In Heart of Darkness, how was the crew of the steamboat more civilized than the pilgrims?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Marlow's steamboat is sitting just outside of Kurtz's station, there is a loud, unsettling noise that permeates through the surrounding jungle and strikes fear into the pilgrims on the ship. The pilgrims run into the cabin and immediately grab their Winchester rifles. The white pilgrims are in awe of the noise and are worried that they will be slaughtered by the savages waiting on the banks of the river. Marlow then comments on the difference between the pilgrims and the black crew members' reactions to the threat. Unlike the terrified pilgrims, the black crew members curiously stare into the jungle with a "naturally interested expression." The native crew members are calm and alert, while the presumably civilized pilgrims are disoriented and anxious. Marlow then begins to think about the restraint that the native crew members exercised throughout the journey. Despite being cannibals, not one of the natives has attempted to eat anyone. Marlow is impressed with the natives' ability to restrain themselves when facing extreme hunger. In contrast, Marlow believes that the pilgrims are more concerned with maintaining outward appearances. They are not genuine individuals and are self-serving hypocrites. Throughout the story, the pilgrims are associated with greed and the desire to advance through the ranks of the Company.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Primarilly, it is the "restraint" of the crew in comparison with the pilgrims that impresses Marlow and makes him reconsider his attitudes. Marlow comments that he "would just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of the battlefied", but in response to the cries of Kurtz's followers, he finds restraint in the crew. This is in comparison to the pilgrims, who panic and react with fear: "Two others remained open-mouthed a whole minute, then dashed into the little cabin, to rush out incontinently and stand darting scared glances, with Winchesters at 'ready' in their hands."

The pilgrims are said to be "greatly discomposed" and had "a curious look of being painfully shocked by such an outrageous row". The natives were quiet - "there faces were essentially quiet", and react with dignity.

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Heart of Darkness

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