At the start of the novel, Marlow, along with the four other men, watch the Director of Companies. Marlow makes this note about him while the Director is looking seaward: Ð²Ð‚ÑšIt was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloomÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (1). One would think that the DirectorÐ²Ð‚â„¢s work would be in the future, out before him and waiting to be taken care of. However, MarlowÐ²Ð‚â„¢s remark that the DirectorÐ²Ð‚â„¢s work is actually behind him is quite the contrary. The work cut out for the Director deals with history, and the struggle to understand and learn from the past.
Marlow makes a revelation to the crew: Ð²Ð‚ÑšI donÐ²Ð‚â„¢t like workÐ²Ð‚â€no man doesÐ²Ð‚â€but I like what is in the work, the chance to find yourselfÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (25). Marlow believes that by doing work, one can discover oneself and his own perceptibility for himself in such a way which Ð²Ð‚Ñšno other man can ever knowÐ²Ð‚Ñœ.
After the cannibals help Marlow with his steamboat, Marlow recruits some of them for his crew. He notes that they are Ð²Ð‚Ñšfine fellowsÐ²Ð‚â€cannibalsÐ²Ð‚Â¦ They were men one could work with, and [he is] grateful to themÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (31). The cannibals are more productive and useful than the people in the original crew. Marlow deeply respects and admires their self-restraint from eating human flesh in front of Marlow.
Work and keeping busy are a means of looking inward, of truly understanding the surrounding world as well as truly understanding ourselves.
One instance of futility that Marlow stumbled upon was when his crew Ð²Ð‚Ñšcame upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasnÐ²Ð‚â„¢t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bushÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (11). Though someone on board assured Marlow that there were natives, Ð²Ð‚ÑšenemiesÐ²Ð‚Ñœ, there, Marlow highly doubts the reasoning behind the decision to Ð²Ð‚Ñš[shell] the bushÐ²Ð‚Ñœ.
Ð²Ð‚ÑšI came upon a boiler wallowing in the grassÐ²Ð‚Â¦an undersized railway truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was offÐ²Ð‚Â¦I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty nailsÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (12). The random useless equipment conveys ambiguity in the sense of the origins of these materials and the reasons why they are idle in the grass. All this unused equipment is ironic to the instance where Marlow needs rivets in order to repair his steamboat. There is an abundance of abandoned materials, yet when Marlow needs rivets, there are none to be found. This exemplifies how flawed the system in the Congo was, how wasteful and incongruous it was.
Ð²Ð‚Ñšthe stout man with mustaches came tearing down to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured [Marlow] that everybody was Ð²Ð‚?behaving splendidly, splendidly,Ð²Ð‚â„¢ dipped about a quart of water and tore back againÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (20), with a hole in the bottom of his pail. Marlow views this event with astonishment at how silly of a manner problems are being addressed. Putting out a fire with a pail with a hole is just ridiculous. Moreover, when the pilgrims would stay up nights trying to shoot a hippopotamus, Marlow is astonished at this idleness of activity and considers Ð²Ð‚Ñšall this energy was wastedÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (25).
The native woman with whom Kurtz seems to be attached is described as being a Ð²Ð‚Ñšgorgeous apparition of a womanÐ²Ð‚Ñœ, walking with Ð²Ð‚Ñšwith measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornamentsÐ²Ð‚Â¦She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progressÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (56). The native woman is draped in ornaments of regional wealth, thanks to KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s doings. She seems to have some sort of mystical influence over Kurtz and the other natives, and the Russian trader hints that she is one to fear. KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s Intended Ð²Ð‚Ñšhad a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for sufferingÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (69). Her Ð²Ð‚Ñšdark eyes looked out to [Marlow]. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustfulÐ²Ð‚Ñœ.
Both women have a discerning quality about them, even without them saying one word. The native woman is dark and mysterious, while KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s Intended is pale and woeful. The Intended lives in luxury, also thanks to KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s success in the Congo. The wealth displayed by both women serves to keep them in their place as well as to display KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s accomplishments.
The general attitude towards women is that they symbolize the facets of civilization, and are a constant reminder to men what awaits them back home. Men, inspired by their women, take risks in attempt to make economic success while women represent the civilized way of life.
After the death of his helmsman, Marlow says Ð²Ð‚ÑšI will never hear that chap speak after all, and my sorrow had a startling extravagance of emotion, even such as I had noticed in the howling sorrow of these savages in the bushÐ²Ð‚Ñœ(43). The Ð²Ð‚Ñšhowling sorrowÐ²Ð‚Ñœ of the savages conveys an eerie and ominous tone. Marlow, contemplating about the heads on stakes outside KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s hut, considers that Ð²Ð‚ÑšAfter all, that was only a savage sight, while [he] seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to existÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (53).
Ð²Ð‚ÑšThe edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mistÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (10). Ð²Ð‚ÑšWe had a glimpse of the towering multitude of trees, of the immense matted jungle, with the blazing little ball of the sun hanging over itÐ²Ð‚â€all perfectly stillÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (35). Ð²Ð‚Ñšdeep within the forest, red gleams that wavered, that seemed to sink and rise from the ground amongst confused columnar shapes of intense blackness, showed the exact position of the camp where Mr. KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s adorers were keeping their uneasy vigilÐ²Ð‚Ñœ(59).
Some instances of madness is the Swede that hung himself, the doctor asking Marlow if there was Ð²Ð‚ÑšÐ²Ð‚â„¢ever any madness in [his] familyÐ²Ð‚â„¢Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (9), and KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s soul Ð²Ð‚Ñšgone madÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (61). The SwedeÐ²Ð‚â„¢s and KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s madness seem to result from each of their respective times spent in the Congo. Marlow believes that KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s soul went mad from the loneliness in the wilderness. The lack of companionship allowed KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s soul to look within itself to unleash the barbaric and carnal nature of man. The doctorÐ²Ð‚â„¢s question of any madness in the family allows readers to infer that it is not an anomaly for people who journey into the depths of the Congo to have a change of their state of mind, perhaps permanently, and the good possibility of the descent into madness.
KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s last utterance, Ð²Ð‚ÑšThe horrorÐ²Ð‚Ñœ, refers to the corruption, and inhumane motives that flourish in the heart of the Congo. These words are the last words that he speaks because they can be intentionally ambiguous and interpreted in numerous ways, allowing Marlow to ponder about them and keep KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s memory alive in his mind. Marlow considers KurtzÐ²Ð‚â„¢s choice of last words to be ideal to describe what he has seen in the darkness of man.
The narration within a narration serves to set the scene for MarlowÐ²Ð‚â„¢s storytelling and to reveal to readers MarlowÐ²Ð‚â„¢s character. Readers can take part with the narrator, the captain, the lawyer, and the accountant as the audience to MarlowÐ²Ð‚â„¢s story of his journey on the Congo. The narrator allows more in depth characterization of Marlow as well as allowing readers to take note of his physical aspects and physical reactions while telling his story. The frame narration also allows Marlow to insert his own additional personal commentary about whatever he is talking about throughout his story.