Why is Marlow fascinated by Kurtz in Heart of Darkness?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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When Marlow enters the jungle, he has heard many rumors and stories about Kurtz, who is seen as an almost mythical figure by many. The Accountant seems to worship Kurtz for his production of ivory, while the Station Manager and his uncle speak of Kurtz as though his exploitations are damaging to the Company. Every mention of Kurtz makes Marlow more and more curious, until Marlow is almost desperate to meet with him:

Hadn't I been told in all the tones of jealousy and admiration that he had collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together?
 I was cut to the quick at the idea of having lost the inestimable privilege of listening to the gifted Kurtz.
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

All the people building Kurtz up gave Marlow certain expectations, and he wants to meet Kurtz to see the truth behind all these disparate and contradictory stories. When Marlow finally meets Kurtz, his expectations are so high that for a time he views Kurtz as a seven-foot-tall commanding presence, even though Kurtz is bedridden and invalid. Marlow does not view Kurtz as an opposite figure; instead, Marlow comes to realize that Kurtz is the worst of uninhibited man, released because the jungle has no checks and balances.


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