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Heart of Darkness Part Two Analysis

Updated on November 3, 2016

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Notes for Discussion

Note: Page Reference in brackets are referring to the Heart of Darkness copy by Penguin Classics.

  1. The Manager and his nephew discuss Kurtz's power: 'Look at the influence that man must have. Is it not frightful? (38) The Manager holds the vague hope that the climate will destroy Kurtz. In the meantime, this lone figure proves himself through the mass of prime ivory he sends out (56) to the annoyance of the Manager. Kurtz is clearly in control of the operation and will note be dictated to. He is a figure of great power. ( Consider the solitary canoe trip as symbolic of his strength.) Your note 81 (page 135) suggests that this power extends to the line 'make rain and fine weather', with Kurtz as a man-god weather king.
  2. Marlow now confesses, 'I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time ... the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home' (57). Note how Kurtz is not named by the manager, thereby increasing the sense of awe and the extraordinary.
  3. The ominous tone is clear: 'Certainly ... get him hanged! Why not? Anything - anything can be done in this country ... nobody here, you understand, here, can endanger your position ... The danger is in Europe' (58).
  4. The manger quotes Kurtz's early, idealistic rhetoric: 'Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade or course, but also for humanising, improving, instructing.' (40)
  5. It is clear that the manager is threatened by Kurtz who, we learn, wants to be manager himself (58).
  6. The manager proclaims, 'trust to this', indicating the jungle, 'the lurking death, to the hidden evil to the profound darkness of its heart.' (58)
  7. Note Marlow's rather dismissive (and comical) account of the fate of the Eldorado Expedition (59).
  8. The journey as metaphor is clear in lines such as 'Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.' (41)
  9. 'It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.' (60) A famous sentence, describing Marlow's feelings towards the atmosphere through which he was travelling, and which some critics use to show Conrad's exaggerated style, arguing it creates something essentially meaningless!
  10. The suggestion is made that the mundane realities and difficulties of navigating in fact protect Marlow, because he does not need to bother himself with more serious questions / thoughts : ' ... the reality ... fades. The inner truth is hidden, - luckily, luckily.' (60) Again, think about navigating the journey as a metaphor.
  11. The word 'ivory' returns like a magical chant (43) and Marlow observes the Europeans he encounters appear enchanted, held captive 'by a spell' (61).
  12. Pages 62-63 are full of metaphorical references in terms of the journey and the fact that as they penetrate further into the 'heart of darkness' (62) they lack the ability to comprehend as they distance themselves further from the reference points they know and which give them comfort (i.e. Europe).
  13. Marlow recognises a kinship with the men who inhabit this world (62-63). Again, consider the language. Is it risking offence/racist? Practical considerations prevent him from going ashore 'for a howl and a dance' (63), or from peering into '(his) creepy thoughts.' (44)
  14. The fireman (63-64). Is the tone sufficiently ironic, or is this again a questionable passage?
  15. Conrad builds suspense and a sense of the ominous with small incidents such as the woodpile with its notice: 'Hurry up. Approach cautiously.' (64-65)
  16. Towson's/Towser's book is, to Marlow, from a world he understands, 'something unmistakably real.' (46) It represents, despite its subject matter, 'a singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work' (65). you might like to contrast this with Kurtz's report later.
  17. Note Marlow's frustration at further delay and the sense of urgency he feels to meet Kurtz (67). Note also further references to enchantment, the trance-like (67).
  18. The cry, the fog, the fear - a sense of the ominous continues to build (68). This is contrasted with the absurd image of the pyjama-clad pilgrim.
  19. The passage relating to the cannibal crew are both intentionally humorous (through Marlow's ironic tone, especially referring to the brass wire payments they received) and serious. 'Restraint' is the key here and will be important to remember when it comes to your thoughts about Kurtz. Contrast their restraint with that of the manger, based on '(preserving) appearances' (51). Kurtz's lack of restraint is referred to directly on page 85, when he is compared with the helmsman.
  20. Note Marlow's thoughts on the cries: they were not simply the cries of violence; instead they gave him the 'irresistible impression of sorrow.' (73)
  21. Note Marlow's passionate reaction following the possibility that Kurtz might be dead (78-79). Marlow is still unable to physicalise this mythic figure; instead he represents him in terms of a 'discourse' and the power of that discourse: 'his ability to talk, his words - the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.' (79). Heron in, the links between Kurtz and the heart of darkness strengthen.
  22. Marlow's narrative is interrupted and the flow breaks down quite dramatically. Note the defensive tone of his response to the sigh (77-80).
  23. He refers to Kurtz's Intended, whom he meets upon his return to Europe, and the lie he tells; he also refers, prematurely, to his meeting with Kurtz. Note the clear link between Kurtz and ivory, his head like 'an ivory ball.' (81)
  24. Marlow's reference to the mundane, yet safe, existence of those in the boat, represented in the references to the 'two good addresses', the 'butcher round one corner,' and the 'policemen round another' (80), will be repeated later as he tries to make sense of what he has encountered and the world to which he returns.
  25. the Faustian nature of Kurtz's existence becomes clear: '(the wilderness) had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation.' (59) In the legend of Faust, Faust 'sells' his soul to the Devil in exchange for whatever he desire, within a specified time frame (in Christopher Marlowe's play Dr Faustus, this is 24 years).
  26. Note also the clear use of the possessive when telling of his world: 'My ivory ... My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river my - ' everything belonged to him.' (81)
  27. The link between Kurtz and the heart of darkness, including references to the demonic, is most clearly seen in the powerful language of pages 81 and 82: 'The thing was to know what he belonged to ... the fool is too much of a fool, or the devil is too much of a devil' (81-82). Note, also, Marlow's attack again on the relative security of those on the boat and their inability to comprehend, cocooned by the protective layers of 'western' civilisation. (81-82).
  28. Marlow asserts: 'I am not trying to excuse or even explain' (82). Does this ring true?
  29. Note the image of Kurtz as representing all Europe (hence the various imperial powers and not simply one country): 'All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz' (83).
  30. The figure of Kurtz acquires, now, an unpleasant edge: on the one hand Marlow continues to marvel at the eloquence employed in the report written on behalf of the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs; on the other, Marlow alludes to a time when his 'nerves went wrong' and to 'certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rites' (61).
  31. Note what Kurtz writes in his report (defined as 'ominous' by Marlow): whites 'must necessarily appear to them (savages) in the nature of supernatural beings - we approach them with the might as of a deity ... we can exert a power for good practically unbounded' (83). Note also how freely Marlow admits he gives in to the splendour of the rhetoric - Marlow's language is full of words like 'magnificent', 'eloquence', 'exotic' and 'moving.' Kurtz, defined from the beginning by Marlow as a voice, is thereby rendered extremely powerful and potentially dangerous.
  32. The eloquence of Kurtz's rhetoric is bluntly contrasted with the brutal footnote: 'Exterminate all the brutes!' (62)
  33. Marlow alludes to his ultimate duty: 'I was to have the care of his memory.' (62) Thus Marlow must choose how he represents Kurtz. He clearly lies to the Intended, are we given a fuller portrait of the man?
  34. Marlow returns to his story, ending on an ambivalent note regarding Kurtz: 'No; I can't forget him, though I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was exactly worth the life we lost in getting him.' (84)
  35. Your notes suggest a link between the colours of the Harlequin's dress and those of the map of the world, coloured according to empire. He is also rendered somewhat unreal, a figure of folklore, theatre, or pantomime.
  36. The harlequin, Kurtz's acolyte, echoes Marlow's earlier comments regarding the power of Kurtz: he has the ability to 'enlarge the mind.' (89, 90) Kurtz's power over the native inhabitants is clear: they don't want him to lear, hence the attack on the boat.


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