Heart of Darkness: Novel Summary: Part II
Section II opens with Marlow reclining on the deck of his steamboat one evening. He hears several voices approaching and recognizes them as the Station Manager and the Manager's uncle, leader of the Eldorado Exploring Expedition. Marlow overhears the Manager comments that he was ordered to send Kurtz to the Inner Station. The uncle replies that Kurtz had requested to be sent to the Inner Station to prove what he could accomplish. Marlow can't understand all they say, but the pair agree that Kurtz must have tremendous influence within the company. The manager suggests that Kurtz is a problem for him. It seems Kurtz even had the impudence to send back his assistant, with a note telling the Manger not to send any others. The uncle asks if Kurtz is alone in the wilderness, and when the Manager replies that he is, the uncle states that "the climate may do away with" him. However, the Manager notes, Kurtz is sending plenty of ivory.
The uncle enquires how the ivory arrives at the station, and the Manager comments that it is canoed down river by a group of natives led by a "half-caste" clerk employed by Kurtz. Kurtz had initially set out with the group, but had turned around mid-way and headed back into the wilderness with a single canoe and four natives. The Manager and his uncle marvel at the thought of such an act. Marlow notes that they never refer to Kurtz by his name, only as "that man," and his interest in Kurtz deepens as he hears this story. The Manager refers to Kurtz's clerk as "that scoundrel" and tells his uncle the clerk informed him that Kurtz was ill. As the pair move up and down the river's edge, Marlow hears only bits and pieces of their conversation, understanding that Kurtz has now been isolated for some nine months, with no real news about him arriving, only a few strange rumors.
Marlow can't put all of the pieces together, but he hears something about "unfair competition." The Manager suggests that either Kurtz or "the scoundrel" will have to be hanged as an example. The uncle agrees, noting that such actions are possible out here, and stressing that the Manager has nothing to fear from anyone in the wilderness; only those in Europe pose a real threat. The pair again wander out of hearing, and when they return the Manager is asserting that the delays in ivory procurement have not been his fault. The Manager then recounts how Kurtz caused him trouble the last time that he was at the station, with Kurtz espousing a belief that all stations "'should be like a beacon on the road toward better things, a center of trade of course, but also for humanising, improving, instructing.'" The Manager's uncle stresses that his ability to stay healthy will work to his advantage; he points to the wilderness and reaffirms that it will take care of the problem. Upon this revelation, Marlow inadvertently jumps to his feet, revealing his presence. The Manager and his uncle are surprised by Marlow's presence and return to the village.
Several days later the Eldorado Exploring Expedition departs into the wilderness. Later Marlow learns that all of the expedition's donkeys died; he wonders about the others in the group but learns nothing. By now his boat is repaired and he departs up river to Kurtz's station.
Marlow notes that traveling up the river to Kurtz's station was like traveling back in time. The Manager and several other station workers are onboard. Marlow remarks that the landscape seemed primordial. Though his surroundings were silent and still, it did not seem peaceful. A certainly sense of doom hung about, though Marlow was able to keep these feelings at bay by attending to the numerous duties required to safely pilot the boat. Several times the boat scrapes bottom, but with the help of several natives they enlisted on the way, "cannibals" Marlow calls them, they manage to free the craft. They stop at several small stations, where white men stumble out of their huts with a surprised and happy look upon their faces.
Marlow remarks that the massive trees lining the river and the dense forest growth made him feel very small and lost. But still, they "penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness." Sometimes at night they heard drums beating in the distance. Occasionally, they would pass a native village, and the inhabitants would rush fourth stamping and shouting in a manner that Marlow couldn't understand.
Marlow comments on the untamed nature of the landscape. Although the English thought of it as a conquered area, it was still wild and feral-as were its inhabitants. As Marlow considers the inhabitants of the wilderness, he recognizes a certain humanity in them, but also admits that they remind him there is wildness within all men. Marlow notes that he employs a native to run the boat's steam engine, and when he looks at the man he sees "a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat walking on his hind legs."
About fifty miles below Kurtz's Inner Station, they unexpectedly come upon a small hut. When they land, they discover a pile of wood and a strange note saying that the wood was meant for them and that they should come as quickly as possible but that they should approach the Inner Station cautiously. The hut's tenant is missing, but Marlow surmises that he was a white man. Marlow finds a book on seamanship and discovers that there are mysterious notes, written in "cipher," throughout the text. He takes the book. The Manager concludes that the owner of the hut must be the "intruder" he had guessed was working with Kurtz.
About eight miles below Kurtz's station, Marlow and the Manager agree to stop the boat for the evening, setting anchor in the middle of the stream. In the morning, the boat is caught in a dense fog. The fog lifts temporarily, but as Marlow prepares to steam up river it returns. He orders the anchor to be lowered once more, and a loud cry followed by a series of shrieks is heard from the jungle. The company men become spooked, and several of them rush for their rifles, wondering if they will be attacked. Marlow notes a distinct difference in the reactions of his English counterparts and the natives with them. Whereas the Englishmen are bewildered by noise, the natives react in a more curious manner. Indeed, one of the natives tells Marlow that they should catch the strangers so that they might eat them. Marlow isn't fazed by the comment, noting that the men must have been extremely hungry, for their supply of meat-a rotting mass of hippopotamus meat-had been dumped over the side. Marlow addresses the fact that the natives were paid, in metal wire, each week, with the hope that they will trade for food with other natives along the way. Yet there was little opportunity for them to do so. Marlow marvels over the stupidity of the company's plan and wonders why the natives, who outnumber the company men, don't simply eat them. He attributes it to a great "restraint" grounded in something he can't quite grasp.
Though the fog hasn't lifted, the Manager presses Marlow to move on. Marlow, however, refuses, arguing that it would be folly to proceed under such conditions. The Manager asks Marlow if he thinks they will be attacked, and Marlow replies that he doesn't believe so, noting that the natives in the wilderness were equally hampered by the fog. He also remarks that there was something grief-like, not confrontational, in their cries. It seems as though the natives in the woods are trying to protect themselves and to simply drive them away.
When the fog eventually lifts, they proceed up stream until they are stopped by a series of sand banks splitting the river into shallow channels, about a mile below Kurtz's station. Here the boat falls under attack by a barrage of small arrows. As Marlow struggles to right the boat, he looks into the dense growth along the bank and sees numerous natives hidden among the trees. One of the men asks Marlow if he can turn the boat around and at the same time several men begin firing indiscriminately into the bush. During a second exchange of fire, the native manning the helm grabs a rifle from the pilot house and fires ashore. A moment later he is struck by a spear. Marlow repeatedly blows the boat's whistle, and the attackers flee; however, the helmsman has been fatally wounded. Marlow and another company man watch as the helmsman dies, a pool of blood collecting at Marlow's feet. With the helmsman's death, Marlow wonders if Kurtz too might not be dead. The thought disturbs Marlow, who realizes that he has been longing to speak with Kurtz. More specifically, he has been longing to "hear" what Kurtz has to say. This longing evokes the same sort of emotion within him that seemed to be expressed in the cries heard from the fog earlier. In an act of desperation, Marlow throws both of his blood-stained shoes into the river.
At this point, Marlow stops telling his tale for a moment, and admits to the men aboard the Nellie that his yearning to meet Kurtz was somehow absurd, but he accepted it nonetheless. He also mentions a girl, a woman Kurtz spoke of as his "Intended."
Marlow resumes his tale by noting the considerable store of ivory they found at the Inner Station, enough to completely cover the steamer's deck. The Manager refers to the ivory as "fossil" grade, meaning that it had been dug up, yet Marlow still sees it as worth a considerable amount. Marlow notes that Kurtz had the habit of referring to everything in the area as belonging to him: "my ivory, my station, my river." Marlow attributes this sense of possession or ownership to Kurtz having lived completely alone in the wilderness.
Marlow then discusses Kurtz's history. Born of a half-English mother and a half-French father, he was partially educated in England. Marlow remarks that "All Europe had contributed to the making of Kurtz" and notes that a particular organization, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, had commissioned Kurtz to write a report on the area. Kurtz did so, and Marlow claims to have read the report. Marlow believes that Kurtz was somehow transformed in the inner wilderness and notes that certain rituals were performed by the natives, not just for him, but to him.
Marlow again comments that he has read Kurtz's report, and he tells the men of the Nellie that the report opens with the assumption that whites must appear to the natives as supernatural beings. The report speaks of a sort of divine benevolence that Europeans can bring to the Congo. However, scrawled at the end of the report is a comment, evidently written much later than the original report, stating: "Exterminate all the brutes."
Marlow recounts how the steamboat finally arrives at Kurtz's Inner Station. He notes that there was no fence surrounding the station, but surmises that there must have been one at one time, since near the main building there was a series of poles, topped by carved wooden balls. As the boat nears the shore, they spot a white man standing on the shore. The Manager shouts out that they have been attacked, and the man tells them not to worry. The man reminds Marlow of a harlequin, for his clothes have been repaired with many colorful patches. While the Manager and the other company men set out for the main building, Marlow remains on the boat and speaks to the Harlequin. Marlow expresses concern over the natives, and the Harlequin stresses that "they are a simple people." When Marlow enquires if the Harlequin ever speaks with Kurtz, the Harlequin remarks: "'You don't talk with that man-you listen to him.'" Marlow learns that it was the Harlequin's hut they had passed earlier, and he was the one who had stocked the wood for them; he also learns that the marginal notes in the book he found weren't in cipher but in Russian. Marlow discovers why the villagers had attacked the boat: they don't want anyone to take Kurtz away. The section ends with the Harlequin offering a very peculiar line about Kurtz: "'I tell you,' he cried, 'this man has enlarged my mind.'"
The opening conversation between the Manager and his uncle reveals that the business of procuring ivory is extremely complicated: there are well-planned strategies, alliances, behind-the-scenes deals, complex moves, and plenty of outside influences. Kurtz is a problem for company men like the Manager because he defies the normal chain of command and because he seems to have significant influences within the upper administration.
When Kurtz refuses to travel to the Central Station to deliver his latest shipment of ivory-instead returning to the Inner Station virtually alone-the men of the Central Station are astounded. This reaction reveals several things. On one level it demonstrates that, unlike the other company men, Kurtz doesn't fear the environment; instead, he embraces it. In addition, with the action he literally turns his back on civilization. This, of course, is the first indication that something profound has changed within him.
Kurtz's comment to the Manager that the stations should be beacons of light and culture asserts that Kurtz has a very different idea of why Europeans should be in the region and how they should operate there. His ideas, of course, are not widely accepted among the company men.
The journey upriver to Kurtz's Inner Station symbolizes a traveling backwards in time. The deeper into the Interior they travel, the further from civilization they move. The landscape seems untamed, wild and feral, and the inhabitants seem savage, almost pre-human. When Marlow states that he is shocked that he recognizes a certain humanity in the natives, he is admitting that they remind him of a wildness which resides within all men. In essence, we are all only a step or two away from savagery.
When Marlow says that Kurtz referred to everything in the area as belonging to him, he is suggesting that Kurtz has assumed personal ownership over the region. In essence, he is the master of the land and its inhabitants. Even though Kurtz was once the picture of European culture, he has firmly rejected the society that produced him. He is no longer fettered by the conventions of civilized society.
Obviously, Kurtz's comment at the end of his report to the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs offers evidence that Kurtz has undergone a serious transformation. And as the company doctor told Marlow in the previous section, it is an internal rather than external change.