“It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me like a snake would a bird — a silly little bird.” (8)
Marlow compares the Congo River to a snake, which is a symbol of danger and evil. Thus, this metaphor suggests that even as a child, Marlow enjoyed exploring dangerous places. However, the metaphor may also suggest that those who have traveled the oceans might have witnessed or committed some evil doings.
Marlow then compares his fascination with traveling the seas to a snakes fascination with a bird. A bird is a snakes prey and thus it is very weak and feeble compared to its predator. Thus, this suggests that Marlow wants to dominate and take over various territories, which is aligned with his contribution to colonialism that is mentioned later in the novel. Moreover, a snake is also a symbol of deceit as it is a snake that had tricked Adam and Eve in the bible. Thus, this could have been foreshadowing the later acts of deceit that Marlow will commit despite his utter distaste for lying.
“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair.”(18)
Marlow recognizes the Africans feelings of “pain, abandonment, and despair”, however, he dehumanizes them by calling them mere “black shapes”. This contrast suggests he is a morally ambiguous character, which has been implied through various examples in the novel. For instance, he is often able to acknowledge that colonization and their treatment of the Africans are cruel and gruesome. However, he also recognizes that imperialism can have a beautiful cause and he does not try to treat the Africans better.