What does "the earth seemed unearthly" mean in Heart of Darkness?

This quote from Heart of Darkness means that when Marlow enters the "immense darkness" of the Congo, he doesn't recognize it as belonging to the world as he has known it. He therefore experiences a kind of alienation, a transition from a world that made sense into not only a foreign land but also a different planet altogether.

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If something is unearthly it is not of this earth; it is something strange, weird, unusual, even frightening. On the face of it, it may seem somewhat bizarre for Marlow to describe the earth in this way. After all, what would be less unearthly than earth itself?

But note his words carefully: "The earth seemed unearthly" (emphasis added). It's not that the earth is unearthly; it just seems that way. This part of the world, this heart of darkness, has distorted reality to such an extent that even something as natural as the ground beneath one's feet now seems alien and threatening.

A couple of sentences later, however, Marlow changes his tune—although the import of his remarks is much the same—and asserts that the earth is unearthly. It's clear that Marlow's perception of this harsh and unfeeling environment is changing rapidly, and not for the better. Increasingly, he feels that he doesn't belong here, a place which stands over against him threateningly like some kind of bloodthirsty monster.

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 1006 words.)

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