The protagonist and main narrator of the story, he stumbles into Africa looking to sail a steamboat and finds much more. He possesses a strong interest in the past. He also has a good work ethic; he views working hard as a means of achieving sanity. In many respects, the worldview of Marlow is that of a typical European. Still, he is intended to be a versatile character, one of the few who does not belong to a distinct class, and he thus can relate to different kinds of people with more ease than his peers.
He is in charge of the most productive ivory station in the Congo. Hailed universally for his genius and eloquence, Kurtz becomes the focus of Marlow's journey into Africa. He is the unique victim of colonization; the wilderness captures him and he turns his back on the people and customs that were once a part of him.
Marlow's direct supervisor, he is a hard, greedy man who values power and money above all else. Yet he masks this crudeness behind a civilized demeanor. He seems to have an ability to outlive those around him. The Manager would like nothing more than to surpass Kurtz in the ivory trade and see him dead, so that he would no longer interfere with the competitive trade. He makes people uneasy, and the only explanation Marlow offers is that he is "hollow."
He is the so-called first agent, who is the Manager's pet and spy. He never actually makes bricks; supposedly he is waiting for the delivery of an essential ingredient. The Brickmaker is unlikable, cunning, and contemptible. His behavior flauts Marlow's work ethic.
Kurtz's devoted companion, he is an idealistic explorer who has wandered to the Congo on a Dutch ship and has been caught in the web of Kurtz's obsessive ivory hunt. He is so young that it is uncertain whether or not he fully understands what he is doing in Africa. He is more or less attracted to the glamor of adventure. His unwavering support of Kurtz makes him humble and admirable.
They are a collective presence throughout the story. They are never described as individuals.
A top official in the main station, he befriends Marlow when he first arrives in Africa. He is a cruel man but ironically also the picture of the "civilized European." Marlow admires his work habits, but this admiration is directed toward his flawless appearance rather than his personality.
She is the connection to the Company in which Marlow receives a position. She appears to be the only female contact Marlow has in his life, and she fully supports the vision of colonialism laid out in Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden."
An unnamed woman who only appears in the last few pages of the novel, she is the symbol of a life that Kurtz leaves behind when he arrives in the Congo. She is pure and lives in a dream world built around who she believes Kurtz is. Her impressions of him are so disparate from what the reader observes that we marvel at the change that evidently has come about in Kurtz.
He is responsible for steering Marlow's ship. He is not very experienced and seems unable to make informed decisions under pressure.
The collective white presence in the story, they accompany Marlow and the Manager on the voyage to Kurtz's station. They exist in opposition to the natives and the cannibals, and their fear makes it apparent that they are unwilling to relinquish preconceived notions about the natives.
They are a specific section of the native presence. They are the grunt crew of Marlow's ship, and they are the only group of natives who ever voice any kind of statement or opinion to the whites. Marlow is surprised at their tranquil manner, and he seems to respect them.
The captain in charge aboard the Thames River ship, from which Marlow tells the tale. He is loved by all. He is a good sailor, but he now works on land.
A passenger aboard the Thames ship. He is called a good, virtuous fellow.
Also a passenger aboard the Thames ship, he does nothing but play dominoes. Along with the lawyer, he constitutes a crew of gentility, which contrasts with the crew from Marlow's Congo ship.
An unnamed passenger aboard the Thames ship, he provides a structure for Marlow's story and is a stand-in for audience perspective and participation. He was once a sailor, and he seems affected by Kurtz's tale due to his somewhat romantic nature.
Heart of Darkness Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Heart of Darkness is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
This is really about imperialism. There is a feeling of anything-goes vigilantism that shifts the balance of power from the stewards in a “civilized” state (police, doctors, bureaucrats) to whoever is most threatening. Kurtz is physically quite a...
As the crew make their way up the river, they are traveling into the “heart of darkness.” The contradiction, however, is that Marlow also feels as if he were traveling back in time. When Conrad wrote this story, scientists were learning that...