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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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Extended Character Analysis

Kurtz is a mysterious figure throughout much of the novel. Marlow first hears about him from the Chief Accountant, who describes him as a first-class agent in charge of a very important trading post. Kurtz contributes more ivory than all the other posts combined. The Chief Accountant wants Marlow to tell Kurtz that he is doing a satisfactory job, and he tells Marlow that he expects Kurtz to advance in the company.

The General Manager says that Kurtz is rumored to be ill and that his station is in jeopardy, which is why Marlow needs to hasten to the Inner Station. From the brickmaker, Marlow learns that Kurtz and Marlow were recommended by the same people, implying that they have similar backgrounds. Kurtz’s presence has upset the brickmaker and the General Manager, who both have professional ambitions that are threatened by Kurtz’s high volume of ivory. Though Kurtz could have been relieved and returned to Europe, he remained at the Inner Station.

On their way to the Inner Station, Marlow and the steamboat crew come across the Russian’s old campsite, where a faded message reads, “Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.” Unbeknownst to Marlow, when Kurtz discovers that the steamboat is making its way to the Inner Station, he orders a group of Africans to attack the ship. Marlow is able to scare them off with the boat whistle.

Marlow mentions that Kurtz had been charged with writing a pamphlet about the Congo and the Africans. Kurtz posits that whites must appear like gods to the Africans in order to positively influence them. Marlow describes the writing as inspired, high-minded, noble, and eloquent. He suspects it was written before Kurtz attended African rituals and celebrations, which were offered to Kurtz as if he were a god. Marlow likens these rituals to witchcraft and considers them corrupting forces. Kurtz also adds an alarming postscript to the paper that reads “Exterminate all the brutes!”

The Russian provides further insight into Kurtz’s character, saying that Kurtz would “forget himself” when he would go live among the Africans. Kurtz claims to despise “the brutes,” but he cannot resist going back to the grandiose life he has made for himself. He commands the Africans to leave when the steamboat arrives and allows the pilgrims to carry him into the small house. There is a lot of ivory in the station, and Marlow sees that there are heads on the fencepost, which the Russians says are the heads of “rebels.”

After Marlow intercepts Kurtz, the Europeans take him on the steamboat, where he dies on the way back to Brussels. His last words are, “The horror! The horror!” as he seems to reflect on his actions.

Kurtz is discussed extensively throughout the novel, and he is built up to be an impressive and visionary man with a great deal of professional potential. When Marlow meets him, he realizes that Kurtz’s grandiose ideas have resulted in extreme violence and the dangerous inflation of Kurtz’s ego. “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz,” according to Marlow. Indeed, Kurtz represents Europe’s self-righteous approach to colonialism.

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