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Heart of Darkness | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Course Hero. "Heart of Darkness Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed December 14, 2017. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Heart-of-Darkness/.

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Heart of Darkness | Part 2 (The Manager and His Uncle) | Summary

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Summary

One night, as Marlow rests by lying down on the deck of the steamer, he overhears the station manager and his uncle talking. The manager complains that he has been instructed to send Marlow to the Inner Station, and he does not like it and wants him fired. Kurtz is sending more prime ivory to the Company than any other agent, which makes the station manager look bad. At the same time, he objects because Kurtz seems to accept the idea of the civilizing mission. He quotes Kurtz as saying, "Each station should be like a beacon on the road ... for humanizing, improving, instructing." He finds Kurtz's noble words absurd and a nuisance.

Shortly after this exchange, the unprepared Eldorado Expedition leaves the station with the manager's uncle in charge. Some time later word comes that the donkeys that carry their supplies are all dead. Marlow never finds out what happens to the people he calls "the less valuable animals"—the uncle and his gang.

Analysis

Kurtz is a double threat to the station manager, surpassing his output in ivory and apparently expressing the Company's high-minded ideals. The manager calls Kurtz's high-sounding words about a moral purpose in Africa pestiferous (from pestilence), which means "harboring infection and disease." The word is also related to pest, "inconveniently annoying." To the manager, morality is an inconvenience. In him, greed outweighs any higher moral purpose.

As the two men discuss Kurtz's role in the Company, the uncle implies that the jungle may take care of their problem. He suggests that Kurtz, who has been in the jungle a long time and is now ill, may simply die. Here, the reader gets one of the clearest references thus far to the darkness that runs through the novella. As the uncle gestures toward the jungle, he seems to appeal, Marlow thinks, "to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart." The uncle's words provide foreshadowing of Kurtz's end as well. In gesturing to the jungle, he says, "Trust to this," a phrase he repeats. In the end the jungle does consume Kurtz; the jungle, the darkness, kills him. In this passage the "darkness" represents the wild, mysterious force of the jungle and the continent that Europeans seem incapable of understanding.

Marlow's reaction to the news of the Eldorado Expedition reflects his own indifference to people he judges to be corrupt. While it is only known that the donkeys all died, the humans probably did as well. Marlow notes that he does not care; he is more excited at that point in meeting Kurtz. The expedition's name contains a reference to the Spanish conquistadors' search for "El Dorado," a legendary city of gold, in the Americas in the 16th century. This name presents the African expedition as one doomed to fail and tainted by false hope, just as the conquistadors had been.

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