The three stations in Conrads novella, The Heart of Darkness, serve as steps in a descent. When Marlows journey down the Congo is examined, it can be viewed as if it were a descent into the pool that is Africa. The stations themselves are attempts at oases within the harsh jungle, but, through exposure, have become corrupted by the darkness of the land. With each station, Marlow comes closer and closer to his final goal, the inner station where Kurtz waits for him. This final station represents a total and complete immersion into the darkness, and could thus be thought of as the heart. At each station Marlow is exposed to more and more of the savagery and chaos that is the essence of the darkness.
The steps, or evolution, to this darkness can be seen through the characters and experiences that Marlow encounters at the stations. At the Outer Station, the first stepping-stone into the pool, Marlow encounters the Chief Accountant. The duality of this character becomes apparent to Marlow after he meets the Accountants assistant. The Accountants personal dress is what one would expect from a person in England, I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision, and, He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear (20).
All the bookkeeping is done at the Outer Station, and the station itself is kept in such civil order that Marlow is amazed. But through the character of the attendant, it can be construed that the Accountant is not nearly as elegant as Marlow believes him to be.
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When Marlow asks the Accountant how he keeps his clothes so nice in the jungle, the novel states, [The Accountant] had just the faintest blush, and said modestly, Ive been teaching one of the native women about the station. It was difficult. She had a distaste for the work (21).
Here, with the character of the Accountant, is a man who embodies what is important in Europe, the appearance of civility, while he, in truth, is as much a savage, in the fact that he has forced a woman to become his slave, as any African brute. At the second stepping-stone, the Central station, Marlow meets the General Manager. This encounter takes place following Marlows discovery of the that the boat that he had planned to continue on down the Congo in had been unaccountably sunk, lending further to the sense of chaos and savagery that is intensifying during the trip down the river.
The General Manager is a perfect representative for the Central Station. He appears to be an average, normal man, but upon closer examination, Marlow finds that there is something wrong with him, something inside. Though Marlow hasnt come to understand it yet, what is wrong with the Manager is that he is infected by the darkness. He was a common trader, from his youth up, employed in these partsnothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. Not a definite mistrustjust uneasinessnothing more (25).
Everyone who goes to Africa eventually is infected by the darkness. Kurtz is the exceptional chief of the Inner Station, the final and complete immersion into the darkness of the story. Kurtz seems to be a man of great eloquence, but he lacks a certain restraint, however, and in the wilderness he succumbs to the temptations of a barbarous lifestyle. He has become, in some sense, a god to the natives. On approaching Kurtz hut, Marlow gets his first idea of how far down the path of darkness Kurtz has gone, They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way(70).
... station. The brickmaker is giving him some insight into Kurtz. The brickmaker, who doesn't make bricks, is inadvertently telling Marlow that the manager ... tale to the inner darkness of man, Kurtz/Marlow, and the center of the earth, the Congo. Charlie Marlow gives the accounts of ... the bush. This remarkable horror tale to the inner darkness of man is engrossed and exploited by the physical journey to ...
This is one of the ways in which Kurtz has come to embrace the horror or the darkness, as truth. The heads face in towards Kurtzs hut as a reminder of that truth. It is also important to note here how far along Marlow himself has come along the same path, when he says in response to finding the heads on the poles, I was not so shocked as you may think (70).
The idea of the infectious nature of the darkness is exemplified best with Kurtz, who the General Manager claims is the way he is due to having gotten sick while in the jungle and not recovering well from the illness, as if it were the darkness itself that made him sick. This idea of the corruptive and infectious nature of the darkness is continued to the point of Kurtz death and to Marlows own sickness, which leads to his premature return home. The three stations along the trip down the Congo, the three steps down to the pool, are all represented by the managers of the stations.
The Accountant seams to be a civilized man by nature, but has begun to become corrupted by the darkness in that he has taken on one of the native women as his slave and prostitute. The General Manager appears to be an average fellow, but upon inspection, has an obvious darker side to him. Kurtz, managing the Inner Station, in the center of the jungle, the heart of the darkness, has become part of that darkness. He allowed himself to become completely enveloped by the waters of that pool. And Marlow, even after returning home to Europe, will never completely recover from his swim.