In Heart of Darkness, why does the manager choose Marlow to find Kurtz?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Captain Marlow is assigned a mission to find Kurtz, an ivory hunter who has made a lot of money for the Company. Marlow is chosen partly because of his competence and partly because he is an outsider.

The manager of the first station, who is never named, strikes Marlow as odd, and Marlow later concludes that the man is empty inside -- he has no heart or soul, and although he is intelligent and able in his job, he has no concern for anything but the bottom line:

“He began to speak... I had been very long on the road. He could not wait. Had to start without me. The up-river stations had to be relieved. There had been so many delays already..."
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

The manager is entirely concerned with the business of ivory. Kurtz, who is a massively prolific ivory hunter, has been out of contact for a long time, and so the manager accompanies Marlow to find him. However, because of Kurtz's reputation for strange and unethical behavior, the manager is also planning to scapegoat him for troubles on the river:

"'We have done all we could for him—haven't we? But there is no disguising the fact, Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action.'"
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, eNotes eText)

Marlow, who is a very pragmatic man, is able to complete the mission, but many conversations and plans go on in secret, some of which he overhears. His status as an outsider to the Company allows him objectivity, but it also give the Company an out if the mission goes badly; they can blame it on him instead of their own men.