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CHAPTER II (continued)
THE JOURNEY UPRIVER
Finally the boat is repaired, and the time has come to start the two-month voyage from the Central Station to Kurtz's Inner Station, deep in the heart of the jungle. The crew is composed of Marlow, the manager, three or four of the pilgrims, and around 30 cannibals they enlist along the way.
Marlow remembers the weird stillness of the jungle, a stillness that isn't anything like peacefulness. Conrad continues his personification of the wilderness: "It looked at you with a vengeful aspect." It makes Marlow think of the prehistoric jungle, and it seems monstrous, bewitching, creepy-and patient, as if it were waiting to devour them. The river is treacherous, too; there are snags and shallows everywhere.
The Africans on board are cannibals, but instead of eating each other they've
brought along a load of hippo meat that eventually goes rotten and starts
to stink. Marlow is especially fascinated-and disturbed-by the tribal
villages they pass. As the Africans catch sight of the boat, they break
into an "incomprehensible frenzy" of greeting. They're so different
from the Europeans Marlow knows it's hard to believe they're the same
species. And yet "They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid
faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-like
yours-the thought of your remote kinship with this remote and passionate
uproar." Marlow is faintly terrified to feel a responsive chord stirring
within himself. He knows there's something in these savage rites that
attracts him, that has meaning to him.
When he asks his audience, "You wonder I didn't go ashore for a howl and a dance?" he isn't only joking. And he isn't only joking, either, when he tells them the reason he didn't: "I had no time." Work, we've already learned, is one of Marlow's highest values. Now work saves him from losing his mind in the jungle. When you have to attend to guiding a boat and looking out for snags, and chopping wood for the steam engine to burn, you don't have time to think about "the inner reality" of that primitive call. You stay busy with the "surface-truth" of doing your job, instead of brooding and driving yourself crazy.
But the possibility remains: the lure of savagery could take somebody in. We're going to see that happen eventually. As if Marlow didn't have enough to keep him busy, he also has to keep an eye on his African fireman. (The fireman watches over the steam engine, making sure that the boiler doesn't run out of water to make steam with.) He has a few months of training and he knows how to watch the boiler, but he no more understands what he's doing than a dressed-up dog understands why he's wearing clothes. "What he knew," Marlow tells us, "was this-that should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance." At the same time the fireman is working with modern technology, he's standing there with his teeth filed and his hair shaved into patterns and a bone through his lip. When Marlow calls him "an improved specimen," he's being sarcastic, and he's also showing a certain pessimism toward the civilizing ideals-the notion of carrying light into the darkness-that everybody in Africa was mouthing at the time. These people were trying to justify their being in Africa by demonstrating how much progress they'd brought the Africans. But in this case, as with the torch in Kurtz's painting, enlightenment doesn't seem to have banished the darkness. How much good has his smattering of education done Marlow's fireman?