In Heart of Darkness, what do the occupations of Marlow's friends on the ship suggest about important themes?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The frame story of Heart of Darkness contains Marlow on a ship with three friends: the unnamed Narrator, an Accountant, and a Lawyer. These characters have little to do with the novel, except for the narrator who serves as an audience surrogate. The Narrator's profession is never specified, so he is a representation of the objective Reader, viewing the story without comment. The Accountant and Lawyer speak occasionally, but not with specificity; it is not known which one speaks and it doesn't matter. In fact, their professions have almost nothing, if not absolutely nothing, to do with the story.

The Lawyer -- the best of old fellows -- had, because of his many years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones.
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, gutenberg.org)

The best relation these characters have to the story is how they are seen; like most of the characters in the story, they have no names, just profession descriptions. Marlow tends to objectify people by their profession or employment; he doesn't care much for names, and even Kurtz's former lover is only "The Intended." In this manner, the mode for recognizing and understanding the characters is set up at the beginning; characters will be identified by their occupation, not by name, because in the jungle, their names don't matter as much as their actions. The individuality of names vanishes under the need for movement; if they stop moving, they die, and are replaced by equally-nameless people. This shows one major theme of the book: outside of civilization, people don't matter; only actions matter, and those actions only matter if they are observed, because otherwise they are as meaningless as an individual name.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Accountant and The Lawyer are Marlow's friends, who listen to his story about his journey into the "heart of darkness." Despite the fact that their personal names are not given, their occupations relate to several important themes throughout the novella. The Lawyer's profession involves practicing law and presenting cases throughout the judicial system. Throughout the novella, the theme of justice is examined and portrayed by the Company's business ventures in the Congo. Conrad illustrates how justice is perverted and used as a means to exploit the indigenous population while simultaneously legitimizing the inhumane European practices. Laws and regulations are virtually nonexistent in the Congo, where individuals involved in the ivory trade brutally oppress and exploit the Natives.

The Accountant's occupation also relates to the prominent theme of money throughout the novella. The goal of Imperialism is to acquire and exploit foreign territories in order to attain wealth for the mother country. Throughout the novella, Marlow witnesses firsthand the nature of Imperialism. Greed and money fuel the horrific practices associated with the ivory trade. Kurtz is viewed as a god by the Natives and uses his influence to extend tribal fighting in order to harvest ivory from surrounding areas. The pursuit of monetary wealth results in corruption, which is illustrated by Kurtz's depravity. From the perspective of the Company, the extraction of valuable resources such as ivory from the Congo justifies the violence, brutality, and corruption involved in the operation.