In Heart of Darkness, what is the true nature of the "knobs" that Marlow describes?

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When Marlow arrives at Kurtz 's station, the enthusiastic, charismatic Russian greets him and tells him rather unsettling details about the enigmatic, powerful Kurtz. After the Russian mentions that Kurtz almost shot him over a small lot of ivory that a local chief gave him, he proceeds to explain to...

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When Marlow arrives at Kurtz's station, the enthusiastic, charismatic Russian greets him and tells him rather unsettling details about the enigmatic, powerful Kurtz. After the Russian mentions that Kurtz almost shot him over a small lot of ivory that a local chief gave him, he proceeds to explain to Marlow how the tribe utterly adores and reveres Kurtz. While Marlow approaches the small hut with three windows, he sees several posts with what appear to be round knobs on the tops of them. As Marlow walks closer to the posts, he observes that the knobs are actually small, shrunken heads of tribal enemies, which have been placed on the posts outside the hut. Marlow is startled by the discovery and realizes that the rumors about Kurtz are true. The shrunken heads emphasize Kurtz's maniacal nature and highlight his atrocities in the Congolese jungle in search of valuable ivory.

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When he reaches Kurtz's camp, Marlow is confused by the strange "attempts at ornamentation" that he sees around the central hut, particularly a number of stakes driven into the ground with wooden knobs on top. After looking through a telescope, he sees that the "knobs" are actually shrunken heads, arranged to face inwards towards the hut.

I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen—and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids—a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole...
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

These shrunken heads are the victims of Kurtz's egomania and his insanity. Some of them are sacrifices, some of them are people that he thought were his enemies. They serve no purpose except to feed Kurtz's ego, and so Marlow realizes that Kurtz's insanity runs deeper than he has been led to believe. The heads serve the purpose of showing an atrocity of Kurtz without going into overly detailed descriptions of violence.

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