Study Guide

Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness Quotes

Essential Quotes

Essential Quotes by Character: Kurtz

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1

One day he remarked, without lifting his head, "In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz." On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at this information, he added slowly, laying down his pen, "He is a very remarkable person." Further questions elicited from him that Mr. Kurtz was at present in charge of a trading-post, a very important one, in the true ivory-country, at "the very bottom of there. Sends in as much ivory as all the other put together....”

Summary
Marlow has come to the Congo to recover the body of a Company captain, Fresleven, who was killed in an argument over two black hens. At the Outer Station, Marlow meets the Company’s chief accountant, who is impeccably dressed and keeps the accounts in immaculate order. While Marlow is waiting to journey further up the river, he visits the accountant, who tells him about Mr. Kurtz. Kurtz is an agent at the Inner Station and most likely the best agent in the Company. It is assumed that he will rise far in business, so great is his promise. Working at a trading post, Kurtz ships out more ivory than all the other agents combined, thus becoming an invaluable financial asset. The accountant, who epitomizes order and civilization in the midst of the chaos of the jungle, elevates Kurtz to a god-like status, one in whom all the hopes of colonialism and civilization reside.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 2

...You should have heard him say, "My ivory." Oh, yes, I heard him. "My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—" everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places. Everything belonged to him—but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. That was the reflection that made you creepy all over. It was impossible—it was not good for one either—trying to imagine it. He had taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land—I mean literally. You can’t understand.

Summary
Marlow continues the tale of his travels up the river, occasionally stopping to ponder on the significance of the journey and of the man who was Kurtz. He recalls that Kurtz, in the delirium preceding his death, called out to those things that meant the most to him, things that were “his”—his Intended (fiancée), his ivory, his station, his river. It all belonged to him: he was the god of all he surveyed. Yet Marlow points out that Kurtz himself belonged to the darkness, the evil, that he found in Africa. Kurtz had been absorbed into the heart of darkness. Marlow reflects that this is impossible to fully comprehend for those who have not traveled into such dark regions.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 3

...Soul! If anybody ever struggled with a soul, I...

(The entire section is 1337 words.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Civilization

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to....

Summary
A company of travelers are aboard the steamer Nellie, waiting for the tide to turn so that they can commence their voyage. As they wait, they begin to discuss various topics. One of the travelers, Marlow, ponders a time when London was uninhabited except by “savages,” before the Romans came and sparked life into the development of modern civilization. He compares the Romans to modern-day explorers, colonists, and especially commercial developers, who go to distant places to make money. He thinks about the unrefined conditions which such people must endure until civilization appears. Rather than speculate on the good that explorers might bring to these dark areas, Marlow reflects on the nature of civilization itself, especially the colonizing process, which in the nineteenth century was viewed as a means of civilizing “uncivilized” countries. Marlow states that it is only the idea of civilization sparked in a dark region that redeems the whole colonial mindset.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 2

...The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. I was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on a pre-historic earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us—who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign—and no memories.

Summary
Marlow has begun his journey to the Inner Station to find Kurtz. While sleeping on the upper deck, he is awakened by a conversation between the station manager and his uncle. The pair resent Kurtz and his success. Moreover, they despise the philosophy to which Kurtz holds—that as a trader...

(The entire section is 1524 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear, Michael Foster