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.
in-depth analysis of Marlow.
chief of the Inner Station and the object of Marlow’s quest. Kurtz
is a man of many talents—we learn, among other things, that he is
a gifted musician and a fine painter—the chief of which 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; in so doing, he has
become wildly successful but has also incurred the wrath of his
fellow white men.
in-depth analysis of Kurtz.
- The chief agent of the Company in its African territory,
who runs the Central Station. He 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, keeping everyone
sufficiently unsettled for him to exert his control over them.
brickmaker, whom Marlow also meets at the Central Station, is a
favorite of the manager and seems to be a kind of corporate spy.
He never actually produces any bricks, as he is supposedly waiting
for some essential element that is never delivered. He is petty
and conniving and assumes that other people
- An efficient worker with an incredible habit of dressing
up in spotless whites and keeping himself absolutely tidy despite
the squalor and heat of the Outer Station, where he lives and works.
He is one of the few colonials who seems to have accomplished anything:
he has trained a native woman to care for
bumbling, greedy agents of the Central Station. They carry long
wooden staves with them everywhere, 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, although in their greed
and ridiculousness they appear less than
hired as the crew of the steamer, a surprisingly reasonable and
well-tempered bunch. Marlow respects their restraint and their calm
acceptance of adversity. The leader of the group, in particular,
seems to be intelligent and capable of ironic reflection upon
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. His brightly patched clothes remind Marlow of
a harlequin. He is a devoted disciple of Kurtz’s.
young man from the coast trained by Marlow’s predecessor to pilot
the steamer. He is a serviceable pilot, although Marlow never comes
to view him as much more than a mechanical part of the boat. He
is killed when the steamer is attacked by natives hiding on the
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.
in-depth analysis of Kurtz’s Intended.
doting relative, who secures him a position with the Company. She
believes firmly in imperialism as a charitable activity that brings
civilization and religion to suffering, simple savages. She, too,
is an example for Marlow of the naïveté and illusions of women.
The men aboard the Nellie
- Marlow’s friends, who are with him aboard a ship
on the Thames at the story’s opening. They are the audience for
the central story of Heart of Darkness,
narrates. All have been sailors at one time or another, but all
now have important jobs ashore and have settled into middle-class,
middle-aged lives. They represent the kind of man Marlow would have
likely become had he not gone to Africa: well meaning and moral
but ignorant as to a large part of the world beyond England. The narrator
in particular seems to be shaken by Marlow’s story. He repeatedly
comments on its obscurity and Marlow’s own mysterious nature.
predecessor as captain of the steamer. Fresleven, by all accounts
a good-tempered, nonviolent man, was killed in a dispute over some
hens, apparently after striking a village chief.