Notes on Characters from Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness Major Characters

Marlow: The story of Kurtz is told by Marlow, who speaks for the majority of the novel. He is a longtime seaman, a rootless wanderer and frequent storyteller. The stories he tells, though, tend to be more idea than episode. He was the captain of a small steamer that traveled up the Congo River to retrieve the mysterious Kurtz from the interior. His encounter with Kurtz shakes him for the rest of his life.

The Narrator: The unnamed narrator frames Marlow's story, but does not comment on it; he describes the boat and its environment.

Kurtz: A trade agent sent to Africa by the Company, he started out with the noble goal of bringing civilization and progress to the natives. Eloquent and charismatic, he had great favor in the Company and his virtue was praised, to the dismay of his jealous colleagues. No sooner had he arrived than the isolation torn away his civilized exterior and made his inner savageness emerge. He began to act as a god to the area natives. He decayed mentally and physically and ultimately died aware of the horror of his life.

The pilgrims: A group of sixteen to twenty men who Marlow brought on his trip into the interior. He barely talked with any of them; they fired rifles into crowds of natives onshore and were very suspicious of Kurtz. When Kurtz died, they buried him in the mud by the riverside.

The cannibals: The natives who acted as the crew on Marlow's ship to the interior. He became much closer to them than he did to the other white men. They received a meager pay of brass wire, which they were supposed to (but unable to) trade for food; as a result they were always hungry. They were generally distrusted or disregarded by the pilgrims.

The fiancé: Kurtz's fiancé back in Europe, who Marlow visited after his return from Africa. He told her the story of Kurtz's death but lied to her about Kurtz's last words. She was utterly devoted to Kurtz and believed strongly in his noble motives.

The young man: A Russian wanderer who ended up at Kurtz's station. Worshipful and fearful of Kurtz, he was most concerned with attempting to win Marlow over to Kurtz's side. He ran off before Kurtz was taken from the station, leaving Marlow with Kurtz's papers and an admonition to protect his memory.

Minor Characters

The Director of Companies, the Lawyer, and the Accountant: The three men who listen, along with the narrator, to Marlow's story. They are solid professional men who occasionally show skepticism about the story.

Marlow's aunt: She was able to get Marlow a job with the Company. She had the idea that the Company would ennoble and enlighten the savage African people.

Fresleven: The past captain along the Congo River, who Marlow was hired to replace. Normally a placid man, he killed a native chief over a chicken, and was killed, in retaliation, by the tribe.

The Secretary of the Company: Marlow interviewed with this distinguished old man at the Company offices.

Knitting Women: These women sat outside the offices of the Secretary for no apparent reason, knitting black wool. They made Marlow uneasy as they looked at him.

The Doctor: He gave Marlow a cursory examination, then measured his cranium out of curiosity. He was interested in the mental effects of the wilderness on Europeans.

The Swede: The Swede told Marlow the story of another Swede who traveled to the interior. Once stationed there, this man hung himself for no discernible reason. The story made Marlow uneasy.

Native laborers: At the outermost station, dozens of native laborers, captive prisoners supposedly enslaved for crimes, were building a railroad trestle. Many of them were sick or dying.

Chief Accountant: A well-dressed man who first told Marlow about Kurtz. He had come to hate the natives for how their noise distracted him.

Fat man: This greedy white man went with Marlow to the Central Station in order to make money. He was always complaining about the country and came down with a fever.

General Manager: A higher official with the Company, he went with Marlow into the interior in order to retrieve Kurtz. He was jealous of Kurtz's popularity with the Company in Europe and feared being usurped. He was incompetent and not very bright, but ambitious enough to stay in Africa.

Brickmaker: An ally of the Manager, this man befriended Marlow in order to gain information about Company politics. Like the manager, he worried about Kurtz's influence. He never made any bricks.

Treasure hunters: A caravan of greedy men who stopped at the Central Station on their way to the interior. Their goal was to raid natives for gold, ivory or other treasure. Marlow found them distasteful and cruel. They disappear, presumably dead, into the jungle.

Caravan leader: Uncle of the Manager, this man was the most unpleasant of the treasure-hunters. He worried about Kurtz's civilizing motives as a possible stumbling block to commercial considerations.

Boiler operator: A cannibal decked out with tribal decorations. Marlow noted that it was unfortunate that such an impressive native was forced to operate the boiler of a white man's ship.

Helmsman: A cannibal killed when Kurtz's tribes attacked the ship.

Native woman: A tall and beautiful woman who appeared strangely and menacingly when the white men took Kurtz aboard the ship. She also stared after them as they departed with Kurtz, unafraid of the noise of the ship's horn.

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