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Free Study Guide for Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad-BookNotes/Summary
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CHAPTER 3

Summary (continued)

The Manager emerges from Kurtz's cabin and tells Marlow that the sick man is close to death. He accuses Kurtz of damaging the company's prospects in the region, because "his method is unsound," and must be reported to the proper company people. Marlow is repulsed by the Manager's callous pettiness, and sees him as totally vile. He feels he is in the midst of unspeakable secrets, vast corruption, and the darkness of impenetrable night. By contrast to the horrid Manager, Marlow is again drawn to Kurtz as the lesser of two evils. He admits that he has a "choice of nightmares," and he chooses Kurtz, telling the Manager that Kurtz is a remarkable man (and, in truth, he is remarkable to have survived this long when the evil Manager has been trying to cause his death.). Marlow then assures the Russian that he is Kurtz's friend and will safeguard Kurtz's reputation.

The Russian, fearful of the Europeans' attitude towards him, decides he must leave the Inner Station since there is nothing else to do for Kurtz. Marlow secretly gives him cartridges for his gun and shoes for his feet. Before he departs, the young Russian admits to Marlow that it was Kurtz who ordered the attack on the steamer. He had hoped to scare the Europeans away, for he does not want to leave the Inner Station.

Marlow awakens at midnight to the sound of drums played by Kurtz's admirers in the bush and to the sight of a fire burning outside of Kurtz's house, where armed men guard the ivory. Marlow soon realizes that Kurtz, desperately ill and unattended (in contrast to the ivory which is well attended), has escaped his cabin and fled to shore. Marlow, morally shocked by Kurtz's choice to leave the boat and find his admirers and fully aware of the dangers that await him if he follows, faithfully goes after "the nightmare" of his choice. He finds the path of Kurtz, who is crawling on all fours, and quickly catches up to him, thirty yards short of the savages' encampment. The two men talk, and Marlow warns that if Kurtz stays behind at the station, he will be "utterly lost."


Kurtz tells Marlow how he had immense plans for the good of Africa. While they argue, Marlow realizes the Kurtz's "soul was mad." The men then struggle, and the stronger man overcomes. Marlow has "saved" Kurtz; now he must save himself and the Europeans, for he knows that if Kurtz calls for help from his native admirers, they all will be killed. After much persuasion, Marlow coaxes Kurtz back to the steamer without a shout. Although the encounter with Kurtz on shore is not lengthy, it is long enough to clearly show Marlow "a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself."

The next day Marlow guides his steamer away from the Inner Station. A large crowd of natives, estimated to be close to two thousand and including the magnificent black woman who is Kurtz's mistress, comes out of the bush to the shore to watch the departing vessel. They call to Kurtz in their native tongue, which Marlow calls "some satanic litany." To avoid trouble from them, Marlow blows the loud whistle on the steamer, which startles and disperses the crowd except for the beautiful black mistress. She walks down to the edge of the river and stretches her arms after the boat that is taking her lover away. As she watches sorrowfully from shore, the Europeans on board the boat take out their guns and fire away, probably needlessly killing the black beauty.

As the steamer travels much faster on its trip down the Congo River, the Manager is also much calmer. He is certain that Kurtz will die soon, and he is not fearful of Marlow, who is disliked by all the Europeans on the ship. As they travel, Marlow listens to Kurtz talk in a still strong voice. He tells about his plans for Africa and about his possessions. When the steamer breaks down, Kurtz, shaken by the delay, gives Marlow a packet of papers and a photograph of his fiancée for safekeeping. As the journey continues, Kurtz grows weaker, and Marlow, preoccupied with the work of running the steamer and feeling ill himself, has little time for the dying man.

One night, when Marlow enters his cabin with a candle, he finds Kurtz conscious and with a look full of pride, terror, and despair. He mumbles that he is ready to die. Then at the moment of Kurtz's death, Marlow hears the man softly cry out, "'The horror! The horror!" as if summarizing the whole of imperialism in Africa. Marlow blows the candle out and leaves the room to join the Europeans in the dining room. Momentarily, he hears the announcement from the Manager's boy, "'Mistah Kurtz--he dead." He is buried the next day in a hole by the river.

Although Marlow does not attend the burial, he retains his belief that Kurtz was a remarkable man by virtue of the fact that he had something to say when he summed up his vision of the "the heart of darkness" by evaluating it as "the horror." For this reason alone, Marlow tells his listeners, he remained loyal to Kurtz to the last.

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