Heart of Darkness Section I Summary and Analysis
by Joseph Conrad

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Section I Summary and Analysis

New Characters
The Director of Companies: captain and owner of the boat

“I”: unnamed narrator on the boat

The Lawyer, The Accountant: people on the boat in the Thames

Charlie Marlow: also on the boat; tells the story of his journey to see Kurtz deep in the jungle

Two Knitting Women: they sit outside the outer office

The Doctor: he examines Marlow before his journey

The Aunt: related to Marlow, she helps him get his appointment to the ship

The Swedish Captain: the man in charge of a little sea-going steamer

The Company’s Chief Accountant: his neat appearance contrasts with the chaos of the station

The Dying Agent: the man tormented by flies at the station

The Manager: leader of the station who survives because of his excellent health

The Pilgrims: workers who carry long staves; they want any chance to obtain ivory

The Brickmaker: does secretarial work for the manager, but does not seem to make bricks

The Boilermaker: a good worker who talks to Marlow about the rivets they need

The Manager’s Uncle: leader of the Eldorado Exploring Expedition; he speaks only to his nephew

A boat, the Nellie, is docked in the Thames. Its sails are still, and the water and sea calm. An unnamed narrator, who refers to himself only as “I,” introduces the people on board. Four people sit on deck besides himself: the Director of Companies, the Lawyer, the Accountant, and Marlow. The Director of Companies is their captain and host. An elderly man, the Lawyer, sits on the rug for comfort, while the Accountant plays with a box of dominoes. Finally, Marlow sits cross-legged, his arms dropped, his palms facing outward. The narrator says they “exchanged a few words lazily.”

The unnamed narrator thinks of the great history of the sea, its people, and ships. He mentions Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Franklin. He recalls the Golden Hind, the Erebus, and the Terror—ships from the past. He mentions all the greatness, dreams, and empires of history.

The sun sets. In the distance, the lights from the Chapman lighthouse, ships, and London shine at night. Still, a lurid glare glows between London and the sky.

Marlow speaks about London, saying how it’s been “one of the dark places of the earth.” No one responds. The narrator tells us that Marlow is the only one who still follows the sea. He considers him to be a wanderer. Their home is the ship, their country is the sea. He says Marlow is not typical. For Marlow, when he tells a tale, its meaning is not inside like a kernel, but outside.

Suddenly, Marlow begins talking about the Romans and ancient times. He pictures the cold, fog, disease, and battles with the savage natives they had to endure. He admires their courage to face the darkness. In the posture of a Buddha, he speaks about how they used only force and violence to get what they wanted. Conquests back then, he says, meant stealing from people who were different from you. He believes there is more needed to redeem mankind, something to “bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to….”

Marlow stops speaking. There is a long silence and no one speaks. When he starts talking again, he begins to tell a story of one of his journeys. He says it reveals something about himself.

Marlow tells of how he’d spent six years traveling on the Indian Ocean, Pacific, and China Seas before taking the journey he’s talking about. When he was young, he used to point to blank spaces on maps and say, “When I grow up I will go there.” He’s visited most of them, except one. He calls Africa a “place of darkness.” He compares the Congo river on the map to a snake: its head in the sea, its body curving over a country, and its tail in the deep of the land. As he had looked at a map in a shop window, he says he was as fascinated by this place as a bird is when it looks at a snake.

He cannot secure this job until his aunt helps him. She knows the wife of a person in the Administration. Marlow cannot believe he needs help from a woman.

Marlow tells how the company had...

(The entire section is 4,167 words.)