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The main character of the story is a man named Marlow. Marlow is relating an experience he had while he was a steamboat captain, hired to bring back Ivory from Africa. “’ I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me personally,’ he began, showing in his remark the weakness of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would best like to hear…” He starts by explaining his childhood desire to go to Africa and, when he accepts a job with a trading company, is given his opportunity. The start of his journey finds him in an unorganized mess of a group. He is shown that his fellow employees have little concern for the lives of the natives employed to assist them in their search for ivory. “A nigger was being beaten near by. They said he had caused the fire in some way; be that as it may, he was screeching most horribly. I saw him later, for several days, sitting in a bit of shade looking very sick and trying to recover himself: afterwards he arose and went out – and the wilderness without a sound took him into its bosom again.” This lack of concern for human life is a theme throughout the rest of the story.
During the first part of the story, Marlow is given insight to the inner station manager known as Kurtz. Kurtz appears to be everything to everyone. He is respected, feared, loved and hated. Marlow becomes intrigued by his perception of the man and begins to imagine what he is like. After Marlow hears of what occurred the last time anyone from the company had seen Kurtz, his vision of the man becomes pristine. “As for me, I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was a distinct glimpse: the dugout, the four paddling savages, and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home – perhaps; setting his face toward the depths of the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station.
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