Black and white illustration of the outline of the upper part of a body with a river and boat in the background

Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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Section 1 Summary

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Last Updated January 24, 2023.

The first section of Heart of Darkness begins aboard the ship the Nellie as it is moored in the Thames River in London. The narrator depicts the people on board, consisting of the Director of Companies, an accountant, a lawyer, as well as a merchant-mariner named Charlie Marlow, who turns out to be the novel’s protagonist. They are lounging about the boat’s deck as they wait for a favorable tide.

The narration then shifts to Marlow's recounting of his time in Africa, which makes up the bulk of the novel. Initially, Marlow describes his youth, his lifelong fascination with Africa, and how he came to be employed by the company for which he traveled to the Congo. Marlow comes to learn about Kurtz, a productive but mysterious ivory trader employed by the same company whom Marlow is tasked with finding. Marlow also recounts his difficult and time-consuming journey from the Outer Station to the Central Station and the time he spends with the company accountant, who also has a lot to say about Kurtz.

The next part of the narrative describes Marlow's dismay at finding his boat in such a poor state that it is unable to make the journey down the Congo River. Its bottom has been shorn off due to careless piloting. It will not be seaworthy until new rivets arrive, which will take a lot of time. During this time, Marlow hears even more about Kurtz, though much of the information seems to be rumor and exaggeration. The Brickmaker has nothing but praise for Kurtz. A fire breaks out, destroying a storage shed, and an African man is accused of starting the blaze. Marlow spends the rest of this section waiting for the arrival of the rivets necessary to repair the boat and describing the arrival of the Eldorado Exploring Expedition.

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Section 2 Summary