“The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.”
To me this quote offers Marlow’s initial impression of the Central Station. The word “ivory” has taken on a life of its own for the men who work for the Company. To them, it is far more than the tusk of an elephant; it represents economic freedom, social advancement, an escape from a life of being an employee. The word has lost all connection to any physical reality and has itself become an object of worship. Marlow’s reference to a decaying corpse is both literal and figurative: elephants and native Africans both die as a result of the white man’s pursuit of ivory, and the entire enterprise is rotten at the core. The cruelties and the greed are both part of a greater, timeless evil, yet they are petty in the scheme of the greater order of the natural world. As I kept reading it started to make a little more sense to me as to what was going on. There were a few twisted parts where I was shocked as to what was going on then I realized that there were many parts like that I just didn’t notice then at the time. This next quote really caught my attention right from the start.
“The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and Kurtz’s life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into the sea of inexorable time. . . . I saw the time approaching when I would be left alone of the party of ‘unsound method.’’
This quote, which comes as the steamer begins its voyage back from the Inner Station in the third section of Part 3, with Kurtz and his ivory aboard, brings together the images of the river and the “heart of darkness” which it penetrates. The river is something that separates Marlow from the African interior: while on the river he is exterior to, even if completely surrounded by, the jungle. Furthermore, despite its “brown current,” the river inexorably brings him back to white civilization. The first sentence of this quote suggests that Marlow and Kurtz have been able to leave the “heart of darkness” behind, but Kurtz’s life seems to be receding along with the “darkness,” and Marlow, too, has been permanently scarred by it, since he is now ineradicably marked as being of Kurtz’s party. Thus, it seems that the “darkness” is in fact internalized, that it is part of some fundamental if ironic “unsoundness.” My last quote is by far the longest but has really in-depth meaning; it really stood out to me when I was reading so I