Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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In "Heart of Darkness", how were the cannibals more civilized than the pilgrims?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As Marlow and his crew approach Kurtz's Central Station, he compares the behavior and stoic personalities of the cannibals with the terrified white pilgrims. While the cannibals have the awful reputation as man-eaters, Marlow takes note of how they miraculously exercise restraint in the face of hunger. The cannibals initially take a large piece of hippo meat with them on the trip, which quickly rots and becomes inedible. Despite the fact that the cannibals cannot eat the rotting hippo meat, they do not attack and eat Marlow and the white pilgrims on the steamboat. Marlow is fascinated by their restraint and notices that they look healthy and composed when he compares them to the "unwholesome" pilgrims. Marlow understands how hunger can affect a person and is extremely impressed by the cannibals' ability to refrain from eating them. Marlow also notices how composed the cannibals' act when the members of the steamboat begin to hear threatening noises from the jungle before the Natives attack their ship. While the pilgrims are frightened and confused, the cannibals once again act civilly and demonstrate their composure during exciting moments.

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cybil eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I assume "they" refers to the cannibals because indeed Marlow considered them more civilized than the "pilgrims." The cannibals were characterized by "restraint," a quality that Marlow prized greatly, a trait that the pilgrims lacked in that they were quick to panic when the natives attacked and began to fire their guns indiscriminately. The cannibals, on the other hand, had run out of food; the hippo meat they had brought with them had become rotten, yet they did not follow their natural instincts and eat any of the people on board the boat. Marlow admires them for their stoicism and restraint.

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