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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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Which book does Marlow find in the jungle's reed hut and what are his feelings when he puts it away?

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The book Marlowe finds in the hit is a book about seamanship: An Inquiry Into Some Points of Seamanship, by an author whose name he cannot quite make out—perhaps Towson, or Tower. Marlowe is amazed to find the book, and reads it avidly, even though its subject matter is extremely dry. The book is important because it is an artifact from civilization, evidence that there are ways of thinking and being that are not influenced by the jungle. As he says, “at the first glance you could see there a singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work, which made these humble pages, thought out so many years ago, luminous with another than a professional light.” It is the certainty and expertise of the author, the “rightness” of his approach to work, that strikes Marlowe. The honesty of the manual stands in stark contrast to the ”unknowable” nature of the jungle, or of the river, which is treacherous to navigate and full of hidden obstacles. In that sense, the idea of ocean navigation, as represented by the book, is opposed to the work of getting up river.

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About fifty miles below the Inner Station, Marlow unexpectedly discovers a reed hut along the bank of the Congo River. When Marlow enters the hut, he picks up a book titled An Inquiry Into Some Points of Seamanship. Marlow begins reading and mentions that the book was less than enthralling. Throughout the book, the author discussed various chains on ships and purchases. Despite the boring nature of the text, Marlow is able to forget about his current circumstance. He mentions that while he was reading the book, he forgot about the jungle, the greedy pilgrims, and his journey into Africa. Marlow is also fascinated with the notes written in the margins of the book. He is unable to recognize the script and believes that the notes are written in cipher. The manager then begins to call for Marlow to board the steamboat and he slips the book into his pocket. Marlow says,

"I assure you to leave off reading was like tearing myself away from the shelter of an old and solid friendship" (Conrad, 62).

Marlow makes this comment because he finds solace reading through the pages of the book. Reading allows Marlow an opportunity to rest his mind and enjoy a pleasant moment that has nothing to do with his strenuous journey. 

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As he steams up the Congo river toward the Inner Station, Marlow finds a navigation manual in the reed hit in the jungle. Inside the navigation manual are strange notations in the margin that Marlow cannot read. We learn later that the book belongs to a Russian who works for Kurtz.

The navigation manual is a symbol of Marlow's feelings as he journeys up the river. In many ways the manual should be of great use to him and he should be very happy to find it. The strange notations (probably written in Russian), however, cause him to further wonder what he has gotten himself into and what possible people and events he might encounter when he reaches the Inner Station. The book, and the journey itself, are beginning to make Marlow very nervous.

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