Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, how does Kurtz have the dimensions of a tragic hero? Is it his flaw of arrogance, the end of his life, his exceptional personal talents, or all of these?

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Because Joseph Conrad presents Kurtz entirely through the eyes of Marlow, the reader gains an understanding of how that character views both heroism and human foibles. Kurtz’s downfall can be considered a tragedy both for himself and for the world he tried so hard to destroy. Arrogance certainly plays a role in this tragedy, but that flaw is not Kurtz’s alone. Marlow makes it clear that his contempt is for the imperial enterprise in which Kurtz was, to some extent, a pawn. Marlow himself does not witness the supposedly exceptional skills that Kurtz deployed in extracting the valued ivory from his African associates; the discourses of praise come from other Europeans whom he also helped to enrich. The most damaging flaw seems to be Kurtz’s loss of perspective: he came to believe his own hype and, rather than cut his losses and leave Africa with his health—both mental and physical—intact, he allowed himself to be trapped by the lies he spread. The kind of hubris that Kurtz exhibited is...

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