In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, why does Marlow respect the accountant?
Early in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow describes an important figure in the Company, one whom, contrary to his initial expectations, he finds worthy of respect. That figure is referred to simply as "the Accountant," and he captures Marlowe's attention by his insights into the situation in Africa, into the Company's status and, most importantly, to the importance of the Company's representative deep in the heart of ivory country, Kurtz. The novel's early narrator, before the narrative is turned over entirely to Marlowe, quotes the latter as observing:
"I wouldn’t have mentioned the fellow to you at all, only it was from his lips that I first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character. He had been out nearly three years; and, later, I could not help asking him how he managed to sport such linen. He had just the faintest blush, and said modestly, ‘I’ve been teaching one of the native women about the station. It was difficult. She had a distaste for the work.’ Thus this man had verily accomplished something. And he was devoted to his books, which were in apple-pie order."
Marlowe respects the Accountant because this otherwise seemingly eccentric and dull bureaucrat has managed to retain his English dignity and appearance despite the travails of the business in which he toils. As noted, though, it is the Accountant who also introduces Marlowe to the subject of Kurtz, who the Accountant describes as the Company's most productive representative, regularly shipping more ivory than all the rest of his colleagues combined, and who most certainly has a brilliant future with the corporation. As the encounter with Kurtz constitutes the climactic episode of Conrad's novel, the insights into Kurtz the Accountant provides to Marlowe represents crucial information, albeit information that would prove disturbingly inaccurate.