Summary and Analysis Part 3: Chapter 1



Heyst has been sitting for two years among the ruins of the Tropical Belt Coal Company. He has much time for meditation. He uses it to consider his father and his father's philosophy. One bit of advice has impressed itself deeply into his consciousness: "I advise you to cultivate that form of contempt called pity. It is perhaps the least difficult. . . . Look on — make no sound." Heyst's father died the night after this final admonition. Now Heyst relives the days after his father's death. He reaffirms his decision never to enter the stream of life or take part in its action.

He decides to have his father's books sent out to him. When they arrive, he unpacks them with tenderness and they form for him a focus of attachment in his lonely island. His father's portrait, done in oil, has come with the books. It surprises Heyst "by its air of youth."

Heyst is not lonely. He has renounced "all outside nourishment" and sustains his spirit on contempt for what other people crave.

Heyst's island is well provisioned; a Chinese man, Wang, serves him as cook. When all the other employees of T.B.C. Company leave, Wang stays behind because he has taken a wife from the Alfuro people who live on the other side of the island.

Heyst enjoys his solitary existence and Wang is a man of few words. They get on well. Heyst never looks after anything in his house. He spends his time in reading, meditating, and walking in the clearing.


The information in this chapter is necessary to set the stage for the remainder of the story. Heyst's lingering on Samburan instead of resuming his habitual wanderings is explained by his attachment for his father's books. Conrad shows that the man is capable of attachment of a sort.

How well Heyst practices his father's precepts will appear throughout the final scenes. He has indeed cultivated "that form of contempt called pity" to the exclusion of genuine affection. Here lies the seed of his destruction.

Other important facts are planted in this chapter: Heyst's father left him a little money; Wang, the servant, is introduced and motivated; and Heyst never locks up any of his belongings because he trusts Wang.

The general loneliness and desolation of Heyst's situation appear, also Heyst's well-regulated habits of behavior. Into this setting, the girl, Lena, is about to be introduced.

Note the portrait of Heyst's father. It will have symbolic meaning later in the story.