Literature Study GuidesHeart Of DarknessPart 3 Harlequin In The Jungle Summary

Heart of Darkness | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Heart of Darkness | Part 3 (Harlequin in the Jungle) | Summary

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Summary

Marlow is puzzled, confused, and disoriented as he looks at the Russian. The young man's clothes are covered with patches of bright blue, red, and yellow fabric, garb not typical of the jungle. Marlow calls the harlequin's "very existence" improbable and inexplicable.

The Russian tells Marlow how he loves to sit and listen to Kurtz expound on every imaginable topic. He has also nursed Kurtz through two illnesses, and he reveals how Kurtz accumulates large quantities of ivory by raiding the surrounding areas with the aid of his followers. He is devoted to Kurtz even though the station agent threatened to shoot him once when the Russian resisted giving Kurtz a single piece of ivory.

Through the Russian's account, Marlow concludes that Kurtz has become unhinged: "Evidently," decides Marlow, "the appetite for more ivory had gotten the better of the ... less material aspirations." Marlow points his binoculars toward the station house onshore and notices that the knobs he had seen on the fence posts from a distance are in fact the black, dried, heads of decapitated humans. The Russian tells Marlow that the heads are those of rebels.

Analysis

The Russian's garb is the first indication that something is strange at the Inner Station. Reality seems to be unraveling, even though Marlow is a man well grounded in reality. There is a dreamlike quality to the Inner Station, and Marlow wonders "why he [the harlequin] did not instantly disappear."

The Russian sheds light on Kurtz's activities. His raids in the countryside are clearly illegal—he is not trading for ivory but stealing it. Of course, this theft is what the Company is doing to the region—stealing resources out of greed. While the young man is devoted to Kurtz, he says that Kurtz can be "terrible," as the threat to shoot the Russian over one piece of ivory confirms. But the Russian is so captivated by Kurtz that he cannot criticize him. "What can you expect," he asks. He came to the native people "with thunder and lightning. ... They had never seen anything like it," so they treat him like a god. Yet he asserts that Kurtz should not be judged like ordinary men.

The other characters' descriptions of Kurtz are painting a picture of a man whose madness derives from his lust for power, his exploitation of the natives, and his greed for ivory coupled with a superior intelligence. Kurtz's fence topped with the dried heads of native men is a clear representation of his depravity. Marlow laughs when he learns that these are the heads of rebels. By this point he understands how language is manipulated by Company officials, not only Kurtz, to justify their depravity.

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