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Heart Of Darkness Key Points

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At the start of the novel, Marlow, along with the four other men, watch the Director of Companies. Marlow makes this note about him while the Director is looking seaward: “It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom” (1). One would think that the Director’s work would be in the future, out before him and waiting to be taken care of. However, Marlow’s remark that the Director’s work is actually behind him is quite the contrary. The work cut out for the Director deals with history, and the struggle to understand and learn from the past.

Marlow makes a revelation to the crew: “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work, the chance to find yourself” (25). Marlow believes that by doing work, one can discover oneself and his own perceptibility for himself in such a way which “no other man can ever know”.

After the cannibals help Marlow with his steamboat, Marlow recruits some of them for his crew. He notes that they are “fine fellows—cannibals… They were men one could work with, and [he is] grateful to them” (31). The cannibals are more productive and useful than the people in the original crew. Marlow deeply respects and admires their self-restraint from eating human flesh in front of Marlow.

Work and keeping busy are a means of looking inward, of truly understanding the surrounding world as well as truly understanding ourselves.

One instance of futility that Marlow stumbled upon was when his crew “came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush” (11). Though someone on board assured Marlow that there were natives, “enemies”, there, Marlow highly doubts the reasoning behind the decision to “[shell] the bush”.

“I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass…an undersized railway truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was off…I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty nails” (12). The random useless equipment conveys ambiguity in the sense of the origins of these materials and the reasons why they are idle in the grass. All this unused equipment is ironic to the instance where Marlow needs rivets in order to repair his steamboat. There is an abundance of abandoned materials, yet when Marlow needs rivets, there are none to be found. This exemplifies how flawed the system in the Congo was, how wasteful and incongruous it was.

“the stout man with mustaches came tearing down to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured [Marlow] that everybody was �behaving splendidly, splendidly,’ dipped about a quart of water and tore back again” (20), with a hole in the bottom of his pail. Marlow views this event with astonishment at how silly of a manner problems are being addressed. Putting out a fire with a pail with a hole is just ridiculous. Moreover, when the pilgrims would stay up nights trying to shoot a hippopotamus, Marlow is astonished at this idleness of activity and considers “all this energy was wasted” (25).

The native woman with whom Kurtz seems to be attached is described as being a “gorgeous apparition of a woman”, walking with “with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments…She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress” (56). The native woman is draped in ornaments of regional wealth, thanks to Kurtz’s doings. She seems to have some sort of mystical influence over Kurtz and the other natives, and the Russian trader hints that she is one to fear. Kurtz’s Intended “had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering” (69). Her “dark eyes looked out to [Marlow]. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful”.

Both women have a discerning quality about them, even without them saying one word. The native woman is dark and mysterious, while Kurtz’s Intended is pale and woeful. The Intended lives in luxury, also thanks to Kurtz’s success in the Congo. The wealth displayed by both women serves to keep them in their place as well as to display Kurtz’s accomplishments.

The general attitude towards women is that they symbolize the facets of civilization, and are a constant reminder to men what awaits them back home. Men, inspired by their women, take risks in attempt to make economic success while women represent the civilized way of life.

After the death

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