There are five main Heart of Darkness characters including the narrator who listens to the protagonist Charlie Manlow relate his adventures on the river Congo. Kurtz is a European man who loses himself in the midst of the African jungle. The Russian is Kurtz’s devoted disciple, and the general manager is the greedy, selfish local leader of the company. Let’s dive into the Heart of Darkness character analysis.
Heart of Darkness Main Characters
Charlie Marlow is the protagonist of the story. The bulk of the narrative follows his adventures down the Congo River. As a boy, he was fascinated by the blank places on maps and became a sailor so that he could explore those places. After traveling in Asia, he finally gets the opportunity to travel to Africa. He is initially excited, but the experience leaves him skeptical of civilization, both African and European.
Marlow is insatiably curious and always questions things people take for granted. His skeptical nature makes him insightful, and by the end of his experiences in Africa, he is described as a wise man, almost spiritual. During his trip, he sees the darkness that exists within everyone and how that darkness can overwhelm some people.
By the end of his adventures, he finds it difficult to readjust to European life, finding it superficial and full of half-truths. Marlow’s experiences in Africa change him deeply, he comes out of it with the belief that there is darkness in everyone and the challenge is not to succumb to it.
Kurtz is the best ivory trader at the company. Described as a universal genius, he is an impressive man who leaves an impact on everyone he meets. When he initially comes to Africa his goal is to seek adventure and bring civilization to the natives. He becomes a god to the locals at the inner station and soon forgets his original intentions though.
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He rules with an iron fist and gives in to all his desires and lusts. He collects the most ivory by sending his followers to raid neighboring tribes. He has a local mistress, despite having a fiance in Europe. He has no qualms about killing his followers. By the time Marlow meets him, he is almost dying, emaciated and half-mad. Kurtz came to civilize the jungle, but the jungle ended up revealing the darkness within him.
The General Manager
The manager is the company’s leader at Central Station. He cares only about his position in the company and does everything he can to maintain it. He is worried that Kurtz is trying to take his position, so he sabotages Marlow’s boat so that he cannot be resupplied. He is oblivious to the condition of the locals around him and sees them as less than human. Overall he is a cruel and selfish man who cares more about appearances than anything else.
The Russian traveler is a young man who came to Africa in search of adventure. He dresses in colorful clothing and reminds Marlow of a harlequin when he first sees him. He is completely devoted to Kurtz and essentially worships him as a great man. He believes in everything that Kurtz says and is unable to see the dark sides of him.
The narrator is a man on the boat, the Nellie, who recounts the story Marlow tells him and some friends. We can assume that he knows Marlow well because he isn’t surprised by the deep philosophy in Marlow’s story. He listens closely to the tale till the very end.
Heart of Darkness Character List - Minor Characters
The brickmaker is suspected to be the general manager’s spy at Central Station. Though as his title suggests, he is supposed to make bricks, he is unable to because there is a shortage of supplies. He spends most of his day lazing around.
Kurtz’s Mistress is a beautiful native woman who is assumed to be his lover. She is fiercely protective of Kurtz and leads the charge when he is taken away. She seems to be powerful in the tribe, but it is unclear whether this is because of her own status or through association with Kurtz.
Kurtz’s intended is his fiance who is waiting for him in Europe. Even a year after his death she is still in deep mourning. She believes that Kurtz was a great man and has no idea how much he changed in the jungle.
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The doctor checks Marlow’s health before he leaves on his trip. He asks Marlow strange questions and hints that people who return from their experiences in Africa go through psychological changes.
Fresleven is Marlow’s predecessor. Though he is described as kind and gentle, he ends up dying over a, escalating dispute about chickens. A hint that Africa brings changes to people, he beats up a local village chief, which leads to his death.
Marlow’s aunt is a well-connected woman who gets the position for Marlow at the company. She is also the one who takes care of him after he returns to Europe. She believes in imperialism and thinks that bringing civilization to the natives is a noble task.
The helmsman is a local who steers the riverboat. Marlow doesn’t think much of him, but comes to depend on him and is saddened when he is killed by a spear.
The pilgrims are not missionaries or religious men. They are employees of the company that carry staves and guns and care only about finding ivory. They abuse the locals and don’t care about anything except making money.
The Foreman is one of the only competent people at Central Station. He helps Marlow fix the steamboat and they become friends.
The lawyer is one of the men aboard the Nellie who listens to Marlow’s story.
The accountant is one of the men aboard the Nellie who listens to Marlow’s story.
The Director of Companies
The director of companies is the captain of the Nellie. He is one of the men who listen to Marlow’s story.
To Sum Up
The main characters in Heart of Darkness each represent something specific. Kurtz represents Europe by thinking he is better than the locals yet showing that he is motivated by the same base desires that he considers savage. The general manager represents the company, caring only about his position and money at the expense of others. Marlow represents the conscientious observer, the future of Europe. The Russian can be seen as a younger version of Marlow, seeking adventure and absorbing experiences. The Heart of Darkness characters are complex, so if you need any help with an essay or homework about the classic book, reach out to the experts at Studyfy!