In "Heart of Darkness," who were the crew of the steamboat?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the story, the crew of the steamboat are twenty native African men who also happen to be cannibals. Marlow tells us that their services were enlisted on the way up the Congo River. The group are making their way to Kurtz's station, and Marlow is especially excited about meeting the mysterious Kurtz (the chief of the Inner Station).

After months of waiting (Marlow's steamboat had to be repaired), the small group are finally on their way. The group comprises Marlow, the manager of the Central Station, three or four "pilgrims," and a crew of twenty native Africans. The pilgrims are Belgian agents who work at the Central Station. They carry their staves with them wherever they go. Marlow is grateful that the crew do not "eat each other" and that he can work with them. He mentions that the cannibals have brought along a "provision of hippo meat," which eventually spoils. 

Marlow is especially fascinated by the fireman, a native who is in charge of the vertical boiler. Somehow, the fireman doesn't fit Marlow's idea of a native, and he thinks that the "savage" looks out of place on the boat, with his westernized demeanor and practical knowledge about boilers. Marlow muses that the native is useful only because he has been instructed; he revels in the knowledge that the fireman has been civilized by western ingenuity.

He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind-legs. A few months of training had done for that really fine chap.

While Marlow recognizes the obvious humanity in his crew, he is privately appalled that he is just as capable of giving vent to the sort of primitive savagery he has been taught to denounce in the natives.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ironically, the crew of the steamboat is comprised of savage cannibals who, to Marlow's disgust, also eat sometime rotten Hippo meat. Marlow is surprised at how they do not overpower the white men and eat them. For all their supposed barbarity, the savages and cannibals control their behavior more than the white man, who initiates violence in the search for ivory and wealth. The cannibals’ “primitive honor” restrains them from physical aggression. They even check their hunger through some kind of restricting code of law.

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Heart of Darkness

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