Heart of Darkness By Joseph Conrad Summary and Analysis Part 2

Summary

One evening Marlow eavesdropped on the Manager and his uncle as they discussed Kurtz. Marlow learned that Kurtz asked the Company's Administration to send him into the jungle to show how much ivory he could acquire, and that he sent his assistant back to the Manager because he found him inadequate for the work. Marlow further learned that there were "strange rumours" circulating about Kurtz's behavior. The Manager insinuated that he hoped Kurtz would die in the jungle. A few days later, the Eldorado Expedition entered the jungle; they had no news except that all the donkeys were dead. His steamboat repaired, Marlow began his voyage to the Inner Station, accompanied by the Manager, the other agents whom Marlow calls "pilgrims," and 20 natives (who were also cannibals).

About fifty miles below the Inner Station, the steamboat came across a hut of reeds; near the hut were the remnants of a flag and a neatly stacked woodpile. Near the woodpile, written on a board, were the words, "Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously." Inside the hut, Marlow found evidence of a White tenant: a rudely formed table, a heap of rubbish, and a book about seamanship with some sort of code written in the margins. The natives took the wood (to power the steamboat) and Marlow slipped the book in his pocket.

When they were about a mile and a half below the Inner Station, unseen, silent natives who fired small arrows attacked the steamboat. The pilgrims fired their guns into the bush while the attack continued, the helmsman soon being killed by a spear.

Finally, Marlow reached the Inner Station. He first saw a "long, decaying building" with a number of posts around it; each post was topped with a "round curved ball." (Later, Marlow discovered that the building was Kurtz's quarters and that the "balls" were human heads.) A White man met them at the shore and reminded Marlow of a harlequin; he informed them that Kurtz was still alive. The Harlequin then explained that the natives attacked Marlow's steamboat because they did not want anyone to take Kurtz away from them.

Analysis

Part 2 of Heart of Darkness offers the reader some of Conrad's most dense passages. Sentences such as "It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention" may seem confusing, but the difficulty here instead is Marlow's, because much of Heart of Darkness concerns how its protagonist struggles to articulate what traveling through the jungle is like. Marlow explains to his companions on the Nellie that they cannot fully grasp the whole truth of what he saw, because they live in the modern, "civilized" world with "a butcher round one corner, a policeman round another, excellent appetites, and temperature normal." Marlow's point here is that language sometimes fails to wholly convey the wonders and horrors of his experience; his remark, "This is the worst of trying to tell," suggests his difficulty in relating to his companions the full emotional, spiritual, and political impact that his journey had on him. His companions will not be able to fully understand him because they live with the "solid pavement" of Europe under their feet. This idea that Marlow's telling of the story is a major part of the story itself as suggested by the anonymous narrator who, at the beginning of the novel, explains that, for Marlow, "the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze." In other words, Heart of Darkness is as much the story of a man coming face-to-face with a number of political, moral, and spiritual horrors as much as it is one of that same man's search for language adequate enough to convey them. Hence, the novel is by turns both striking and obtuse, both concrete and abstract, both detailed and ambiguous.

Note that Marlow pauses at one point in Part 2 and the flow of his story is broken by the frame narrator's words. This reminds the reader of the fact that Marlow is telling his story instead of living through it — and that what he knows about the story's issues as a whole will affect the ways he relates it to the men on the Nellie. There are essentially two Marlows: The one who lived through the experience and the one who looks back on it. Marlow's digression about Kurtz, therefore, allows the reader to eventually meet Kurtz with Marlow's opinions of him in mind.

In Part 1, Marlow calls the forest "primeval" and jokes that he expected to see an "ichthyosaurus" while voyaging through it. Throughout Part 2, Marlow's description of the jungle is marked by an increased emphasis on what he sees as its prehistoric nature. "Going back to that jungle was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world," he states, and subsequent passages reinforce this impression. For example, he calls himself and his crew "wanderers on a prehistoric earth" and the natives examples of "prehistoric man." Marlow also stresses the unreality of the jungle that can make one "bewitched" and cut off from everything one had ever known. The tiny steamboat, "clinging to the skirts of the unknown," causes Marlow to feel small and lost.

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