Marlow’s contemplation during his journey through the Congo
In one of his novels, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad depicts the tale of a man who reflects upon the meaning of life as well as all of its intricasies and implications. Indeed, Marlow, the main character of this story, questions several existential topics and explores his own personal curiosity about the solidarity and darkness of the jungle he finds himself in. At one point in the storyline, Marlow and his crew depart towards the station where the enigmatic Kurtz resides. An interesting aspect of this portion of the adventure is that Marlow’s crew is mostly composed of cannibals. Upon realizing how famished these natives are, Marlow contemplates how incredible it seems that the cannibals have restrained themselves from giving in to their hunger and eating the European men onboard. It is this speculation that will be the topic of discussion in the following paper. Marlow’s thoughts and perception of the native tribe will be examined in order to provide a more concise understanding of his analysis of the cannibals.
During their trip towards Kurtz’s station, Marlow describes the inequality of power and discrimination that the natives must live with. They constantly receive unfair treatments, such as beatings and the lack of food and medical support, as well as being paid in ridiculous manner that can only fuel their hate towards the European conquerors. Upon suggesting that the cannibals on his crew are treated in a disingenuous way, Marlow truly questions why their motives have not been violent so far : ‘’Why in the name of all gnawing devils of hunger they didn’t go for us – they were thirty to five – and have a good tuck in for once, amazes me now when I think of it’’ (Conrad 37). Further analysis provided by Marlow explores the underlying reason why the natives refuse to attack their opressors. He manages to pinpoint one particular aspect that is responsible for such behaviour : ‘’And I saw that something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play here’’ (37). The human act of restraint, according to our narrator, is the simple yet bafling evidence which he stipulates. But what truly surprises Marlow is the fact that there shouldn’t be any logical reason for the starving cannibals not to attack, and consequently eat, him and his crew. He believes that hunger can by no means be deterred by any reasonalble explanation :
Restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience, fear – or some kind of primitive honor? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze. Don’t you know the devilry of lingering starvation, its exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its somber and brooding ferocity?
At several occasions during his adventure, Marlow seems to be both confused and amazed at the same time by the intricasies and differences that the magnificent, yet powerful jungle has to offer. This particular instance is no different. The enigma at hand simply cannot be comprehended by Marlow. And in a way, this only fuels his respect for the natives as well as the fascinating jungle of the Congo.
In retrospect, we have examined Marlow’s speculation and analysis of the cannibals on his crew in order to fully understand the restaint that the savages imposed on themselves. As Marlow said : ‘’Restraint! I would just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a battlefield’’ (38). Yet, human nature can be sometimes difficult to comprehend, as our narrator soon finds out after contemplating about this interesting situation. Undoubtedly, Marlow perceived some form of respect coming from the cannibals, and seemingly returned the favor once he truly realized their fascinating nature.