Character Analysis in Heart of Darkness
Marlow: Narrator and main character of Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow is defined by his obsession with a man named Kurtz. Though he is described as wise and knowledgeable beyond his years due to his extensive traveling and experience at sea, Marlow follows his curiosity on a dangerous mission to find Kurtz. A key element of Marlow’s character includes his skeptical attitude towards European colonization and its capitalistic goals. However, a discerning reader should note that Marlow is no shining light for the rights of indigenous people. He feels colonization is justified if it aims to ‘civilize,’ or assimilate, native peoples. His journey into the “darkness” of the Congo in search for Captain Kurtz affects Marlow so dramatically that he returns to Europe a man haunted by the chilling reality of humanity’s inner darkness.
Kurtz: Kurtz initially desires to ‘civilize’ the native people by importing European values and beliefs into their society. However, upon arriving in the Congo, Kurtz quickly abandons his original quest, and instead elevates himself to the level of a God in the indigenous community. We learn that his great ability to source more ivory than others is due to his use of absolute force, and that his time in Africa has turned him into a bloodthirsty, morally-corrupt man. In this way, Kurtz comes to symbolize the darkness in the human soul. Kurtz is often cast as the symbol for European greed and lust which reflects the heightening sense of imperial guilt felt for the perceived economic exploitation of foreign resources by European centers.
Character Analysis Examples in Heart of Darkness:
"and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . .”..." See in text (Chapter 1)
"The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own...." See in text (Chapter 2)
"I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—too dark altogether. . .”..." See in text (Chapter 3)
" But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad...." See in text (Chapter 3)