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Free Study Guide for Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad-BookNotes/Summary
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CHAPTER 2

Summary (continued)

Marlow adds that the African people also disturb him, because he suspects that they are "not inhuman" and, therefore, akin to him. As he ponders his relationship to the Africans, he asserts that to face them, a European needs to have "a deliberate belief," to know the truth (be it light or dark, good or evil), and to find his own inner strength (just the things Marlow professes to be pursuing in Africa). Marlow turns from such deep thoughts to give a humorous description of the fireman on his steamboat, which he terms "an improved specimen." He says that watching him "was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs." He explains that the fireman very diligently keeps the boiler loaded with wood because he believes an angry god that lives inside the boiler will punish him if he does not.

Fifty miles below the Inner Station, Marlow comes upon a hut recently inhabited by a white man whom the Manager calls "the miserable intruder." Outside the hut there is a written message: "Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously." These words make Marlow sense that something is amiss. Inside the hut, Marlow is amazed to find a book entitled An Inquiry into Some Points of Seamanship, in which someone has carefully made notations in cipher (code). Marlow is pleased to find this touch of reality amidst the strangeness of Africa and slips the book in his pocket before departing once again towards his goal. As the steamer chugs slowly to the inner station, Marlow grows more and more impatient. He is very eager to meet Kurtz. In contrast to him, the Manager seems to have a "beautiful resignation" to the slow pace (and the outcome of the journey), and, in truth, wishes the steamer would never arrive to give Kurtz relief. When Marlow is only eight miles from Kurtz's station, the Manager orders him to wait until the next day to proceed, for navigation at night would be too dangerous.

As Marlow is casting anchor the next morning, he hears a horrible and sorrowful sound of human screeching, and the passengers on the steamer grab their guns. When Marlow and the others look, they find themselves so surrounded by fog that they cannot see beyond two feet around the steamboat. While in suspense over the screaming, Marlow considers the natives on shore and does not believe they are warlike and probably will not attack the steamer. Marlow also considers the cannibals on board and wonders why, since they are paid by the Manager only in thin pieces of brass wire and are not fed, they do not attack and eat the Europeans. Perhaps the white men are not even appealing to starving natives, or perhaps they simply have more self-control than the white men display.


In "dark" Africa, with no policemen and no laws to prohibit certain behaviors, the natives act out of their sense of right vs. wrong and faithfulness to human goodness. Ironically, the white men, with their police and their laws to control their behavior, act in inhumane and brutal ways, forsaking the sense of right vs. wrong or human goodness. The Manager, in particular, represents the inhumane European as he starves the Africans on the boat and as he starves Kurtz at the Inner Station by withholding supplies. At the same time he is trying to put an end to Kurtz's threat, the Manager lies to Marlow and claims that he is very worried about Kurtz's safety and well being. The Manager's lies and inhumanity are repulsive to Marlow.

When the fog finally lifts, Marlow proceeds upriver and two miles before reaching the Inner Station, Africans attack his boat. In return, the Europeans fire randomly into the bush as Marlow proceeds on course. During the attack Marlow only catches glimpses of the Africans who are shooting arrows at the steamer from their half-hidden positions on the shore, but he clearly sees the results of the attack. The captain watches as his helmsman, an African, dies slowly from an arrow wound and is horrified to find that his own shoes have filled with the man's blood. He removes the shoes and throws them into the river.

As Marlow contemplates the attack on his steamer and the death of his helmsman, he begins to fear that Kurtz must surely be dead by now; a thought, which creates a feeling of extreme disappointment for him. He realizes that what he most wants is to be able to talk to Kurtz, for he has centered his thoughts on Kurtz's ability to explain his philosophies rather than on his ability to perform actions. Now Marlow is afraid that the opportunity to talk to Kurtz has vanished, and the supposed loss makes him want to cry out in screeching sorrow, much like the natives on the shore.

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