of life is acceptable. Marlow describes them as reliable, levelheaded people who are invaluable
in carrying out the day-to-day functions on the boat. These cannibals symbolize man at his basest level, but there is no indication that they will attack their white superiors, although this would be an easy
feat for them.
Although the cannibals show great restraint in that they do not attack their superiors even though they are hungry, this is in stark contrast to the colonials who have an insatiable hunger for ivory, and use barbaric acts to acquire it.
When Marlow finds the book inside the hut entitled ‘An Enquiry into some
Points of Seamanship’, he holds on to it affectionately as it is a symbol of the civilized world, which is now so far away.