"The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed." --Marlow
Ivory. Ivory. The sacred item, the gold to be mined. Marlow is not told straightforwardly that everyone seeks ivory that the goal is ivory, but form the way its spoken Marlow begins to realize the true goal of his being there (in the eyes of the Company). Diplomacy and civilization? Teaching the "uneducated", wild, Natives how to live in a more industrial, civil, and righteous world? All merely social political fronts to fuel the real goal of squeezing out every gram and dust bit of ivory from the Congo.
"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...It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone." --Marlow
Marlow stops mid story to converse directly or to simply purge his mind from these thoughts of what he experienced in Africa to his shipmates. Even though he knows what has happened to be true in his perception, he feels that it was all too absurd too unrealistic, so dreamlike that it could have all possibly have been a terrible dream. Yet Marlow knows it is not and concludes with his own epiphany on the thought --while he shares this encounter with his shipmates to them it is nothing but a story, a dream, yet to him it was his life and as it is akin to a dream for his shipmates his connects the two --people live as they dream: alone. Two people may have been in the same situation but the experience will not be the same for them for each lives as each dreams; independent and alone of the other.
"...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." --Marlow
As they journey onwards, towards the great Inner Station, Marlow describes how it feels and appears to be. The imagery and diction lead to the thought and feeling of being slowly ensnared, becoming more and more trapped by the Congo and of the darkness it brings.
"Why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger they didn't go for us --they were thirty to five --and have a good tuck-in for once, amazes me now when I think of it." --Marlow
Marlow's own amazement at this thought of a possible reason why the starving natives did not attack the much weaker and much fewer company men on his ship amazes him. He is bewildered in a twisted case of curiosity that shows just how demeaning and stereotypical the Company is of lesser developed countries' peoples.
"I tell you," he cried, "this man has enlarged my mind." --The Russian
Marlow meets the Russian, the enthusiastic apprentice of Kurtz, the one man Marlow knows for sure has been in extended contact with Kurtz. The Russian appears to nearly worship Kurtz despite the various threats Kurtz said to the Russian. The Russian's admiration for Kurtz goes so far that the way Kurtz conducts himself and survives in the Congo and thinks of every situation is literally mind blowing --it opens limited minds to the heart of darkness (almost where it sounds like a madness has infested the brain).
"They had given up on Kurtz, they had given up on the station; Kurtz was dead, and the station had been burnt --and so on --and so on." --Marlow
Here Marlow lets his thoughts just run on and on about what could have happened, trying to explain the non-existence of Kurtz and the destroyed prized Inner Station. Is Kurtz really dead? Who knows...
"His need was to exist, and to move onwards at the greatest possible risk, and with the maximum of privation." --Marlow
Upon finding the famed Kurtz to be alive, Marlow sees a large blemish in the man. Kurtz's way of living or rather surviving in the Congo among the Natives and on the hunt for the sacred ivory is volatile.
"The horror! " --Kurtz
Kurtz's final words. Did he realize what had happened to him? Did the proclaimed "lifetime flashing before your eyes" make him see the volatile and destructive life he had been living in the Congo? Or did Kurtz come face-to-face with his own heart of darkness? Whatever Kurtz saw, thought, or experienced in his final moments came down and out to two words: "The horror." Their ambiguity of what is horrifying is what gives them so much weight. There is much Marlow found horrifying --we know that-- and there is much the reader may find horrifying. What we do not know is what Kurtz found to be so horrifying upon his deathbed.
"...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 summed up --he had judged. "The horror!" He was a remarkable man."
Kurtz deliberates the death of Kurtz. He asks himself what would he have done? What would he have said? And Marlow answers truthfully to himself, which is humiliating because Marlow would not have been able to say anything, to do anything. Marlow sees Kurtz as a Marlow who does and is simply because he acts (they have much in common). But they differ because Kurtz has found the words Marlow lacks and the actions Marlow can't do --this is how Marlow is able to confirm the greatness of Kurtz.
"The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and their tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under the an overcast sky --seemed to lead into the heart of immense darkness."
Even though Marlow and crew is set to return back to Europe, Marlow draws the final and most direct comparison of the present and his story: "seemed to lead into the heart of immense darkness." But was Marlow not returning to the light and glory of civilization? Was he not leaving the dark and primitive Congo? Yes and yes; Marlow sails from place into another but one thing remains the same: a heart of darkness. At the end of his experience Marlow has come to realize and understand that there is more than one darkness in the world. There is that which rises from "primitive customs" and that which rises from "civilized missions." Marlow also recognizes the darkness that has been "awakened" in his own heart --nothing he sees from now until his death will escape