Search Menu

Contents

Kurtz

Kurtz, like Marlow, can be situated within a larger tradition. Kurtz resembles the archetypal “evil genius”: the highly gifted but ultimately degenerate individual whose fall is the stuff of legend. Kurtz is related to figures like Faustus, Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Moby-Dick’s Ahab, and Wuthering Heights’s Heathcliff. Like these characters, he is significant both for his style and eloquence and for his grandiose, almost megalomaniacal scheming. In a world of mundanely malicious men and “flabby devils,” attracting enough attention to be worthy of damnation is indeed something. Kurtz can be criticized in the same terms that Heart of Darkness is sometimes criticized: style entirely overrules substance, providing a justification for amorality and evil.

In fact, it can be argued that style does not just override substance but actually masks the fact that Kurtz is utterly lacking in substance. Marlow refers to Kurtz as “hollow” more than once. This could be taken negatively, to mean that Kurtz is not worthy of contemplation. However, it also points to Kurtz’s ability to function as a “choice of nightmares” for Marlow: in his essential emptiness, he becomes a cipher, a site upon which other things can be projected. This emptiness should not be read as benign, however, just as Kurtz’s eloquence should not be allowed to overshadow the malice of his actions. Instead, Kurtz provides Marlow with a set of paradoxes that Marlow can use to evaluate himself and the Company’s men.

Indeed, Kurtz is not so much a fully realized individual as a series of images constructed by others for their own use. As Marlow’s visits with Kurtz’s cousin, the Belgian journalist, and Kurtz’s fiancée demonstrate, there seems to be no true Kurtz. To his cousin, he was a great musician; to the journalist, a brilliant politician and leader of men; to his fiancée, a great humanitarian and genius. All of these contrast with Marlow’s version of the man, and he is left doubting the validity of his memories. Yet Kurtz, through his charisma and larger-than-life plans, remains with Marlow and with the reader.

More Help

Previous Next
Middle Class Values

by AnimeObsessedPokemonMaster, March 01, 2013

It would be good to note the relationship of this text to middle class values, such as the idea of morals or nationalism.

0 Comments

3 out of 9 people found this helpful

Nature/Wilderness

by artbn, November 20, 2013

Nature or the wilderness is also an important motif. I believe the sparknotes team should look into it. It is evident by its consumption of Kurtz, its whispers, and its maternal feelings toward the natives.

1 Comments

23 out of 27 people found this helpful

I dont think the whited sepulchar is a symbol

by PeanutJoe, December 04, 2013

I would honestly consider the whited sepulcher to be more of a Biblical allusion than a symbol...

1 Comments

7 out of 14 people found this helpful

See all 16 readers' notes   →

Buy on BN.com and save!

Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Heart of Darkness (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)

Got it?
Take a quiz on All Major Characters →