Section II Summary and Analysis
The Helmsman: a black man killed by arrows shot by natives
While on his boat, Marlow hears the manager and his uncle talk about Kurtz. They stand on the shore alongside the steamboat. Without moving, he listens. The manager fears Kurtz’s influence. Threatened by Kurtz’s influence and success, the manager says, “Am I the manager—or am I not?” The uncle hopes the climate will eventually ruin Kurtz.
From the “absurd sentences,” Marlow hears how Kurtz had traveled three hundred miles with a shipment of ivory nine months ago. Kurtz had then returned upriver in a canoe with four native paddlers, a “half-caste” left in charge of delivering the load of ivory. Kurtz’s station has been without goods and stores since then. Kurtz’s motives escape the manager and his uncle. Marlow says he sees Kurtz in his mind for the first time, how he faces the wilderness and desolation. The half-caste, a “scoundrel” to the manager and his uncle, had told of Kurtz’s illness and how he had “recovered imperfectly.” They walk away from Marlow, then return close to the boat again. When they speak this time, Marlow is not sure if they are talking about Kurtz, or about someone else in Kurtz’s district of whom the manager disapproves. The manager says neither of them will be free until “one of these fellows is hanged.” They agree that the real danger begins in Europe, where the orders come from. The manager quotes something Kurtz had said: “Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a center for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.” He calls Kurtz an “ass” for his ideas and his desire to be a manager one day. The uncle reassures his nephew when he says, “ … I say, trust to this.” He points to the jungle around him while he speaks, as if to say all these things will help you destroy Kurtz. Marlow jumps up to look at the forest, half expecting to receive an answer from the darkness. They knew he had been listening, he says, because they went back to the station “pretending not to know anything of my existence.” Side by side, they walk away, their unequal shadows trailing behind them. The Eldorado Expedition leaves for the wilderness a few days later. In the future, Marlow finds out all the donkeys died, as well as the blacks, “the less valuable animals.”
Marlow is excited about meeting Kurtz soon. It will not happen for two more months, though. They encounter warm air, empty streams, and the deep forest as they travel upriver. Marlow compares it to going back to the beginning of the world. Hippos and alligators line the sand-banks. Stillness and silence brood over everything. He has to watch for hidden banks to avoid damaging the boat. He looks for wood to burn for the next day’s steaming. He refers to the details of his job as “monkey tricks,” as the mysterious Truth watches him. He says when you attend to things on the surface, reality fades. The inner truth, he adds, is “hidden—luckily.”
For a moment, we return to the men aboard the Nellie . One man says, “Try to be civil, Marlow.” The narrator knows one person besides himself is listening. Driving the boat, Marlow says, resuming his story, was like a “blindfolded man set to drive a van over a bad road.” He sweats and shivers over worrying about the boat. Once, he needs twenty cannibals to help push the boat. With sarcasm and humor, he says they at least did not “eat each other before my face.” He recalls the smell of rotten hippo-meat the cannibals had brought with them. With the manager and three or four pilgrims holding their staves aboard, they pass white men greeting them with joy about ivory, the word itself ringing in the air. Massive trees fill the immense landscape. Marlow’s journey is now headed “towards Kurtz—exclusively.” He is not sure who it crawls to for the pilgrims. He hears the...
(The entire section is 5,184 words.)