Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Part I, Section 1 Summary (pages 53-62)

Heart of Darkness is told from the limited, first-person point of view of an unnamed narrator aboard a boat on the River Thames, in London. A date is not given, but the weapons and ships described place the story probably in the late 1800's. The narrator and four other men known as the Director of Companies, the Lawyer, the Accountant, and Marlow prepare to play a game of dominoes while they wait for the tide to turn and the ship to get moving. The narrator mentions each of the men in passing except for Marlow, whom he describes in detail highlighting his resemblance to an "idol" (54).

The men never begin their game of dominoes, and instead Marlow begins speaking (and is compared to a Buddha, pp. 57-58), in essence becoming the new narrator (this literary device is known as a frame story). Marlow right away mentions that even England was once a dark and savage place to Roman invaders, and goes on to say that men of England set out to invade the dark places of the earth and offers his opinion of these endeavors. It is during this discussion that Marlow first lays out what is to be the central theme of the work: the hypocrisy of Imperialism, and the high cost of gaining understanding from Imperialistic endeavors.

Marlow explains his fascination with exploration (a common motif in English literature) and relates how, with the help of his aunt, he secured a position as a steamboat captain for an ivory trading Company based in Europe (how long ago is unclear). The position became available because the previous steamboat captain, named Fresleven and described as " 'the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs' " (61), was killed by a native in the unnamed jungle where most of the story takes place while beating the indigenous boy's aged father.