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Free Study Guide for Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad-BookNotes/Summary
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CHAPTER 1

Summary (continued)

Marlow begins work on his steam ship and keeps at it for months. He orders rivets, which he must have to proceed, but none come even though he can remember seeing rivets laying rusting on the ground at the Outer Station. He also watches the Europeans at the Inner Station ineffectually going about running the post. For instance, he sees a man trying to put out a fire with a water pail that has a hole in its bottom. He sees a young African man beaten nearly to death for starting the fire, though he is probably innocent. He sees a first-class agent whose task it is to have the Africans make bricks without straw. He sees the men only making a show of work, more interested in intriguing against one another.

Everything about the place suggests secrecy and conniving. Marlow is invited to visit the room of the brick-maker and finds that he is being questioned closely about his contacts in Brussels, where he is assumed to have connections high in the company. In the room, he sees a sketch in oils of an evil-looking, blindfolded woman carrying a torch. A picture that symbolizes the evil ivory company that is blind to the needs of the Africans. Marlow learns that Mr. Kurtz had painted it. A fact that indicates that Kurtz has an understanding of the horror of imperialism. To Marlow's questions about Kurtz, the brick maker replies that Kurtz is "an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows what else." He predicts that Kurtz will quickly rise in the company because he has ideas to justify the plunder of African resources.


Marlow thinks of the brick maker as "a papier-mâché Mephistopheles" who seems to be all surface with no interior. Marlow realizes that this man is interested in a promotion and additional power, and is working with the Manager to make things difficult for Kurtz. While listening to the man talk, Marlow looks at the environment around him and feels overwhelmed, unable to interpret the meaning of nature as "an appeal or a menace."

Marlow then begins a digression on his hatred of a lie, which he says has "a taint of death, a flavor of mortality." But he admits to approaching a lie himself in letting the brick-maker believe that he has influence in Europe. He speculates that he is motivated to leave this impression by a desire to help Kurtz in some vague way. As Marlow makes these speculations, he stops speaking for a moment, breaking the narration, and reminding the reader of his position on board the Nellie, where his listeners, bored with Marlow's long story, have drifted to sleep.

Marlow returns to working on his ship with great relief, feeling that in work, he can find himself. But he cannot go forward on the ship's repair without rivets, and the rivets do not arrive. What does arrive at the station is the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, coming in parts over a period of two weeks. In Marlow's eyes, the group is filled with disorganized and petty money-grabbers. With everyone's attention turned to this new expedition, Marlow gives up on the rivets and begins to meditate more and more on Kurtz, who in contrast to the Europeans around him, "had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort."

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