Detailed Summary of Heart of Darkness

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Detailed Summary of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Chapter I, Part I:

The novel begins with the description of the voyage of the speaker, director of companies and few three other men that included the lawyer, the accountant and Marlow, the speaker. They are moving into Africa. He describes of crossing the Thames River. He tells of the voyage being peaceful yet dull and tiring. He relates the age and experience of Thames which has seen all the claims of man his failures as well as rise and fall of nations. “What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! …The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.”

Marlow refers to the passing lighthouse as “This also has been one of the dark places of the earth.” The speaker witnesses “here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay-cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death-death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush”. He recalls of the Roman arrival and conquering of this land and considers that “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

Marlow indirectly refers to the conquest of Africa in the name of trade and welfare by his countrymen. Then Marlow tells them the tale of how he reached Congo-the heart of Africa, the heart of darkness, and what he did there. He was an out of job seaman. He needed a ship but got none. A childhood desire to visit the African river which resembled “an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea” invited his thirst of wandering and he approached establishment for his appointment out there. He got appointed quite quickly owing to two things: his aunt’s relations and the murder of one of the ship captain in the company.

So, they hired Marlow. He tells us of the ship captain that was killed in Africa. It originated from a petty issue, the price of two black hens. The captain felt grieved over being overcharged for the price of the hens, he punished the head of the village with his stick. The son of the villager could not bear that and killed the captain. After this, Marlow tells in detail of how he reached the company office and what happened later. However, he relates that while his stay in the company office in England, he found “something ominous in the atmosphere” and “something not quite right”.

The most noticeable thing was two women knitting wool that he remembers as: “Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall”. On his way to Africa, jointly conquered by the British and the French, Marlow observed a new world. This world was full of agonies and pangs of mankind yet unheard in the rather straightforward civilized world from where he had hailed. He observed a French warship firing in the woods while “nothing could happen” there but they still believed that “there was a camp of natives…enemies”. Marlow feels that “there was a touch of insanity in the proceeding”.

During his thirty day voyage into mighty snake like river, Marlow acquires clearer insights into how the British and the French operated in Africa: “the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.” He also relates of how people were dying of fever and amid the dancing season of death and gloom continued the dark trade in the heart of Africa, Congo. Upon reaching his company’s office in the country, he observed “a lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants”. He also observed that some machinery was decaying near the wooden building of the office.

He also saw some black people set on the work of constructing the railways for transporting of good from one part of the country to another part. Marlow observes the misery of the natives that were set to work by the company: “I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.” By seeing these black men, he understands that “these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies.”