Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
From the first lines of “An Outpost of Progress,” the reader knows that the two main characters are comical and pathetic, thrust into circumstances that will first humiliate and then destroy them. As different as they are in appearance—Kayerts is short and fat, while Carlier is tall and birdlike—both of these men embody the arrogance and stupidity that are the distinguishing marks, according to author Joseph Conrad, of the white European men who set out to make themselves rich by spreading commerce and civilization to black Africa. The fate of the two new administrators of the trading post, the “outpost of progress” ironically referred to in the title, is prefigured early in the story: Even their boss, the mysterious director of the trading company, thinks of them as hopeless “imbeciles,” and the most prominent landmark in the trading post is the grave of the previous administrator, marked by a huge cross. There is little doubt that before long Kayerts and Carlier will suffer through the same “fever” that killed their predecessor.
The first few months pass by rather uneventfully. Although they are generally fearful and begin to cling to each other more out of desperation than out of any feelings of affection or respect, both Kayerts and Carlier imagine themselves to be in a kind of pastoral scene: As the legitimate masters of the area, at least in their own eyes, they simply sit back and wait for the “ignorant savages” to bring...
(The entire section is 1095 words.)
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