Conrad's Heart of Darkness - Marlow and the Wilderness

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Marlow and the Wilderness in Heart of Darkness

Marlow has always been mystified and curious about the parts of the world that have been relatively unexplored by the white race. Ever since he was a little kid he used to look at many maps and wonder just what laid in the big holes that were unmapped. Eventually one of these holes was filled up with the continent of Africa, but he was still fascinated especially by this filled in hole. When he found out that he could maybe get a job with a company that explored the Congo area in Africa he sought after it and got it. After all, it was as a steamship captain on the mighty Congo river. This was "a mighty big river...resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail in the depths of the land" (p. 2196). This snake like river was full of mystery to the adult Marlow and seemed to call him to it.

The wildness that the African wilderness seems to promote is foreshadowed right away to Marlow before his journey gets going. He finds out that the captain he is replacing was killed over a trading disagreement between him and a chief. It turns out that the caption thought he got a raw deal and then proceeded to hit the chief on the head with a stick, whereupon the chiefs son then stuck him with a spear and killed him. This promoting of wildness comes out in the fact that this captain "was the gentlest, quietest creature ever walked on two legs...but he had been a couple of years already out there" (p. 2196-2197).

Marlow then proceeds to head for the Congo, and when he finally reaches the company's lower station he begins to see how the white man has come to try and civilize and control the wildness of Africa and its inhabitants. The blacks were being used as slaves at the station to build railroads. The scene left Marlow feeling that the blacks "were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now,--nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation" (p. 2202). Marlow sees how the asserted superiority of the white man has led to the devastation of the black natives in both spirit and body.

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