In the novel Heart of Darkness, Marlow had no regard for the philanthropic or missionary enterprise. The marauders used such concepts as camouflage—to fool their prey and even themselves. They used such words to convince themselves that they were doing good—God’s work. Kurtz first, and Marlow second, saw through that hideous lie. They thought of themselves as exploring the world in search of Eldorado—the city of gold. Yet according to Marlow, they were “reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage.” They were worthy of no respect—only shame. All they really wanted to do was loot, pillage no matter what the cost. “To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.”
Then astonishingly the natives treated these rapacious burglars like gods. Imagine that! The whites no doubt could hardly believe what they saw. Marlow compared that to how “sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse.” That is exactly it. It is entirely unreal—fantastical. Horribly fantastic. Marlow described the scene this way,
The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there—there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were,–No, they were not inhuman. Well you know, that was the worst of it—this 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 remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes it was ugly; 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 which you—you remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend.
Marlowe also calls it the “edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy.” Again, he is vague and circumspect, but all the more chilling and terrifying for that. It is an incomprehensible horror. And the real horror is that this is the result of our humanity. It is not inhuman; it is human incarnate. No matter how frightful that seems. This is the heart of darkness. Our own dark centre.