Friday, November 19, 2010

Write brief notes on the following characters, indicating also their symbolic significance, if any: (1) the chief accountant of the Company; (2) the manager of the Company’s Central Station; and (3) the brick-maker.

1. THE CHIEF ACCOUNTANT
A Neatly and Nicely Dressed Man
Like the various other persons in Heart of Darkness, the chief accountant of the Belgian trading company is vividly depicted. Indeed, he is so portrayed that we feel as if we have actually met him. Marlow had not expected to meet a man of this kind in the wilderness of the Congo; and that is the reason why Marlow takes him for a sort of vision or dream. Indeed, Marlow thinks this man to be a miracle.
The chief accountant is dressed in a most elegant manner. He wears a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light jacket, white trousers, a clear necktie, and varnished boots; and he has a pen-holder behind his ear. Marlow is amazed to see _such an exquisitely dressed man in this horned environment. Marlow says that, on seeing this man so nicely dressed, he was filled with respect for him. Yes, says Marlow, he respected the man’s collar, his white cuffs, and his brushed hair. Then Marlow goes on to say that the appearance of the chief accountant was certainly that of a hair-dresser’s dummy but that, in the savage land of the Congo, this man had managed to keep up his appearance. Marlow regards this man’s capacity to maintain his appearance as the “backbone”. Marlow further says that this man’s starched collar and his fine shirt-front were “achievements of character”. The chief accountant had already spent about three years in the Congo; and we regard this as another achievement of character on his part. To withstand the rigours of climate in this country really showed an exceptional stamina in the man. When Marlow asks this man how he manages to dress himself in such nice and tidy clothes, he blushes slightly and says that a certain native woman is looking after his wardrobe and that she is under a debt to him because he had been teaching her. To top all his achievements, the chief accountant maintains his account-books in “apple-pie order”. However, everything else at this trading station, where Marlow meets the chief accountant, is in a muddle. Thus the chief accountant stands as an orderly and neat item in confused surroundings.
A Conscientious Man in Performing His Duties
The chief accountant is very conscientious in the performance of his duties. In fact, anything which interferes with his work upsets him. One day a sick man is brought from the interior and has to be accommodated in the chief accountant’s office. This sick man’s groaning is most jarring to the chief accountant’s ears because the sound distracts his attention. With the sick man’s groans in his ears, the chief accountant finds it difficult to avoid clerical errors while writing down the figures in his account-books. Similarly, when any noise is heard form outside the office, the chief accountant feels greatly annoyed. He tells Marlow that, if a man has to make correct entries into the account-books, he would naturally begin to hate the savages who talk noisily outside his office. He says that he hates these savages to the death (In other words, he hates, these savages to an extreme degree).
His Mention of Mr. Kurtz to Marlow
It is from the chief accountant that Marlow first hears the name of Mr. Kurtz. The chief accountant tells Marlow that, on going into the interior of the country, he would no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz. In reply to a question by Marlow, he informs him that Mr. Kurtz is a first-class agent of the Company, and that he is a very remarkable person. At present, says the chief accountant, Mr. Kurtz is in charge of a very important trading station in the ivory-country of the Congo. The chief accountant further says that Mr. Kurtz collects as much ivory on behalf of the Company as that collected by all other agents put together. The chief accountant then expresses the opinion that Mr. Kurtz would one day rise very high, and that he would one day occupy one of the topmost positions in the administration. He then requests Marlow to tell Mr. Kurtz, when he meets that man, that everything at this station is perfectly satisfactory. It is obvious that the chief accountant is sending this message to Mr. Kurtz in order to humour that man.
His Symbolic Significance
The chief accountant, like most other persons in this novel, is a symbolic figure. First of all, he symbolizes efficiency in work and a scrupulous sense of responsibility. It is because of these qualities in him that he wins Marlow’s respect. But, at the same time, this man appears to be something of a comic figure. He dresses himself here in the wilderness as he would dress himself in the most fashionable circles of a western capital. It is something ridiculous. There is thus an absurdity in this man’s character. In fact, it is quite possible that Marlow is ironical when he says that he was filled with respect on seeing this man. A critic describes the chief accountant as a “sinisterly comic” figure. Marlow’s admiration for the chief accountant’s backbone rings peculiarly hollow in a novel so concerned with bones, skulls, skeletons, and back-breaking business of trading in ivory. According to_ the same critic, the chief accountant is a fine example of Conrad’s ability to combine the most realistic details with a larger, symbolic meaning. Conrad makes the Congo chief accountant as effective and emphatic an image of modern man as the demonic Mr. Kurtz.
2. THE MANAGER OF THE CENTRAL STATION
Nothing Within This Man
The manager of the Central Station is also depicted most vividly by Marlow, so that he too begins to live before our eyes. The manager is a man of middle size and of ordinary build. He is commonplace in complexion, in feature, in manners, and in voice. His eyes, which are of a blue colour, have a sharp look in them so that a glance from him falls upon another man as heavily as an axe.. He has a kind of smile which, however, cannot be called a smile. Marlow then gives us a clue to the character of the manager by saying that this man was obeyed all right but that he inspired neither love nor fear nor even respect. What this man inspired was “uneasiness”; yes, uneasiness; only uneasiness and nothing more. Marlow further tells us that this man had, no genius for organization, or for initiative, or even for order. The manager’s lack of the sense of organization is evident in the deplorable state of his station. This man had neither any learning nor much intelligence. If he had become the manager, it was not because of any special ability or talent in him but because he possessed an exceptional stamina by virtue of which he had been able to withstand the rigours of the climate of this cruel country. He had managed to spend three years in this country continuously without having fallen ill even once. The manager, could certainly keep the routine of his office going, but he could originate nothing. And then comes Marlow’s most damning statement about the manager. “Perhaps there was nothing within him.” The manager keeps a boy-servant who is an overfed negro and who treats the white men with provoking insolence.
His Capacity for Intrigue
The manager has a great capacity for intrigue. He keeps himself informed of what is going on among his subordinates through the brick-maker who functions as the manager’s spy. His capacity for intrigue is clearly revealed to us in the course of the private conversation which he holds with his uncle who has come to the Congo as the leader of an exploring expedition. During this conversation, it becomes evident to Marlow, who is overhearing the talk, that the manager has begun to feel jealous of Mr. Kurtz’s growing popularity, and that the manager has also begun to entertain the fear that one day Mr. Kurtz might supersede him and rise to a higher position in the Company’s service.
His Symbolic Significance
The manager too is a symbolic figure. He symbolizes the hollowness of the western man. One important theme with which Conrad has dealt in this novel is the hollowness of the western civilized man. Mr. Kurtz is described by Marlow as being “hollow at the core”; and about the manager also Marlow has said very much the same thing: “nothing within him”. The manner in which Marlow has portrayed the manager makes us despise this man. Indeed, in portraying the manager, Marlow (or Conrad) shows his contempt for the white men who went to the Congo for trading purposes and who never failed to provide evidence of their pettiness, their meanness, their greed, their ambition, and their selfishness. Instead of cooperating with, and supporting Mr. Kurtz, the manager becomes jealous of him and begins to think of measures by which he can do some damage to him. The manager keeps speaking about Mr. Kurtz in terms of disapprobation and disparagement as, for instance, when he tells Marlow that Mr. Kurtz’s methods of functioning at the Inner Station were unsound, and that Mr. Kurtz had done irreparable harm to the interests of the Company by his style of functioning.
3. THE BRICK-MAKER
His Opinion of Mr. Kurtz
The brick-maker, whom Marlow meets at the Central Station, had been posted there to make bricks; but Marlow does not see a single brick anywhere at this station despite the fact that the brick-maker has already spent one whole year here. Marlow then learns that the brick-maker has not been able to make any bricks because some essential ingredient for the making of bricks had not been made available to him. (Subsequently we learn that Marlow is not provided with the badly-needed rivets required to repair the wrecked steamer which Marlow has been able to pull put of the river-bed.) Having no real work to do, the brick-maker has become an informer, keeping, the manager informed of what is going on among the other white men t the station. In other words, he now functions as the manager’s spy. Marlow fords that the brick-maker is very keen to talk to him; but Marlow does not understand why the brick-maker wants to be sociable. It is only after talking to him for some time that Marlow realizes the fact that the brick-maker is trying to extract something from him. In other words, the brick-maker is “pumping” Marlow. What the brick-maker really wants to know is whether Marlow has any influence among the higher officials of the Company. The brick-maker has a feeling that Marlow has got this appointment as a skipper in the Company’s service because of his close connection with the top officials of the Company; and the brick-maker would like to cultivate Marlow’s friendship in order to win some promotion through him if possible. The brick-maker takes Marlow into his but and lights a candle. The brick-maker is the only man, besides the manager, who has a candle in his hut. Marlow here sees the portrait of a woman who is blind-folded and who carries a lighted torch in her hands. The brick-maker informs Marlow that this portrait had been painted by Mr. Kurtz. Then, in reply to a question from Marlow, the brick-maker provides some information to him about Mr. Kurtz. The brick-maker says that Mr. Kurtz is the chief of the Company’s Inner Station, and that Mr. Kurtz is a “prodigy” (that is, a wonderful man). The brick-maker describes Mr. Kurtz as a messenger of pity, of science, of progress, and of many other things. The brick-maker further describes Mr. Kurtz as a man of high intelligence, wide sympathies, and a singleness of purpose. In the brick-maker’s opinion, Mr. Kurtz is a special being. The brick-maker also expresses his view that in one year’s time Mr. Kurtz would become an assistant manager under the Company, and that after two years or so he would occupy a very high position indeed. According to the brick-maker, Mr. Kurtz represents the quality of virtue. Besides, says the brick-maker, Mr. Kurtz has high connections and would doubtlessly be recommended for quick promotion by those with whom he is connected in some way or the other.
A Papier-mache Mephistopheles
Marlow finds the brick-maker to be a cunning and crooked man. And that is why Marlow describes him as a “papier-mache Mephistopheles”. In other words, Marlow finds the brick-maker to be a devil, but a devil who is flimsy and hollow. Marlow feels that, if he were to poke a finger through this man, he would find nothing inside him except a little loose dirt. Marlow then tells us that that the brick-maker had been planning to become the assistant manager under the present manager and that for this reason both these men had felt upset by Mr. Kurtz’s success and growing influence. Besides, the brick-maker is a hypocrite also. He describes Mr. Kurtz to Marlow as a “universal genius”, and yet inwardly he hates Mr. Kurtz.
His Symbolic Significance
The brick-maker symbolizes cunning and hypocrisy. He also symbolizes hollowness as does the manager. The brick-maker is even more despicable than the manager. Marlow feels a contempt for both these men; and we too begin to share that contempt. Indeed, the white men who had gone to the Congo on behalf of the Company were by no means persons having any solid merits. It was only greed which had taken them there, and the possibility of promotion. They had not gone to the Congo with any unselfish motives as Marlow had gone. The brick-maker, like the other white men in this novel, symbolizes all the worst traits of the western man.
Q. 18. Show your acquaintance with the following persons who figure in Heart of Darkness: (1) the Company’s doctor; (2) the helmsman; and (3) the Russian seaman.
1. THE COMPANY’S DOCTOR
A Brief But Interesting Portrayal of the Doctor
Marlow gives us a very brief but interesting portrayal of the doctor who examines him after he has been selected as a skipper in the Company’s service. The doctor is an old man who, after feeling Marlow’s pulse, says that the pulse is good enough for the country to which Marlow is going. Then the doctor asks Marlow if the latter would let him measure his head. Marlow feels surprised by this question, but replies’ in the affirmative. The doctor then proceeds to measure the dimensions of Marlow’s head, and to write down the measurements. Marlow describes the doctor as an unshaven little man in a worn-out coat; and Marlow thinks him to be a” harmless fool.” The doctor informs Marlow that he always measures the skulls of the men who are going to remote countries, and that he does so in the interests of science. Marlow asks whether the doctor also measures the skulls of those men when they come back. To this, the doctor replies that he never gets the chance to see those men again. Now this may mean that, whoever goes to the Congo, fails to return. Perhaps most of the white men, who go to the Congo, perish there because of their inability to withstand the climate. The doctor then asks Marlow if there had been any madness in his family. Marlow feels annoyed by this question and asks if the doctor has asked this question also in the interests of science. The doctor replies that it would be certainly in the interests of science to know the family background of the men whom he examines medically. The doctor further says that it would really be interesting for science to watch the mental changes which take place in the men who go to distant and wild countries. Marlow asks if the doctor is an alienist; and the doctor replies that every doctor should be a bit of an alienist. The doctor then says that he is interested only in scientific study and scientific research, and that he has no interest in the profits which the Company makes or which the Company’s agents make in the Congo or elsewhere. The doctor also says that Marlow is the first Englishman who has come under his observation. Marlow tells the doctor that he is not in the least a typical Englishman, adding that a typical Englishman would not have talked so freely with the doctor. (Marlow here probably implies-that the typical Englishman is a reserved and reticent person). The doctor thereupon says that, what Marlow has said, is rather profound, and probably erroneous. Finally, the doctor advises Marlow not to expose himself to the sun too much in the Congo. In the tropics one must, before everything, keep calm, says the doctor. He then lifts a warning finger, and bids Marlow adieu or good-bye.
The Contemporary Interest in Psychology and Psychiatry
The portrayal of the doctor is quite amusing. Heart of Darkness is a sobre and horrifying novel; but there are a number of comic elements in the course of it. The portrayal of the doctor by Marlow is one of the humorous elements in the story. It may here be noted that this doctor is a kind of psychologist or psychiatrist because he wants to study the changes that take place in the minds of the Europeans who travel to the Congo and who have to live there for some time. When this novel was written, psychology and psychiatry were emerging as regular sciences; and the portrayal of the doctor had therefore certainly a topical interest in those days. In other words, the portrayal of the doctor reflects the contemporary interest in the investigation and exploration of the human mind which, as Freud had pointed out, is a complex mechanism.
2. THE HELMSMAN
The helmsman, who steers Marlow’s steamer, is described by Marlow as an athletic black man belonging to some coastal tribe. The helmsman wears a pair of brass ear-rings, and a blue cloth wrapper from the waist to the ankles. This helmsman, says Marlow, had too high an opinion about himself but actually he was the most unstable kind of fool Marlow had ever known. This helmsman steers the steamer with a good deal of swagger or ostentation when Marlow is present by his side; but, as soon as Marlow moves away, the helmsman behaves as a perfect coward, feeling terrified of the work which he is doing. The helmsman thinks that his duty is a most dangerous one. When Marlow’s steamer, with the manager on board, is attacked by the hostile tribe dwelling in the forest nearby, the helmsman begins to steer in a very erratic and foolish manner. Here Marlow gives expression to his feelings by saying: “Confound him! And we were staggering within ten feet of the bank.” What Marlow means to say here is that the helmsman had taken the steamer too close to the bank, and that the steamer was now exposed to the innumerable arrows which the natives were shooting at the steamer from behind the trees. A little later, one of the savages comes very close to the steamer and hurls a spear at the helmsman. The blade pierces the helmsman’s body, and makes a frightful gash with the result that Marlow’s shoes are filled with the blood coming out of the helmsman’s wound. Marlow has now to steer the steamer himself. In the meantime, the helmsman dies without uttering a sound, without moving a limb, without twitching a muscle. Only in the last moment, just before dying, the helmsman frowns heavily, and that frown, says Marlow, gave to his face a sombre, brooding, and menacing expression. Marlow is plunged into grief by the helmsman’s death because he now does not have anybody on board the ship who can handle the steering-wheel. Marlow has himself to take charge of the steering. It seems to him that Mr. Kurtz has also by now died at his Inner Station, and that he (Marlow) has already missed the opportunity of meeting Mr. Kurtz and listening to Mr. Kurtz’s eloquent talk. Marlow at this time feels very lonely and desolate; and he feels that he has been robbed of a belief or has missed his destiny in life. However, Marlow does not shed any tears on this occasion. In addition to losing the helmsman, Marlow also loses his shoes which he has to throw into the river because they had been filled with blood. Afterwards, Marlow throws the helmsman’s dead body also into the river. This was the only kind of burial he could give to that man. The white men on board the steamer, and the manager too, feel somewhat upset by the casual manner in which Marlow has disposed of the helmsman’s dead body. As for the cannibal crew, they wish that they could have eaten the dead helmsman’s flesh. Marlow feels glad that he has saved the helmsman’s dead body from being eaten by these cannibals. Marlow sums up the helmsman’s character in the following words: “Poor fool! If he had only left that shutter alone. He had no restraint, no restraint ––just like Kurtz––a tree swayed by the wind.” What Marlow here means to say is that the helmsman had committed a great blunder by opening the shutter behind which he had been standing. If he had not opened the shutter, the savage attacker could not have hit him with a spear. Thus the helmsman was lacking in restraint. The helmsman had not been able to exercise sufficient control over his impulses. His very first impulse had been to open the shutter, and this action had cost him his life. Restraint or self-restraint is one of the leading themes of the novel and the portrayal of the helmsman is helpful to Conrad in developing that theme. Incidentally, Marlow here also mentions Mr. Kurtz’s lack of self-restraint. Thus what Marlow wishes, to convey to us is the lesson that self-restraint is a great asset in a human being, and the lack of it is a great drawback.
3. THE RUSSIAN SEAMAN
Marlow’s First Impression of the Man
The Russian in Heart of Darkness is a young man of twenty-five. But he has already acquired a lot of experience as a seaman and an explorer. In fact, he finds an affinity between himself and Marlow because they are both professional and seasoned sailors and explorers. When Marlow first sees this man, he looks like a harlequin (or a buffoon). The Russian, who has been given no name, is wearing multi-coloured clothes. There are bright patches of blue, red, and yellow on his clothes. There are patches on the back of his clothes, patches on the front, patches on elbows, and patches on knees. Thus we might say that the Russian looks like a cartoon. Just as there is a multiplicity of colours in his clothes, so there is a multiplicity of ideas in his mind also. However, his ideas, like these patches, are fragmentary. He has too many ideas in his head but he has never gone deep into any subject. Of course, the Russian is an interesting man in himself; but his importance in the novel lies in the fact that he gives to Marlow plenty of information about Mr. Kurtz. The character of Mr. Kurtz in this novel has been studied from many angles; and the Russian represents one of those angles. As for his past life, he tells Marlow that he had run away from home after quarrelling with his father, a priest, and that after having wandered a lot he had got reconciled to his father though he had not given up his wandering life.
The Russian’s Mind, Enlarged By Mr. Kurtz
Talking about Mr. Kurtz, the Russian says that he had discussed many subjects with that man and that his discussions with him had greatly illumined his mind. Mr. Kurtz had talked to him even on the subject of love. And the Russian sums up his gain from those discussions with Mr. Kurtz in the following words: “He made me see things.” Later the Russian says that Mr. Kurtz had enlarged his mind.
The Russian’s Description of Mr. Kurtz to Marlow
The Russian also tells Marlow, that Mr. Kurtz had been making frequent trips into the interior of the country mainly to collect ivory. Ivory, says the Russian, had become a passion and an obsession with Mr. Kurtz. Pointing to the heads hanging from the, poles outside Mr. Kurtz’s residence, the Russian informs Marlow that these heads were of the natives who had in some way or the other disobeyed Mr. Kurtz, and who had been executed under his orders. The Russian says that Mr. Kurtz had become so powerful in this region that he could kill whomsoever he jolly well pleased. In fact, says the Russian, the natives had begun to adore and worship him because they regarded him as a man-god or a god in human shape. The Russian’s whole description of Mr. Kurtz makes Marlow feel that Mr. Kurtz was “hollow at the core.” In any case, the Russian had become a great admirer of Mr. Kurtz and, in fact, the Russian regarded Mr. Kurtz as an immortal. The Russian had been very close to Mr. Kurtz before Mr. Kurtz had fallen ill. In fact, the Russian had nursed Mr. Kurtz through two of his illnesses. He had been so close to Mr. Kurtz that Mr. Kurtz’s housekeeper and mistress, a native woman, had become jealous of him. On one occasion she had indulged in a heated discussion with Mr. Kurtz about the Russian. Perhaps she wanted to prevent Mr. Kurtz from appointing the Russian as his successor to take his pace in the event of his own death. The Russian also informs Marlow that all the whites in the Congo, and especially the manager of the Central Station, were harbouring a good deal of active ill-will towards Mr. Kurtz. In fact, the white men had become hostile even to the Russian because the Russian had become very intimate with Mr. Kurtz.
The Russian’s Decision to Slip Away
The Russian then tells Marlow that he has decided to slip away from this place before it is too late. Marlow agrees that the manager and the other white men are hostile to the Russian as much as to Mr. Kurtz; and Marlow therefore approves of the Russian’s plan to slip away before he is killed under the manager’s orders. While leaving, the Russian tells Marlow that Mr. Kurtz was a good writer of poetry, and that his method of reciting his poems was also excellent. Before the Russian actually leaves, he takes a few cartridges from Marlow for his rifle and also a handful of English tobacco which the Russian likes very much.
Q. 19. In what light does Marlow see (1) the faithless pilgrims and (2) the cannibal crew? Do these two groups of men have any symbolic significance in the novel?
1. THE FAITHLESS PILGRIMS
Idlers, Obsessed By Ivory
The label, “the faithless pilgrims,” is used by Marlow for a group of white agents of a Belgian trading Company which is operating in the Congo. Marlow uses the word “pilgrims” for these men in an ironical sense. He sees these men strolling aimlessly in the sunshine around the Central Station. Each of them holds a stick in his hands. They are wandering here and there with their absurd long sticks in their hands, looking like a lot of “faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence.” The word “ivory” is being uttered by them again and again, sometimes in a loud voice, sometimes in a whispering voice. It seems that these men are praying to ivory which is a kind of god in their eyes. A taint of insane greed seems to blow at this place like a whiff from some corpse. On seeing these men, Marlow says: By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life.” These men seem to Marlow to be waiting for something, all the sixteen or twenty pilgrims; and waiting does not seem to be a tedious occupation to them. They have been waiting for something for a long time but nothing has come to them except disease. In other words, every one of them has fallen ill at one time or the other, but apart from that nothing tangible has come to them.
Everything About Them, Unreal Except Their Greed
Marlow further tells us that these men have been passing their time by back-biting and intriguing against each other in a foolish kind of way. There is an air of plotting about this station, but nothing comes of this plotting. The plotting is as unreal as everything else, as unreal as the philanthropic pretence of the Company, as unreal as their talk, as their government, and as their show of work. The only real feeling which these men have is the desire to get appointed to a trading station where ivory can be had in plenty, so that they can earn percentages. These men intrigue, and slander, and hate one another only for this reason. Otherwise they would not lift even their little fingers for any purpose. And, in this context, Marlow goes on to say: “By heavens, there is something after all in the world allowing one man to steal a horse while another must not look at a halter.” Then Marlow sees these men in small groups gesticulating and discussing something, with their staves* still in their hands. It seems to Marlow that these men take their sticks to bed with them.
Worthless Men
When Marlow’s steamer, is attacked by the hostile natives, these pilgrims feel almost panicky. While the cannibal crew of the steamer remain calm and composed, the white agents of the Company feel greatly upset. Marlow at this time feels that these men are absolutely worthless, so worthless that even the hungry cannibals would not like to eat their flesh. Marlow depicts these white men in a most unfavourable light. He makes use of a pungent irony to make them appear utterly contemptible creatures.
2. THE CANNIBAL CREW
Hard-Working But Hungry Crew
The cannibal crew on Marlow’s steamboat consists of about twenty men who are described by Marlow as fine fellows. Their most outstanding qualities are their willingness to work and their self-restraint. Several times in the course of the voyage over the river Congo, the steamboat gets stuck in the river because the water is shallow; and, on these occasions, the cannibals get down into the water in order to push the vessel. Speaking about them, Marlow says that they were the kind of men with whom one -could really work. Indeed, Marlow feels grateful to these men for the help which they rendered to him in keeping the steamer afloat As for their cannibalism, Marlow says that they did not, after all, eat one another in his presence and that, therefore, he could ignore their savage habit of cannibalism. When enlisted for the steamer’s service, they had brought with them a provision of hippo-meat which, however, soon began to rot. The white agents accompanying the manager on board this ship thereupon threw this rotten hippo-meat into the river because it had begun to emit a very foul smell. The cannibals were now without any food to eat. The manager had made no arrangements to feed these persons. They were being given three pieces of brass wire every week, each piece being about nine inches long. The manager’s theory was that these men could buy food in exchange for these pieces of wire in the river-side villages. But then it so turned out that either there were no villages on the river-side or the people in those villages were hostile, with the result that any procurement of food for these men became impossible. Marlow here says that now these men had only one option before them : to swallow the brass wire itself to satisfy their hunger. Fortunately these men also had in their possession a few lumps of some stuff like half-cooked dough; and occasionally they would swallow a piece of this dough.
The Self-Restraint of the Cannibals, and Their Cool Courage
The cannibals could have attacked and killed the white men on board the steamer in order to eat their flesh; but they did not do so. Marlow expresses his surprise at this fact. In a state of hunger a man would go to any length in order to feed himself and to survive. Hunger is one of the strongest and most compelling instincts, and it takes a starving man all his innate strength to fight against hunger effectively. It must, therefore, be said to the credit of these men that they were able to keep their aggressive and destructive instincts under control. It would have been easy for them to kill some of the white men and eat their flesh because they were in a majority while the number of white men on the ship was hardly four or five, besides the manager and Marlow himself. It was the self-restraint of these cannibals which made it possible for the white men on the steamer safe against an attack by them. The self-restraint of these cannibals becomes clear in another way also. When the steamer is threatened with an attack by the hostile tribe in the forest close to the river, the white men become very nervous and ask one another whether the savages would really attack them. One of them says that, if they are attacked, they would all be butchered. The faces of the white men twitch with the strain; their hands tremble; and their eyes forget to wink. Indeed, Marlow tells us that there is at this time a sharp._ contrast of expressions on the faces of the white men and those of the cannibals. The cannibals remain perfectly cool and composed in the face of danger. In fact, they actually want that the savages should attack the ship so that they can catch hold of some of them in order to eat their flesh. The cannibal crew belong to an entirely different tribe of the natives, and the savages living in the forest here would show no leniency towards the cannibals, if a fight were to take place. But the cannibals do not feel unnerved. There is a touch of grim humour here when one of the members of the cannibal crew asks Marlow to let them catch hold of a few of the savages so that they can kill them and eat their flesh.
The Contrast Between the “Pilgrims” and the Cannibal Crew
While Marlow has criticized the white men whom he calls the “faithless pilgrims”, he has depicted the cannibal crew in a very favourable light Marlow’s portrayal of the pilgrims or the white men is ironical, satirical, and censorious; but he has a good word for the cannibal crew. Thus here the savage cannibals of the Congo score a point over the white men who have come from Europe to trade in ivory. The white men have been depicted as idlers and intrigues, while the cannibal crew have been depicted as hard-working and painstaking men who are able at the same time to keep their savagery under control. Self-restraint constitutes one of the leading’ themes of this novel and the cannibal crew make a substantial contribution to the development of this theme. The manager is lacking in self-restraint; the helmsman is also lacking in this quality; the white men are lacking in it too; and Mr. Kurtz is the man who does not possess even a bit of it. The cannibal crew therefore win our admiration and regard by virtue of this quality of which they give evidence by not trying to eat the flesh of the white men whom they could easily kill.
Symbolic Significance
The symbolic significance of the two groups of men is obvious. The white agents of the trading company symbolize the worst aspects of the western civilized man. They symbolize the white man’s greed, commercial mentality, self-centeredness, unscrupulousness, and superficiality. They also symbolize the white man’s tendency to intrigue when it suits his interest. What these agents lack is moral backbone; and that is the principal deficiency of the white man. The cannibal crew, on the other hand, symbolize hard work, efficiency and, above all, self-restraint. In short, the white men have been painted in black colours, while the black natives have been painted in bright colours.


* Staves––sticks. “Staves” is the plural form of “staff’ meaning a rod or a stick.

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