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

Summary (continued)

At this point, the sighing of one of the listeners interrupts the storytelling, and Marlow stops and asks for some tobacco. He despairs of being able to make his listeners on board the Nellie understand his experience since they are "each moored with two good addresses" in their bright world of London and cannot imagine the darkness that characterizes Africa. He tries to explain to them his anguish over the feeling that he had missed the chance to talk to Kurtz. Then Marlow interrupts his story to reveal that he eventually does get to speak with Kurtz, who "was very little more than a voice." Marlow also admits that he learned more from Kurtz than he ever wanted to learn, for Kurtz does not live up to his pure philosophies.

Marlow pauses further from his storytelling to silently reflect on Kurtz and then reveals to his listeners that in the end, he "laid the ghost of [Kurtz's] gifts at last with a lie." Marlow then breaks the chronology of the story once again to describe how Kurtz talked often of his Intended (his fiancée) back in Europe. He also skips ahead to describe Kurtz's baldness, imagining that the African wilderness had patted Kurtz on the head, that it had invaded his body, and that it had finally killed him, sealing "his soul to its own by inconceivable ceremonies of devilish initiation."

Marlow, still out of chronological order, then describes finding a huge amount of ivory stacked at Kurtz's station. There is so much ivory that, when loaded on the steamer, it fills the hold of the ship and some must be stacked on the deck. Kurtz has great pride in and possessiveness of the ivory, as well as his station and his followers.


Kurtz has power over the natives and his charmed them into submissiveness while elevating himself to a godlike position. Marlow then describes a report that Kurtz gave to him for safekeeping. It was written for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs and is an eloquent argument that whites must appear to "savages" as superhuman beings and that whites can very easily exercise great power for the good over the natives. Scrawled at the bottom of the last page, Marlow reads Kurtz's last instruction, apparently written much later: "Exterminate all the brutes!" Marlow is horrified at these words, but tries to explain them away by telling his listeners that Kurtz went insane in the end and participated in "midnight dances ending in unspeakable rites."

Marlow finally returns to his chronological narration and takes the listener back on board the steamer after the attack. He tells how he pulls the deadly spear from the helmsman's side and how he realizes that he feels a bond with this African worker. Although he sees the starving cannibals eagerly watching the body, he throws the helmsman overboard.

The attack and the death of the helmsman have frightened the Manager, and he wants Marlow to turn the boat around and head back down the river. Instead, Marlow proceeds upriver and soon rounds a bend and sees the Inner Station. He looks through binoculars and sees a dilapidated building surrounded by the remains of a fence, now only six slim fence posts with balls on their upper ends. He also spies a youthful looking white man on shore cheerfully beckoning to the boat. He is dressed like a harlequin with multicolored clothing patched together, and a fair face that quickly changes expression surrounds his small blue eyes.

The Manager and the other Europeans arm themselves heavily and go ashore to the house. They are a bunch of frightened cowards who have no interest in the welfare of Kurtz. Instead, they are only eager to find his ivory. As the Europeans go on shore, the white man who greeted them leaves his position on land and comes on board the steamer. Marlow listens to his confused speech, indicating his lack of logic, and learns that he is a Russian who has come to Africa with his religious father and has wandered about for the last two years. He also learns that this man is a devoted follower of Kurtz, even though Kurtz has revealed himself to be a dangerous man.

Marlow also finds out that the Towson book, found earlier by the captain, belongs to this man and that the marginal notes are in Russian rather than in cipher. The Russian is delighted to find the lost book, a link to his past, just as Marlow earlier was delighted to find the book, a link to civilization for him amongst the darkness of Africa. The Russian then tells Marlow that the Africans, whom he finds simple and harmless, do not want Kurtz to leave them.

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