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It is a description of Marlow’s initial impressions and observations of the Outer Station, and all the slave labour going on. As he sees the land around him, he notices many ‘mounds of turned up earth’, and ‘wastes of excavations’, he speaks of the land as if it has been ‘raped’ of all its resources, and left as a barren wasteland. His first impressions of the African slave workers seems racist, as he compares there black, naked bodies to ants, however, it is more likely that this is just a reference to the futility and uselessness of the work that is going on. His next observation is a boiler, and an undersized railway-truck.
He describes them as ‘dead’ like the ‘carcass of some animal’. There are several interpretations for this scene. One is that he has ‘personified’ the machinery, giving them similar qualities to the slaves, describing the machinery as though it has been allowed to rest, and have its job taken over by slaves. Another interpretation is that the machinery is a symbol for the empire, as the machinery is slowly decaying and rusting, the empire is also declining. Another reference to the futility of this work appears a few lines down. ‘The cliff was not in the way or anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on’.
It is as if the slaves have just been given something to do, to keep them from sitting around. As Marlow walks further on, he sees a guard carrying a gun, and wearing a ‘jacket with one button of’. This is a very deliberate observation, though the empire seems perfect from the outside, it has imperfections. On seeing Marlow, the guard raises his gun, and tries to see who Marlow is; Marlow is sarcastic at this point, joking about how white men all look the same at a distance, referring to how black people all look the same to him from a distance.
As the guard recognises Marlow and smiles, there is more sarcasm from Marlow, describing the guards trust as being ‘exalted’, and describing himself as being a ‘part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings’. Marlow then descends down the hill, towards some trees. At this point, Marlow starts commenting some more on his pity for the slaves, and the pointlessness of the work going on. The first technique used to relay this to us is Conrad’s use of short sentences, like we are part of Marlow’s thought process. His first thoughts are about how futile and pointless all the work that is going on is.
He describes one of the pits that has been dug, as ‘just a hole’. As he goes towards the trees for shade, he instantly regrets it, making a direct reference to ‘Dante’s Inferno’. Dante’s Inferno is one perception of what hell would be like. His vision of hell consists of seven rings, each ring containing people who have sinned a particular way, with the rings varying degrees of punishment. He looks around, noticing the slaves, ‘objectifying’ them as ‘black shapes’. He makes an ironic comment, calling the slaves ‘helpers’ and stating how they have ‘withdrawn to die’. He talks about how they have been abandoned in a very understating way.
There is another reference to Dante’s Inferno here, as he notices the ‘black shadows of disease and starvation’. Marlow then leaves the trees, but looks down to see a black slave, who has a white thread around his neck. He is startled at how strange and out of place it looks on the black skin. This is symbolic of the white men of the empire being out of place in Africa. To conclude, the ‘Heart of Darkness’ within the play refers to the inner capability to commit evil acts in all men, and the evil of the empire underneath the front of ‘spreading civilisation and the light of Christianity’.
The two sections of the novel which I have chosen to examine are full of symbolic imagery, referring to the title, and raising questions in the readers mind about the greatness of Britain.