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Marlow's journey to his destination on the ship is slow, monotonous, and depressing. Isolated among the people aboard, Marlow watches the "sordid farce" of imperialism. He sees first- hand the dark chaos caused by the European presence in Africa. He watches a French ship needlessly shell the African coast and begins to think that his trip is not a pilgrimage but a nightmare. After thirty days, Marlow sees the mouth of the Congo River, but his goal is still two hundred miles farther up the river. He starts on a small steamer ship for the Outer Station and is befriended by the Swedish captain who tells of the Europeans cruelty to the Africans. Marlow himself sees the Outer Station as "a scene of uninhabited devastation." Life here is dangerous, even for the Europeans; there is a price to pay for spoiling the land.
As Marlow approaches the company offices, he sees the waste -- the discarded machinery laying about in disrepair, he hears "objectless blasting" of dynamite nearby, and he sees a chain gang of Africans who look starved and animal-like to Marlow. He responds with distancing irony, noting that these starving African men are called criminals. He recognizes, however, that he, too, is part of "these high and just proceedings." Marlow descends further down the hill to get away from the chain gang and comes upon a gloomy place--what he calls a "grove of death"--where a number of Africans is dying. They are starving, wasted creatures gathered in "contorted collapse."
Marlow turns and quickly walks toward the station. When he is near the buildings, he sees a white man, the Chief Accountant, who is dressed in starched, neatly ironed and brilliantly white clothing, in total contrast to the dying black natives he has just seen. Marlow respects this man, in an ironic way, for keeping up appearances even though he looks like a "hairdresser's dummy." However, it is appropriate that the man who keeps the books for the ivory operation is perfectly dressed in white, with a perfectly ordered office, while all around him is found the dark chaos caused by the ivory trade.
Marlow must spend ten days at this horrible outpost to avoid contact with the terrible conditions that surround him. He spends time in the accountant's office, the lesser of two evils. The Chief Accountant tells Marlow of Mr. Kurtz, a first-class agent, a "very remarkable person," and the man that Marlow will seek to know throughout the remainder of the story. As Marlow is talking with the accountant one day, a sick man groans in the background. The accountant is so agitated by the interruptions that he says, "When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages--hate them to death." Obviously, there is no sympathy on the part of the Europeans to the plight of the natives, as evidenced by the accountant's callused attitude and by the picture of death and destruction caused by the white man's greed for ivory and money resulting in the horrors of the "grove of death."
Marlow leaves the Outer Station in a walking caravan of sixty men for a difficult two hundred miles trip. He finds the population of the areas through which he walks totally depleted and guesses that the African people have been forced into work for the company or have fled in desperation. Along the way, Marlow has to care for a sick white man, who accompanies the caravan and who must be carried by the Africans. Marlow also finds along the trail the body of a black man who has been shot in the head and left to rot, reminding Marlow of the brutality of imperialism. After fifteen strenuous days, Marlow again sees the Congo River and reaches the Central Station. He finds that the European men who run the station are faithless and unreal. He also learns that his steamer, which was to take him to the Inner Station, has sunk to the bottom of the river. Marlow speculates that the ship was sunk intentionally, but he decides he will pull the ship from the river bottom and repair it, a job that will be tedious and lengthy.
When Marlow meets the Station Manager, who is described in detail, he finds him to be poorly educated, disturbing, petty, and shallow. He suspects that "there was nothing within him." The Manager treats Marlow poorly, not even asking him to be seated during their conversation, because he sees this newcomer as a threat to his own position, authority, and security. The Manager informs Marlow that the situation up river at the Inner Station is dangerous, but its chief, Mr. Kurtz, is his best agent and a very important man to the company. He further explains that Kurtz had planned to travel with Marlow to the Inner Station, but he was sent ahead due to Marlow's delayed arrival. Now, the Manager says that he is afraid that Kurtz may have become ill (wishful thinking on the part of the Manager). In truth, the Manager intensely dislikes Kurtz, fearing he is also a threat to his power. As a result, he is intentionally delaying the shipment of supplies to Kurtz at the Inner Station (probably sinking the supply steamer as well). The Manager is hopeful that if the delay is long enough Kurtz will die from the lack of necessities.