Summary and Analysis
This attitude may seem patronizing — as if Marlow implies that Africa is unfinished and is ages behind Europe in terms of civilization. However, much of Conrad's novel is a critique of civilization and those who want (like Kurtz) to bring its "light" into the heart of "darkness." Similarly, modern readers may regard where Marlow discusses his connections to the natives as Eurocentric or even racist.
To a European in 1899, the thought of one's kinship with "savages" may, indeed, seem "ugly" — but Marlow's point here is that only someone with the necessary courage could see that the differences between "enlightened" Europe and the "prehistoric" Congo are superficial ones. This is one of the things that Marlow learns from Kurtz and that is stressed when, during the attack on the steamboat, Marlow sees "a face amongst the leaves on the level with my own, looking at me very fierce and steady." The Company may bring no real "light" to Africa, but Marlow is increasingly "enlightened" about his own humanity.
Still, Marlow is not yet the Buddha preaching in European clothes he will become on board the Nellie. Instead, he concentrates on steering the steamboat and avoiding snags to save his mind from considering all of these philosophical and political implications. Focusing on "work" instead of deeper moral concerns is what saves Marlow's sanity — and by extension, allows the Company to ravage the Congo without a moment's pause. Piloting is the "rivet" that holds together Marlow as he comes closer to Kurtz, who will upset all of Marlow's "surface-truths" (as he calls them) and force him to consider all the ugliness of which Marlow has been a part.
Marlow does speak well of the cannibals on board his steamboat, for they possess a quality that Marlow sees less and less during his time in Company-controlled Africa: restraint. Although these men "still belonged to the beginnings of time," they never attack their White superiors — which would have been an easy feat for them. Marlow argues that "the devilry of lingering starvation" is the most impossible force to defeat, because it outweighs any "superstitions, beliefs, and what you may call principles." Unlike the Company (and its greatest prodigy, Kurtz), the "savage" Africans show a humane and honorable restraint that their "superiors" obviously lack, as seen in their insatiable hunger for ivory and the brutal means by which they acquire it.
As the jungle grows more frightening and mysterious, Marlow struggles to keep himself calm and "European." His joy in finding the Harlequin's book reflects his longing for a sign of his previous world as he trudges through this new one. Despite the fact that the book itself (An Inquiry into Some Points of Seamanship) looks "dreary reading enough," Marlow is excited by its very existence as "something unmistakably real." The book's subject matter and author (a "Master in His Majesty's Navy"), while dry, are evidence of "science" and "an honest concern for the right way of going to work." When he is summoned to the steamboat, Marlow confesses that putting down the book is like "tearing myself away from the shelter of an old and solid friendship"; the "friendship" of which Marlow speaks is his long one with Europe, which has always kept him "sheltered" from the truth of his kinship with "savagery."
The death of the helmsman is another scene where Marlow attempts to make the reality of his situation "fade." After finding that the helmsman has been killed in the attack, Marlow is "morbidly anxious" to change his shoes and socks.
In addition to intensifying the reader's understanding of Marlow's impending epiphany, Part 2 contains a digression where he abandons his narrative and speaks of Kurtz in a general sense. Unlike the cannibals, Kurtz possessed a ravenous hunger: "You should have heard him say . . . 'My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my — ' everything." His bald head suggested the ivory that he had spent so much effort in securing. His "nerves went wrong" and he participated in "unspeakable rites." He "had taken a high seat among the devils of the land" and Marlow found it impossible to know "how many powers of darkness had claimed him for their own." However, what is more striking than these elusive hints at barbarity is Marlow's short yet important defense of Kurtz: "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz." Literally, Marlow is speaking of Kurtz's ancestry — but metaphorically, Marlow implies that the horrors he saw in Africa cannot all be blamed on one man. More importantly, Kurtz is not an isolated figure — all of Europe has produced him, and the power, hunger, and evil he embodies. The appearance of the Harlequin (like Kurtz's jester) at this point emphasizes the charisma and power of the demagogue and prepares the reader — like the previously discussed digression — for the entrance of Kurtz in Part 3.
Winchesters a type of magazine rifle, first made in the 1860s.
sounding-pole a pole used to determine the depth of a body of water.
scow a large, flat-bottomed boat with square ends, used for carrying coal, sand, and so on and often towed by a tug.
Martini-Henry a military rifle.
fusillade a simultaneous or rapid and continuous discharge of many firearms.