Summary and Analysis Part 1


Marlow's two hundred-mile hike to the Central Station reinforces the Company's lack of organization and brutality. Passing through deserted and razed villages, his perception of the Company becomes sharper. His journey ends at the Central Station, where Marlow spends the remainder of Part 1. Like the Company's European headquarters and the Outer Station, this place reeks of waste, inhumanity, and death. Earlier in the novel, Marlow states that he would, in time, "become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly" — now, at the Central Station, he remarks, "the first glance of the place was enough to let you see the flabby devil was running that show." No longer the enthusiastic sailor, Marlow grows increasingly suspicious and judgmental of what he sees. The fact that he learns, upon his arrival, that his steamboat is at the bottom of the river only increases his ire and suspicion.

A noteworthy segment of Part 1 concerns Kurtz's painting, which Marlow sees hanging in the Brickmaker's room. The painting depicts a woman, blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. Clearly, this woman reminds one of the usual personification of justice, while the torch suggests the Company bringing the "light" of civilization into the "Dark Continent." (Recall Marlow's aunt and her hope that Marlow will help those "ignorant" savages become more civilized.) The woman in the painting also symbolizes the Company, which willingly blindfolds itself to the horrors it perpetuates in the name of profit; it also recalls the Company's ineptitude and the ways in which it "blindly" stumbles through Africa.

This painting also symbolizes its creator. Like the blindfolded woman, Kurtz once yearned to bring the "light" of civilization and progress to the "dark" continent. (This explains the torch coming out of the darkness.) At the end of his life, however, Kurtz changes his position, most markedly apparent when Marlow reads a handwritten line in one of Kurtz's reports urging, "Exterminate all the brutes!" Thus, according to the painting, Europe puts on a show of bringing "light" — but this light ultimately reveals a "sinister" appearance, which marks the woman's face. Here, Conrad foreshadows what Kurtz will be like when Marlow meets him: a man who once held high ideals about bringing "justice" and "light" to the Congo, but who became "sinister" once he arrived there.

One of Conrad's personifications of the "flabby" (because it has "devoured" Africa), "pretending" (because it masquerades its avarice in the name of enlightenment), and "weak-eyed" (because it refuses to "see" the effects of its work) Company is the Manager. He has no education, is a "common trader," inspires "neither fear nor love," creates "uneasiness" in all who meet him, and lacks any "genius for organizing." All Marlow is able to conclude is that he "was never ill" and is able to keep the supply of ivory flowing to European ports. Marlow's growing perceptions soon allow him to understand that the Company possesses "not an atom of foresight or of serious intention" and that "To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe."

At this point, Conrad increases the amount of rumors and half-truths that Marlow (and the reader) begins to hear about "the man who is so indissolubly connected" with Marlow's journey: Kurtz. As Heart of Darkness progresses, Conrad's emphasis shifts from Marlow's desire to explore the "snake" of the Congo to his longing to meet this shadowy figure. Kurtz is first mentioned by the Accountant, who calls him "a first-class agent" and "a remarkable person" who "sends in as much ivory as the others put together." The Manager, however, speaks of Kurtz in more ambiguous terms.

In spite of his claims of concern for Kurtz, the Manager is actually sabotaging Kurtz and doing everything in his power to ensure that he will die at the Inner Station. His motive? Professional jealousy. Marlow notices "an air of plotting" at the station and later overhears the Manager speaking to his uncle (the leader of the Eldorado Exploring Expedition), from which he learns the following things:

The Manager, against his will, was forced to send Kurtz to the interior of the jungle: "Am I the Manager — or am I not?" he asks.

Kurtz asked the administration to send him there with the idea of "showing what he could do."

The Manager fears that Kurtz "has the council by the nose" and has requested a position in the interior because he wants the Manager's job: "Conceive you — that ass! And he wants to be Manager!"

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