Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Part I, Section 2 Analysis (pages 62-75)
Notice Conrad's word choice as he describes the city and the main office: "whited sepulchre", "dead silence", "dead in the centre [of the map]", "deadly" (of the river)—and all on page 62. Besides foreshadowing, his word choice may serve another purpose, but first consider the knitting women. The knitting women could be interpreted as symbols of the Greek Fates (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos). Conrad even uses the word to describe the older one: " 'She seemed uncanny and fateful' " (63). Perhaps the third Fate, Atropos, is the death that so many men in the company are sent to, and thus why Conrad chooses words associated with death to describe the setting of the company offices.
The doctor is interested in madness and warns Marlow to stay calm; this foreshadows a common fate of people sent into the jungle. The jungle, too, might be interpreted as a symbol of the terrible knowledge mentioned earlier. Marlow says, as he watches the jungle from his ship, "Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma" (66). The jungle, like the terrible knowledge, cannot be known until it has been entered/embraced.
The grove where the workers/slaves come to die is reminiscent of Hell or Hades. Marlow, in fact, refers to it as "the gloomy circle of some Inferno" (71), no doubt an allusion to Dante Alighieri's Inferno (notice that Conrad chooses to capitalize "Inferno"). There is a rushing river nearby, just as Hades has the River Styx. Also, the workers are described as "black shadows" and "free as air—and nearly as thin" (72), words that could be used to describe the souls in Hades.
Marlow notices one of the dying workers has tied a bit of twisted, white wool around his neck. Marlow is puzzled by this odd item. Directly after pondering this, he meets the " 'Company's chief accountant' " (73), whom he describes as a "white man", wearing "white cuffs" and "snowy trousers", and holding a parasol "in a big white hand". A possible interpretation of Conrad's word choice following his direction of the reader's attention to the wool around the black man's neck is that the company and non-indigenous people (Europeans) have brought Hell to the native jungle people. This hell could be read as the darkness that needs to be experienced in order to gain understanding, hence the invaders are enlightening the indigenous people (which the Europeans certainly believe they are doing) even though they are causing them immense suffering.
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