No body, but he who has felt it, can conceive what a plaguing thing it is to have a man's mind torn asunder by two projects of equal strength, both obstinately pulling in a contrary direction at the same time.
Throughout Heart of Darkness Marlow is terribly confused. The virtues and morality-the restraint-that he thought to be characteristic of man and integral for his survival are actually only exigencies. Though he maintains a calm and commanding presence, inside he nearly shatters from this revelation. And constantly he hears the drums that beat in time to his heart-he feels the wildness of the jungle tugging at him, coercing so gently that one might not notice until after the darkness had already taken his soul.
Even in the beginning of the novel, Marlow's eyes were closed to the reality of the Company. When his aunt naively praises the company for its charitable ambitions, he gently corrects her, informing her that it is in fact a company fun for profit. As the novel progresses, Marlow is given more than enough reason to despise the Company. The man-of-war shelling bullets into an empty beach reeked of insanity. Even nature seemed tinged with death and oppressive despair.
Marlow encounters the chief accountant wearing his spotless white clothing and is sickened. This sycophant and hypocrite appears to Marlow twice as corrupt and uncivilized as the natives do. Marlow despises the manager whom he meets later on as well for being hollow and false.
On his journey to Kurtz's Inner Station Marlow is bombarded with news of Kurtz. All view Kurtz with a sort of fearful respect-it is as if they are speaking of some omniscient boogieman that will appear if you say its name aloud. Even when criticizing him they speak in low voices tinged with dread.
Marlow has begun to abhor the Company. As he hears its agents speak bitingly of this man, he comes to a resolution. He is going to be on whatever side is against the Company. Proving that he has already allowed the darkness to seep into his blood somewhat, he tells his first lie to the Manager. Even though Kurtz is only a void to Marlow Kurtz is already influencing him.
Marlow's abandonment of society's values is further evidenced in his relation to the cannibals. Fine fellows-cannibals-in their place. There were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. Seen from the view of society this is a bizarre comment, one Marlow would not have thought if he were still in his native city. Marlow realizes that the natives of the jungle have not let the darkness overtake them as the Company agents have-that just because one lives in the jungle is not a justification to lack restraint. Moreover, Marlow is even more confused as civilized society and chaotic but not entirely dark jungle war with one another. He is trying to choose his nightmare.
This internal conflict is consummated when Marlow encounters Kurtz alone in the forest. Here Marlow feels the darkness stronger than ever before-the drums beat on insanely. I thought I would never get back to the steamer, and imagined myself alone and unarmed in the woods to an advanced age
Here is Marlow's choice of nightmares-here is the point where he is forced to choose. To Kurtz crouched on all fours, he says, You will be lost, utterly lost, perhaps speaking to himself as well. Therefore, Marlow's sanity (as sanity is generally perceived) is speaking to him, and Marlow has chosen to return to civilization after all, though from hereafter he will have a sharper clarity of the ambiguity of goodness.
Marlow's internal struggle is what the entire book illumines. Through Marlow's choice of nightmares, we are made aware of our own choices.
A. Marlow's journey down the Thames represents a journey into the dark side of man. As Marlow travels further up the river he begins to learn more and more about the true nature of man. He comes to the realization that he has much more in common with the cannibals on his steamer than the smug Europeans of the Company.
Alternately, it is interesting to note the makeup of the Congo River. It almost seems to be trying to dispel Europeans from transversing it altogether. Travel upstream is arduous and difficult, while traveling back downstream is fluid and quick. The difficulty in which Marlow travels upstream parallels the difficulty he encounters in understanding Kurtz, while the ease in which Marlow returns downriver reflects his choice of nightmares.
B. This bit of white worsted tied around the black man's neck signifies that Civilization and the Company most likely had interfered somehow to cause his death. The ghastly spectacle at the grove of death suggests that the true evils of the colonial enterprise are dehumanization and death. Even though Marlow is not particularly tender this troubles him.
Conrad is not being very subtle with his symbols.
C. It is very interesting to note that Marlow's first lie was in correlation with Kurtz. Marlow hasn't even spoken to or encountered Kurtz, yet Kurtz is already wearing away at his values, chipping away at his morality. I believe that at this moment when Marlow lies, he has decided that he is going to be on whatever side is against the Company. By this point he has realized the total corruption and chaos the Company represents, and has decided to go against them even if it means siding with Kurtz. Kurtz has become an alternative to the repellant men around him.
D. The lack of rivets represents yet another ineffectual pursuit and an obstacle in Marlow's quest for Kurtz. After all...why shouldn't we get rivets? the boilermaker said. Why not indeed! Replied Kurtz. Nothing gets completed at this camp. All pursuits result in failure or aren't completed. So when Marlow tells his first lie in order to get rivets, he is fighting against the chaos. He is trying to regain order in an extremely disorderly environment. The boilermaker is one of the few left who realizes the insanity of such chaos, and therefore he too is overjoyed when he hears that they will receive rivets and complete a project. For both of them, the work is a concrete alternative to the posturing and excuse making of those around them.
E. In his dressy white clothes, the accountant epitomizes success in the colonial world. Though he hasn't really accomplished much of anything, he has managed to keep up appearances, in looking as he would at home.
This accountant's smooth white surface may contain darkness inside, like the whited sepulcher of Brussels. The native woman, whom he has taught to manage his wardrobe despite her distaste for the work is a rather sinister image.
d. 60 lb.
2. A resistance to tropical disease.
3. Kurtz is a man to be emulated because he is a genius. He is highly gifted at almost anything he does. He's a gifted musician and a fine painter, and he understands the power of words and uses his eloquence to distract his listeners from the malice of his actions. Marlow often describes Kurtz as being a hollow man and in his journey to him refers to him as merely a voice. Since Kurtz is a hollow man we are allowed our own choice of nightmares to describe him as. Kurtz has kicked himself loose of the earth by no longer adhering to social stigmas and has become wildly successful because of it--but also because of it, he cannot keep up appearances and must be exterminated.
4. From the first, we know that Marlow is a storyteller, or at least an old seaman fond of telling stories. He considers himself distanced from the other rich men on the boat whom he is telling the story to, because he has traveled into darkness and seen what a man might become. It seems that he is generally a capable man, but rather disillusioned with society. He is a certainly a skeptic, and though he tries to view things dispassionately, rather cynical. Mainly, he serves as an intermediary-- as someone between the two extremes of Kurtz and the Company. He is more sensitive to the corruption of the Company than its other employees, as is evidenced when he tells his lie to signify that he will side with who ever is against the company.
Marlow describes this scene very visually. He describes the savages, emaciated and death-like, marching in procession up the hill. One of their own, a reformed savage in a shoddy uniform, is guarding them. Marlow's contempt for the Company is obvious. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. How ironic, that these men would be punished by the same white-man code that contained rights that were withheld from them. Marlow thinks of the ship that was uselessly shelling into the empty brush, and reflects on the utter futility and corruption of the Company.
Conrad makes this passage memorable for us by using a high degree of satire and imagery. We could see this taking place as if it were a movie.