For Conrad, the individual possesses within himself the possibility of the primitive, but society and civilization have created a framework of control by which the individual can escape from that state. This seems evident in the opening passages as Marlow is about to tell his story to the other men sitting on the deck and refers to the civilizing influence of Western culture from Roman times to the present. The England of two thousand years ago, the England to which the Romans came, is compared to the Africa to which Marlow has traveled, and this connection indicates the primitive nature of Africa, setting it up as a pre-civilized place. For Marlow, society is something the individual should bend to in order to maintain the social order:
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion of slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea--something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . (Conrad 9).
Kurtz and Marlow are similar men, though Kurtz has abandoned his civilized veneer while Marlow only fears for the safety of his own. The moral collapse of Kurtz is an object lesson t