The protagonist of Heart of Darkness. Marlow is philosophical, independent-minded, and generally skeptical of those around him. He is also a master storyteller, eloquent and able to draw his listeners into his tale. Although Marlow shares many of his fellow Europeans’ prejudices, he has seen enough of the world and has encountered enough debased white men to make him skeptical of imperialism.
The chief of the Inner Station and the object of Marlow’s quest. Among Kurtz’s many talents are his charisma and his ability to lead men. Kurtz is a man who understands the power of words, and his writings are marked by an eloquence that obscures their horrifying message. Although he remains an enigma even to Marlow, Kurtz clearly exerts a powerful influence on the people in his life. His downfall seems to be a result of his willingness to ignore the hypocritical rules that govern European colonial conduct: Kurtz has “kicked himself loose of the earth” by fraternizing excessively with the natives and not keeping up appearances. Kurtz has become wildly successful but he has also indulged his own evil desires and alienated himself from his fellow white men.
The chief agent of the Company’s African territory and manager of the Central Station. The General manager owes his success to a hardy constitution that allows him to outlive all his competitors. He is average in appearance and unremarkable in abilities, but he possesses a strange capacity to produce uneasiness in those around him, which allows him to exert his control.
The bumbling, greedy agents of the Central Station. They carry long wooden staves, reminding Marlow of traditional religious travelers. They all want to be appointed to a station so that they can trade for ivory and earn a commission, but none of them actually takes any effective steps toward achieving this goal. They are obsessed with keeping up a veneer of civilization and proper conduct, and are motivated entirely by self-interest. They hate the natives and treat them like animals.
Natives hired as the crew of the steamer. They are a surprisingly reasonable and well-tempered bunch. Marlow respects their restraint and calm acceptance of adversity. The leader of the group, in particular, seems to be intelligent and capable of ironic reflection upon his situation.
A Russian sailor who has gone into the African interior as the trading representative of a Dutch company. He is boyish in appearance and temperament, and seems to exist wholly on the glamour of youth and the audacity of adventurousness. He is a devoted disciple of Kurtz’s.
Kurtz’s African mistress
A fiercely beautiful woman loaded with jewelry who appears on the shore when Marlow’s steamer arrives at and leaves the Inner Station. She seems to exert an undue influence over both Kurtz and the natives around the station, and the Russian trader points her out as someone to fear. Like Kurtz, she is an enigma: she never speaks to Marlow, and he never learns anything more about her.
Kurtz’s naïve and long-suffering fiancée, whom Marlow goes to visit after Kurtz’s death. Her unshakable certainty about Kurtz’s love for her reinforces Marlow’s belief that women live in a dream world, well insulated from reality.