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Literature Study GuidesHeart Of DarknessPart 1 Journey To The Outer Station Summary

Heart of Darkness | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Part 1: Journey To The Outer Station

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1: Journey To The Outer Station of Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness.

Heart of Darkness | Part 1 (Journey to the Outer Station) | Summary



Marlow leaves for Africa on a French steamer that stops at ports along the African coast. At one point the steamer encounters a man-of-war (an armed sailing ship) firing at native people hidden in the jungle. Sometimes the steamer travels in and out of rivers near the shore.

Thirty days after leaving, the steamer anchors in an African capital city, and Marlow books passage on a smaller steamer to travel 30 miles (48 kilometers) upriver. Here, he sees a forced-labor camp where black men, who are chained together, build a railway. Explosives go off here and there. The workers hide from the steamer as best they can, but Marlow observes that they seem to be dying of disease and starvation.

As Marlow nears the Outer Station's buildings, he encounters a white man—the Company's chief accountant—who is full of life and elegance. Occasionally a sick person is brought into his office and placed on a trundle bed; the accountant complains when the patient groans. The accountant is the first person to tell Marlow about Kurtz, describing him as a "first-class agent" who sends in as much ivory as all the other agents combined.


Through the use of personification (attributing human characteristics to inanimate objects or ideas), Conrad animates the jungle, deepening the motif of darkness and creating a sense of foreboding. An example of this technique occurs when Marlow imagines that "Nature herself had tried to ward off intruders" and that the contorted mangroves "seemed to writhe at us."

Verbal irony is a literary technique in which the intent of the words in a text carry the opposite meaning. A character may or may not know the full significance of the words, but the careful reader does. There are several examples of verbal irony in this section of the novella:

  • Marlow says, "I also was a part of these high and just proceedings." The reader knows that the proceedings are the opposite of high and just and that Marlow is expressing concern over what is really going on.
  • Marlow says the vast hole he encounters must be "connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do." Again, the reader knows that the Company agents are not acting with charitable, or philanthropic, intentions.

Verbal irony works in this section because Marlow relates this story to his friends after he returns from Africa. He is able to reflect on the experience, knowing full well the proceedings are not just or philanthropic.

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