Marlow says that "cannibals" were running his boat, did he really think they were actual cannibals or did he use that word to represent something else?
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The cannibals are real. Marlow has hired a crewof natives who happen to be cannibals; however, he greatly admires them because unlike the white "pilgrims," these cannibals have "restraint," a quality Marlow deems very important. These cannibals have brought hippo meat wrapped in leaves onboard for their food; when this meat rots, these men are left without food, although Marlow notes they could have easily eaten the white men because the cannibals outnumber the whites. Their restraint is the quality that prevents them from devouring the white men.
When the boat is attacked shortly before it reaches Kurtz, the whites rush out of their cabins and begin firing their guns wildly even though they are unable to see their attackers. Their lack of restraint contrasts sharply with cannibals' calm demeanor. This ironic contrast reinforces Marlow's observation that the blacks in the Congo are not as savage as the civilized Europeans seem to be in their cruel mistreatment of the natives and now their intemperate firing at the bushes along the river. The natives are cannibals, but they do not behave as savages.
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