Heart of Darkness: Kurtz, the Unseen Character

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The heart of darkness corrupts even the most idealistic of men. Kurtz, a man once endowed with charm and European worldliness, crawls from the jungle a broken man, a representation of the rawest form of humanity. For the majority of the novel, Kurtz is merely an idea, a voice in Marlow’s head that speaks to him with increasing volume and limitless wisdom. Although his appearance in Heart of Darkness is brief, the impact of Kurtz’s character is central to the novel. The ‘gift’ that Marlow believes Kurtz to be is tantalizing. The reality of Kurtz is disillusioning and unsettling, but it brings Marlow much clarity. Kurtz arrives at the inner station as a man of sophistication and ideals, but as he plunges deeper into the jungle he truly becomes “hollow to the core,” and is corrupted by the promise of power.

Kurtz’s reputation captivates Marlow. He is believed to be a god-like figure, a paragon of sophistication, polished and eloquent. The Russian trader and the native Africans worship him with undying devotion, heedless of his evident shortcomings. The Russian trader stubbornly reveres Kurtz, even after his life is threatened over a trifling quantity of ivory. Marlow is unwilling to idolize Kurtz with such blind loyalty, however, he becomes enthralled with the very idea of Kurtz, fixating on a particular aspect of his being: his voice.

Marlow, in his odd fascination, journeys from the central station without distraction, focusing only on the river and fixating on his eventual meeting with the glorified Kurtz. Marlow thinks not about seeing Kurtz or shaking his hand, but about hearing him speak; in Marlow’s mind “The man presents himself as a voice.” The journey towards the inner station is monotonous, as Marlow imagines himself meeting the mysterious Kurtz and benefiting from his wisdom. The steamboat “crawled towards Kurtz,” Marlow teeming with anticipation.

Upon reaching the inner station, Marlow is disappointed by the immorality and utter emptiness of...
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