How does the helmsman die in Heart of Darkness?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Marlow is on his way to see Kurtz, surrounding natives begin to fire arrows at his boat. The helmsman, who Marlow describes as "the most unstable kind of fool I had ever seen," has stopped steering the boat to open the shutter and fire a gun at the natives on shore. Marlow sees the helmsman drop the rifle, and then the helmsman falls at his feet. A spear has pierced the helmsman in his side, just below his ribs. The blade is so far inside his body that only the shaft of the spear is visible, and blood is leaking out of the dying man's body all over Marlow's feet.

As the helmsman is dying, Marlow thinks "he would presently put to us some question," but instead, the man dies without uttering a word or even moving a muscle. He frowns right before he dies, so he has a death mask with a somber expression. Marlow's shoes and socks have been covered with the helmsman's blood, so he decides to toss them overboard. He then heaves the body of the helmsman overboard as well. The helmsman's death is a foreshadowing of the destruction and death that awaits Marlow at Kurtz's station.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A short distance from Kurtz's Inner Station, Marlow's crew is forced to remain anchored because the extremely thick fog prevents them from traveling further down the river. All of a sudden, the crew begins hearing noises from the shore and the Natives begin shooting arrows and throwing spears towards the ship. Most of the white pilgrims panic and begin shooting their rifles towards the shore, even though they are unable to see their targets and are aiming too high to hit anyone. Interestingly, Marlow notes that the arrows are so small that they couldn't even kill a cat. During the attack, the helmsman grabs a rifle while Marlow attempts to steer the ship out of danger. While Marlow is steering the ship towards deeper water, he suddenly looks down and the helmsman is lying on his back attempting to pull out a spear that is lodged in his side. Unfortunately, the helmsman dies after he is struck by a spear, which hits him directly in the ribs.

cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the natives begin to attack Marlow's boat, he orders the helmsman to steer the boat straight. Instead, the helmsman abandons the steering wheel and foolishly grabs a gun, intent on firing at the attackers. When he opens a shutter to fire, he is fatally wounded by a spear and falls to the floor of the boat. The boat in the meantime has erratically drifted into the shoreline, even closer to the attackers. Marlow must correct their course before he can attend to the helmsman's body, which he later tosses overboard, fearing the hungry cannibals onboard may see as food. Marlow also throws overboard his shoes that were filled with the helmsman's blood in a symbolic gesture indicating his new understanding of the dangerous territory he has now entered as well as his growing awareness of the "heart of darkness."

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Heart of Darkness

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