Summary and Analysis Part 1


Thus, the Manager is nervous when talking to Marlow because he does not know who Marlow really is or if he has any powerful connections in Europe. When he replies, "That ought to do the affair," he means that three months without any relief should be long enough to ensure Kurtz's death. "Trust to this," his uncle says as he gestures to the jungle, and this is just what the Manager is doing: "Trusting" that (as his uncle also says) "the climate may do away with this difficulty" for him. Only later does Marlow realize that the Manager was responsible for his steamboat's "accident": He could not get any rivets because the Manager made sure that their delivery to Marlow was delayed as long as possible without arousing Marlow's suspicions. (When Marlow's steamboat gets close to Kurtz in Part 2, the Manager tells Marlow to wait until the next morning before pressing on, to delay their arrival even more than he already has.) Even as Marlow felt he was being entered into a giant conspiracy upon accepting his post in Europe, he has unwittingly stumbled upon one in the Congo.

The brickmaker who tries to wrangle information out of Marlow about Kurtz adds to the conspiratorial air of the Central Station. From his conversation with Marlow, the reader learns that Kurtz has disrupted the brickmaker's plans to become assistant-manager. The brickmaker also reflects the Company's disorganization, for he makes no bricks at all; he also reflects the Company's avarice, for he wants to advance in rank without completing any actual work.

While the plot concerning Marlow's steamboat and rivets adds to Conrad's overall air of conspiracy, it also metaphorically enriches the novel as a whole. Rivets hold things together, and Conrad uses the rivets as symbols of the ways in which the Company, the Manager, Marlow, Kurtz, and Kurtz's fiancée (his Intended) attempt to "hold together" their beliefs and ideas. These ideological "rivets" are seen in numerous ways. For example, the Company wants to keep its operations running without criticism, inquiry or restraint; Marlow wants to believe his own naïve ideas about Africa; Kurtz wants to remain king of his private empire and disregard his "civilized" self; and the Intended wants to believe that Kurtz was a great man with a "generous mind" and "noble heart." Each character has his or her own "rivet," from the Company's implied belief that it is "civilizing" the Africans to the Intended's acceptance of Marlow's lie about Kurtz. Heart of Darkness is an oftentimes disturbing book because Conrad's suggestion that all of these "rivets" are simply lies — ideas, beliefs and assumptions used to excuse shameless profiteering (as with the Company) or sustain a false image of a loved one (as with the Intended). Only Marlow and Kurtz see that these metaphorical "rivets" are faulty: Marlow when he witnesses firsthand the atrocities perpetuated by the Company and Kurtz when he whispers, "The horror! The horror!" on his deathbed. Marlow's naïve belief that the Company was run only for profit and Kurtz's belief that he could escape his own "civilized" morality are both shown to be "rivets" that simply could not hold.

The final symbol found in Part 1 is the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, run by the Manager's uncle. This fictional expedition is based on an actual one: The Katanga Expedition (1890-1892). The fact that the Manager's uncle leads the expedition suggests that it is another example of White traders scrambling for riches in the Congo. Marlow dismisses them as "buccaneers" who do not even make a pretense of coming to Africa for anything other than treasure.


Cruising yawl a small, two-masted sailing vessel.

Gravesend a seaport on the Thames River in southwest England.

the greatest town on earth London.

Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540–1596) English admiral and buccaneer: 1st Englishman to sail around the world.

Sir John Franklin (1786–1847) English Arctic explorer.

the Golden Hind a ship sailed by the English navigator Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540–1596) during the reign of Elizabeth I.

the Erebus and Terror In 1845, the English Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin led a voyage in the ships Erebus and Terror in search of the Northwest Passage; the ships were stuck in ice from April 1846 to September 1848.

They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich, from Erith Deptford, Greenwich, and Erith are three ports between London and Gravesend.

men on 'Change Men working in a place where merchants meet to do business; exchange.

trireme an ancient Greek or Roman galley, usually a warship, with three banks of oars on each side.

Gauls the Celtic-speaking people dwelling in the ancient region of Western Europe consisting of what is now mainly France & Belgium: after 5th century B.C.

Falerian wine wine made in a district of Campania, Italy.

a mighty big river the Congo River in Africa.

Fleet Street an old street in central London, where several newspaper and printing offices are located; the term "Fleet Street" has come to refer to the London press.

whited sepulchre in the Bible, a phrase used to describe a hypocrite. The relevant allusion in Matthew is "beautiful to look at on the outside, but inside full of filth and dead men's bones."

Brussels The hypocrisy alluded to is that King Leopold's brutal colonial empire was run from this beautiful, seemingly civilized, city.

Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Literally, "Hail! Those who are about to die salute you"; a salute of the gladiators in ancient Rome to whomever was hosting their tournaments. Here, Marlow is ironically comparing the knitters to Roman emperors.

Plato (c. 427–c.347 B.C.) Greek philosopher.

alienist an old term for a psychiatrist.

Du calme, du calme. Adieu. French: "Stay calm, stay calm. Goodbye."

Zanzibaris natives of Zanzibar, an island off the E coast of Africa: 640 sq. mi. (1,657 sq. km).

sixteen stone 224 pounds; a stone is a British unit of weight equal to 14 pounds (6.36 kilograms).

assegais slender spears or javelins with iron tips, used in southern Africa.

serviette a table napkin.

Ichthyosaurus a prehistoric reptile with four paddle-like flippers.

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