Heart of Darkness: Mid-Journey

Joseph Conrad, Poster by Ade Arjona

Journey down the River

"I did not inquire. I was rather excited at the prospect of meeting Kurtz very soon" (pg 35).

This is the first time Marlow explicitly tells the reader how he feels about meeting Kurtz, although from earlier descriptions this excitement is not all that surprising. Here he describes himself as excited to meet the person Kurtz, whereas later he reveals he wanted more to speak with him than to meet him, implying sometime in Chapter 2 Kurtz transforms from a person to a voice.

"Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled to I don't know. To some place where they expected to get something, I bet! For me it crawled towards Kurtz--exclusively; but when the steam-pipes started leaking we crawled very slow" (pg 37).

Marlow's single-track mind begins developing and his obsession with Kurtz is given form as his endgoal. No longer was this an expedition to explore for curiosity's sake, nor for science, but rather for the sole purpose of encountering this legendary 'Kurtz'.

"Sometimes I would pick out a tree a little way ahead to measure our progress towards Kurtz by, but I lost it invariably before we got abreast. To keep the eyes so long on one thing was too much for human patience" (pg 40).

Here Marlow's impatience to reach Kurtz is displayed. He, ironically, describes the effort of keeping one's eyes focused on one thing for so long as too much for human patience and yet he and Kurtz are single-minded in their goals and seem to hold as much patience as necessary to achieve them. Are they then not human? No, I feel Marlow is setting human limits at this point without the knowledge of actual human capacity which he learns later when Kurtz so obviously obsessed with his own goals pushes all and any previously set human limits.

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The Wilderness

Conrad personifies the wilderness as some archetypal cursed wood that becomes progressively more evil and alive the further you go, similar to that of Snow White. Nature is its own retelling of human history, "going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world"(pg 35). By humanizing the environment, "the vegetation rioted on earth and the big trees were kings", Marlow attempts to civilize his surroundings, if not the people then nature. Ironic that when lost he creates familiarity where none exists and ignores the infinite connections between himself and the natives (at least at this point in the novel).

Self-Awareness

Marlow, unlike Kurtz, travels into the evil of the deepening wild with full awareness and self-restraint, as shown by his reaction to characters like the Manager and guilt in lies. Marlow is loyal to the norm of civilized society, whereas Kurtz, abandoned in the wilderness, reverts to what in his mind is society without the structure of law and only personal justice as a guide. Kurtz yielded to the temptations of ivory and greed in exchange for his control and civility. Marlow, on the other hand, never deviated from the authority of the Company, which could be considered an anchor to urban society.