Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Marlow, the narrator and impartial observer of the action who becomes the central figure of the story. Because he is an observer and never centrally involved in the action of the story, he survives to tell the tale. He tells his listeners about his childhood passion for maps and about his declared intention to go, someday, to the heart of Africa. This thoroughly British Everyman describes how, years later, he signs on for the journey, with the help of his aunt. An accident has befallen the steamer that he was to have commanded, and the previous captain was murdered. Because of the damage done to his intended vessel, Marlow waits months for repairs that eventually allow him to command his steamboat. He then makes the difficult and perilous trip upriver to retrieve a sick agent, Kurtz, who dies on board shortly after being rescued. Marlow’s voyage into the heart of Africa becomes, symbolically, a journey into the core of his being as well as into the evil at the center of human experience. After talking with Kurtz, with whom he identifies, he is able to see deeply into his own being. Even after returning to Brussels, Marlow is haunted by the memory of Kurtz.
Kurtz, a powerful and intelligent man who manages an inland trading station in the Belgian Congo. His fame is based partly on the fact that he brings in more ivory than all the others put together, and his station is surrounded by heads on stakes....
(The entire section is 487 words.)
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