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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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Kurtz can be seen as something of a tragic hero. It's suggested that his original intentions were relatively honorable, and so his eventual decline into darkness and subsequent demise can be seen as tragic. Usually, a tragic hero is a person of the nobility, such as a king, who makes a fatal error and/or who possesses a personal flaw that leads to a downfall. Often, a tragic hero possesses excessive pride that leads him to ignore warning signs or to make avoidable mistakes. 

Let's take a look at how Kurtz fulfills these requirements. He definitely seems to be excessively proud, as he initially envisions himself as an idealistic savior, and then, once he begins to decline, as an actual god. This pride is certainly a personal flaw, and it certainly leads to his death (also known as his downfall). Also, while Kurtz is not a noble as such, he is a prominent and influential member of society, and so he can be seen as a kind of modern equivalent of nobility.

Finally, since you asked about it, here's a final word on Kurtz' personal talents: while Kurtz' personal talents probably helped him gain his influential role in society, they don't necessarily fit in with the classic characteristics of a tragic hero, so I wouldn't focus on that aspect of his personality too much. 

All in all, it would appear that the intense, flawed personal pride and his subsequent death are some of the most important factors contributing to Kurtz' status as a tragic hero, as they most closely resemble the most commonly accepted tragic hero criteria.  

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The enigmatic character Kurtz could be considered a tragic hero because he is a talented and powerful individual whose excessive pride and flawed perception leads to his demise in the jungle. A tragic hero is defined (by Aristotle) as a character of noble birth or a person in a significant position of power who possesses a tragic personality flaw that leads to their downfall. A tragic hero must also be capable of virtuous acts and fall victim to their hamartia (tragic flaw). The readers learn of Kurtz's initial positive intentions after Marlow reads his report to the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. In addition to collecting ivory, Kurtz was supposed to be a beacon of civilization and positively introduce modern customs to the natives. Kurtz is also an extremely talented, eloquent individual, who is held in high regard by both the Company and the natives. Unfortunately, Kurtz falls victim to hubris, which is excessive pride and self-confidence. He essentially believes that he is a god and manipulates the natives into collecting ivory from the surrounding areas by any means necessary. Once removed from civilization, Kurtz becomes increasingly corrupted because of the opportunity to satiate his every desire in the jungle. Eventually, Kurtz becomes so corrupted that he goes insane and lets his greed overwhelm him. His unrestrained power, desire, and pride lead to his tragic downfall. His moral degeneration and corrupted soul is reflected in his last words, "The horror! The horror!" (Conrad, 116).

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Heart of Darkness

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