Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness: The Identity of Kurtz

In Joseph Conrad's classic novella, Heart of Darkness, the identity of Kurtz is unknown for most of the story. For the majority of the story, Marlow's image of Kurtz is based solely on hearsay from other Europeans. He is a seemingly extraordinary man who wants to civilize the natives of the area. Once he is finally introduced to Kurtz, Marlow is surprised by his actions. Marlow finds him to be ill, perhaps insane, and not at all as he expected. The accounts given later by those who knew Kurtz all seem to paint a different picture of him, unknown to Marlow. This brings into question the actual identity of Kurtz. The accounts made by those who knew him could be correct or simply constructs of their own delusional minds. As an alternative, perhaps the "darkness" of the Congo changed the very essence of Kurtz while he was working there. There must be a reason for the discrepancies between the legend of Kurtz and the actual man himself.

Kurtz undoubtedly affected different people in different ways. The Russian trader that Marlow meets holds Kurtz in high regard. He says that Kurtz's grandiose ideas have "enlarged his mind" (Conrad p. 48). When Kurtz later confides in Marlow, his plans to become famous...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 720 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4109 literature essays, 1388 sample college application essays, 167 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in