Summary and Analysis Part 3: Chapter 3



On a morning more than three months later, Heyst comes out as usual to lean his arms on the verandah and think. He contemplates his latest participation in life, yet by habit and determined purpose he is a spectator still. His mood of "grim doubt" has no time to develop, for Lena joins him.

Their conversation shows that neither understands the other. Heyst feels vaguely that Lena is finding fault with him. Lena longs to charm from him some declaration of love, but he always evades the answer she seeks: "Every time she spoke to him she seemed to abandon to him something of herself — something excessively subtle and inexpressible, to which he was infinitely sensible, which he would have missed horribly if she were to go away."

Later, after breakfast, Heyst and Lena start on a morning walk up toward the forest that crosses the island. Wang watches them go. He materializes inside the house and examines the empty room as though hunting for something. He cocks his head at the portrait of Heyst's father, pen in hand "above a white sheet of paper on a crimson tablecloth." When he comes out of the house again, Heyst and Lena are far away — two white figures just visible against "the sombre line of forest."

Heyst and Lena climb to a good viewing point above the forest and look out over the sea. Heyst sees a sail far away toward the south. He thinks it is some native craft making for the Moluccas. Lena does not like to look at the sea. To her it is an "abomination of desolation."

Much conversation follows. Heyst feels depths in Lena, but whether of strength of weakness, or just abysmal emptiness, he does not know. They talk about Lena's past and Heyst's rescue of her. They mention Heyst's father, and Heyst reveals how his father's philosophy of detachment and distrust has shaped him.

Lena does not understand. Heyst speaks of Morrison and relates how he rescued him. He regards it as highly amusing that he should have been regarded as an agent of Providence. He says Morrison's gratitude was "frightful . . . boredom came later" when they lived together on Morrison's ship.

Heyst does not yet know how to adapt to Lena, but he does know that she gives him a greater sense of his own reality than he has ever had before.


Wang's behavior in both this chapter and the previous one shows the uneasiness the Chinese feels since the girl has arrived on the island. He is puzzled and apprehensive.

Heyst's early morning mood and his conversation on the walk in the forest show how fully his philosophy of detachment still holds him. Although Heyst does not see or realize, Lena takes his words painfully to heart. Conrad chooses, by some more manipulation of viewpoint, to let the reader see her reaction objectively. It appears to run thus: Heyst has rescued her out of pity just as he rescued Morrison. He is living with her even more intimately than he did with Morrison. His feeling about the Morrison episode must be his present feeling about their own life together. Will he come to regard her rescue as just a highly amusing incident? Will he become bored with her, too?

Conrad shows throughout this chapter the romantic, physical, closeness of Heyst and Lena with the vast difference between them in thought processes and attitudes toward life.

Note how Conrad is building tragic mood with selection of words pointing toward calamity: "a devouring glare, like the eye of an enemy"; "Far away in the devouring sunshine"; and "blinding infinity." These two have only about seventy-two hours to live.