Is Conrad's Heart of Darkness, is Marlow sent to find Kurtz and bring him back, or is he just intrigued by Kurtz and "drawn to him" so to speak?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Marlow is sent by the Company into the depth of the Belgian Congo, first with the job of retrieving the body of a captain (whose place he has been hired to take) who "had been killed in a scuffle with the natives." Later, he is asked to bring Kurtz back for the Company.

Beyond his Company responsibilities, Marlow does become more intrigued by Kurtz. Depending upon who he gets his information from, Kurtz—and his ability to ship so much ivory—makes him almost god-like to some. This vision of Kurtz is often based upon his financial value to the Company, rather than for his character.

Reaching the Inner Station, the Company's accountant describes Kurtz to him, that he was a "first class agent" and...

'He is a very remarkable person.'...Mr. Kurtz was at present in charge of a trading post, a very important one, in the true ivory-country...'Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together...'

At the Central Station, Marlow overhears two company men—an uncle and his nephew—speak about Kurtz in terms of how Kurtz stands in the way of their own progress because Kurtz is unsurpassed in shipping ivory out from the Inner Station.

Over time, Kurtz's existence is interwoven with praise, criticism, and a reputation of mythological proportions. Marlow is not quite sure who the true person of Kurtz actually is.

Marlow admits little interest in Kurtz, but he is curious—as was the doctor who had examined Marlow for his captaincy on the mainland —as to the change in a man once he enters the interior regions:

I was curious to see whether this man, who had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort, would climb to the top after all and how we would set about his work when there.

But then news comes about Kurtz being ill, and there is an inference that there is an urgency to get to him. The manager notes:

...the situation was 'very grave, very grave.' There were rumors that a very important station was in jeopardy, and its chief, Mr. Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not true...'very, very uneasy...'


...Next thing he wanted to know 'how long it would take to'....

This infers that the Company is concerned about Kurtz, certainly foremost because of the wealth he brings to them, and because they plan to bring him out of the Inner Station to take up a leadership role within the Company. His immediate rescue is essential.

There is concern for Kurtz—not for the man, but to ease social concern. After leaving the Central Station, the ship is stranded in the fog; to move could cause them at the least to be disoriented (and at risk) as to where they were. At worst, they might suffer a shipwreck and all die—in or out of the water. There is an urgency to move forward, but the realization that to do so could mean all of their deaths. The manager worries.

'It is very serious,' said the manager's voice behind me; 'I would be desolated if anything should happen to Mr. Kurtz before we came up.' I looked at him and had not the slightest doubt he was sincere. He was just the kind of man who would wish to preserve appearances.

Marlow's first job is to find the dead captain's body (He does, but nothing is left but bones). Next, he must rescue Kurtz. Sadly, the broken, insane man Marlow discovers has been changed by life in the Congo.  Returning Kurtz to civilization is a futile plan. A broken man, Kurtz never makes it out of the jungle alive. And Marlow is haunted by the man Kurtz has become.