"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."

As Marlow begins his journey up the Congo River, he comes across a French man-of-war ship firing into the vegetation on the coast with no people in sight. His perplexed response to this seemingly unwarranted action acts as a microcosmic critique of colonial violence more generally. Conrad appears to suggest that the European’s presence in Africa, symbolized here by the out-of-place warship, is unnecessary and misguided. Although the notion that “nothing could happen” does not apply to Europe’s imperialistic behavior as a whole, this image still offers a powerful critique of the pointlessness of unprovoked violence.

"But as I stood on this hillside I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly."

After watching African men pointlessly blast at a cliff and witnessing the chain-gang trudge by, Marlow offers this observation regarding the circumstances of the men at the Outer Station. He explains that unlike the powerful devils of violence, greed, or lust, a weak devil of foolishness plagues the men. The fact that he describes the evil they face as “pretending,” however, implies that folly is not a real, or innate, source of human temptation but rather a state of existence imposed by the merciless European men in charge of the Station. 

"I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn’t a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do."

Among the many futile jobs assigned to the men at the Outer Station, the digging of this meaningless hole seems to confuse Marlow the most. His description of the hole as “artificial” emphasizes that the need for its existence is wholly manufactured with no real purpose behind it. The notion of the work stemming from a “philanthropic desire” exists in the same realm as white saviorism serving as a morally-questionable motive for imperialism more generally, a connection which challenges Marlow’s assumption that a degree of true pity lies behind the useless labor.