One of the five men on the ship in the Thames. Heart of Darkness is mostly made up of his story about his journey into the Belgian Congo. Marlow is a seaman through and through, and has seen the world many times over. Perhaps because of his journeys, perhaps because of the temperament he was born with, he is philosophical, passionate, and insightful. But Marlow is also extremely skeptical of both mankind and civilization, and, to him, nothing is simple. As the Narrator describes him: "to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze." The one thing Marlow does seem to believe in as a source of simple moral worth is hard work.
Marlow Quotes in Heart of Darkness
The Heart of Darkness quotes below are all either spoken by Marlow or refer to Marlow. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Heart of Darkness published in 1990.).
Part 1 Quotes
'And this also,' said Marlow suddenly, 'has been one of the dark places of the earth.
In some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him—all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is detestable. And it has a fascination, too, which goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination—you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.
Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen.
The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I've never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.
I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my fore-finger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe.
Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams...no, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone.
Part 2 Quotes
In a few days the Eldorado Expedition went into the patient wilderness, that closed upon it as the sea closes over a diver. Long afterwards the news came that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of the less valuable animals. They, no doubt, like the rest of us, found what they deserved. I did not inquire.
It was a distinct glimpse: the dugout, four paddling savages, and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home—perhaps; setting his face towards the depth of the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station.
The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.
It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. 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 wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend.
It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: "Exterminate all the brutes!"
Part 3 Quotes
There was something wanting in him—some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence. Whether he knew of this deficiency himself I can't say. I think the knowledge came to him at last—only at the very last. But the wilderness found him out early, and had taken vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.
I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. . . . He had summed up—he had judged. "The horror!" He was a remarkable man.
I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. 'I knew it—I was sure!' . . . She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle.
Marlow Character Timeline in Heart of Darkness
The timeline below shows where the character Marlow appears in Heart of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...men on board the ship—the Director of Companies, the Lawyer, the Accountant, the Narrator, and Marlow, old friends from their seafaring days—settle down to await the changing of the tide. They... (full context)
...few days later the General Manager's uncle and his Eldorado Expedition head into the jungle. Marlow later heard that all their donkeys died, but never heard what happened to the "less... (full context)
...can't see anything. The cannibals want to catch and eat the men on the riverbank. Marlow realizes the cannibals must be incredibly hungry, and marvels at their restraint in not turning... (full context)
...adds that Kurtz "suffered too much. He hated all this and somehow couldn't get away." Marlow, meanwhile, lifts binoculars to his eyes and looks at the building where he thinks Kurtz... (full context)
...the native chiefs came to see Kurtz they crawled up to him. This information disgusts Marlow, who comments that in contrast "uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had... (full context)
...great speaker. He could have been a great radical political leader—he could electrify a crowd. Marlow asks what party Kurtz would have belonged to. The journalist says any party: Kurtz could... (full context)