Heart of Darkness Section III Summary and Analysis
by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Heart of Darkness Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Section III Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Kurtz’s Black Mistress: black woman in the jungle who wears many ornaments

A Clean-Shaved Man, Kurtz’s “Cousin,” a Journalist: three people who visit Marlow in Europe to get Kurtz’s papers

Kurtz’s Intended: Kurtz’s fiancée in Europe

Marlow looks at the Russian, whose “improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering” existence fascinates him. He wonders how he had survived in the jungle. Marlow imagines he will disappear before his eyes. The Russian tells Marlow to take Kurtz away quickly. Marlow does not envy the Russian’s devotion to Kurtz because he had not “meditated over it.” He believes it is a “most dangerous thing.”

Marlow compares the Russian and Kurtz to ships “becalmed near each other.” The Russian fulfills Kurtz’s need to have an audience. He says he had talked to Kurtz many nights, especially about love. Kurtz had made him “see” things.

The Russian throws his arms up in praise of Kurtz. The headman of Marlow’s wood-cutters looks at Marlow. Frightened, for the first time he sees the jungle as a dark place without hope.

The Russian’s friendship with Kurtz had been broken, not continuous. He had nursed Kurtz through two illnesses. Often, he had waited many days for Kurtz to return from his wanderings.

He tells Marlow how Kurtz had discovered villages, a lake, and searched for ivory. It had always been worth the wait. Marlow reminds the Russian how Kurtz had run out of goods to trade for ivory. The Russian says, “There’s a good lot of cartridges left even yet.”

Marlow figures that Kurtz had raided the country. He asks if Kurtz had the natives following him. The Russian says the natives adore Kurtz, lured by his “thunder and lightning.” He says Kurtz can be terrible at times, but no one can judge him as you would an ordinary man. Once, Kurtz had tried to kill him, he says. Kurtz had wanted his ivory. The Russian had given it to him. He had to be careful, until he had reestablished his friendship with Kurtz. He had nursed him through his second illness then. Marlow says Kurtz is mad. The Russian objects. He tells Marlow he will change his mind when he hears Kurtz speak.

Marlow sees people moving in the forest through his binoculars. He compares the woods to the “closed door of a prison.” The silence disturbs him. The Russian tells Marlow that Kurtz is very ill now. Only lately had he come to the river, after an absence of many months. Marlow sees round knobs on posts near Kurtz’s house. They are “black, dried, sunken” heads. The first one in the row faces him. It seems to smile at some “dream of that eternal slumber.” Marlow believes the heads show Kurtz’s lack of restraint. The wilderness had made him mad, he figures. Marlow can only wonder if Kurtz knows of his own “deficiency.” He puts down his binoculars.

The Russian tells Marlow about Kurtz’s ascendancy, how the chiefs venerate him, and how keeping him alive has occupied all his time. Marlow does not want to hear about the ceremonies used to honor Kurtz. Marlow believes he is in a “region of subtle horrors.” The Russian justifies Kurtz’s savagery by telling Marlow the heads had belonged to rebels, Kurtz’s opposition. Kurtz’s trying life, he adds, had led him to these cruel acts. Only keeping Kurtz alive, the Russian says he had nothing to do with these killings.

A group of men carrying Kurtz on a stretcher, appears from around the house. Waist-deep in the grass, they appear to rise from the ground. Naked human beings with spears, bows, and shields follow. The bushes shake and the grass sways, but then stop in “attentive immobility,” as if everything waits for something to happen next. The Russian tells Marlow that if Kurtz does not say the right thing, they are done for.

Kurtz sits up. Marlow resents the absurd danger. Through his glasses, he sees Kurtz move his arm, talk, and nod his head. He realizes Kurtz means “short” in German, and feels the name fits,...

(The entire section is 4,978 words.)