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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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Section 2 Summary

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Last Updated January 24, 2023.

In section 2 of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Marlow continues his narrative of his journey into the African interior. He continually stresses the dichotomy between the civilized, easy circumstances of his listeners in London, and the wildness of the jungle in which his story takes place.

After three months, Marlowe’s steamship is finally repaired, and he travels upriver through the jungle with the General Manager, a group of pilgrims, and a crew of cannibals. He prefers the cannibals to the white men, regarding them as straightforward people with whom he can work. The journey is hard, and Marlow describes the jungle as being a terrifyingly primitive and even monstrous place, admitting that these qualities echo something in his own heart, of which he is half ashamed. Fifty miles downriver from the Inner Station, they stop when they see a hut with firewood stacked outside. A note with an illegible signature says: “Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.”

Eight miles from the Inner Station, the ship anchors for the night. In the morning, Marlow and his companions are surrounded by thick white fog. They hear voices screaming on the bank, and the cannibals on board the boat want to leave the ship to hunt these men so that they can eat them. Marlow suddenly realizes how hungry the cannibals are and considers himself lucky that they have not turned against him and the other white men on board. Later, as the fog lifts, they are faced with a hail of arrows from the bank, and the helmsman is killed. Marlow frightens the assailants away by sounding the steam whistle. He mourns the helmsman, who was good at his work, and thinks that Kurtz is not worth such a sacrifice.

Marlow lands at the Inner Station and is surprised to find everything in good order, having expected to find Kurtz dead and the station ransacked. A young man dressed in colorfully patched clothes greets the party and boards the boat. He tells Marlow that he is a Russian sailor who deserted and has now been wandering through the Congo for years. The hut with the firewood stacked outside was his house. The Russian also says that the natives only attacked Marlow’s ship because they do not want Kurtz to go away. Like the native people, the Russian sailor seems to have fallen under Kurtz's powerful influence and tells Marlow that "this man has enlarged my mind."

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