In a work of fiction, a writer uses different characters to evolve a story and convey his idea through their personality. Without characters and their development, the story cannot progress. Characters in Heart of Darkness are not only memorable with their weaknesses and follies but also show the ravages of imperialism. Joseph Conrad has used irony to depict traits of his different characters. Some of the significant and memorable characters of Heart of Darkness have been analyzed below.
Characters in Heart of Darkness
Marlow is the main character of Heart of Darkness. Through a relative, he joins a company in Brussels to work in Congo, the heart of Africa. Although he is employed as a seafarer, he doesn’t find work in his field except that the companies have been found vying to extract treasures from African hinterlands. Despite his work ethics and moral values, Marlow sees the locals being exploited and sometimes killed. Most of the narrative told by Marlow is wrapped in the ironic commentary which clears when he reaches the end and sees Kurtz dying. He then comments the real exploits of the western companies and nations from their ravages of the African continent to extra ivory and other minerals and killings the locals for it. Marlow calls it as the darkness of the heart instead of the darkness of the African continent.
Although Kurtz is not the central character, the story revolves around him. As an in charge of the main station in the Congo River, he mixes up with the local tribes and becomes their leader, playing havoc with their lives through rituals. Although he goes there under the guise of spreading civilization, he is does ivory trade. Marlow hears very surprising facts about him that he is half French and half English and a genius. Marlow has seen his paintings and writings. However, the Harlequin do not believe his role in the slave trade. Kurtz dies on his boat utter his last words “The horror!”
General manager, the head of the company’s central station in Brussels, has two exceptional merits which helped him reach this coveted position. The first is the ability to cause uneasiness to others due to his power and second is the ability to bear African diseases in inner stations. An example of mediocrity, the manager is devoid of ambitions. Marlow concludes from his conversation with his uncle that they are against Kurtz and his influence and are conspiring to overthrow him. Marlow concludes that the General Manager is not only a coward but also a “hollow” person who cannot think outside the box solutions to bring Kurtz.
The Russian is an important character in the novel. Although he appears in the second section, he provides the first-hand information to Marlow about Kurtz and his appearance. Looking like a harlequin, the Russian seems to be an innocent person who believes Kurtz’s greatness and likes his intelligence. He claims to have taken care of Kurtz on many occasions. His assertion proves true when Marlow learns the truth about Kurtz.
Working as the General Manager’s secretary and pet agent, the brickmaker is a power hungry but lazy. As an ambitious person, he wants to overthrow and replace Kurtz. He sees Marlow as another threat, which is aligning with Kurtz. Called as a “papier-mache Mephistopheles, he does not appear as a brickmaker but a plotter who is obsessed with power. He calls Marlow and others as “gang of virtues” in ironic terms. The brickmaker first introduces Kurtz to Marlow in an ironic way, and Marlow is instantly aware.
The Chief Accountant
The chief accountant, referred to only as the Accountant in the early part of the novel, is a very important figure. He provides valuable information to Marlow in the early part of the novel. Not only he captures Marlow’s attention but also reveals the trade secrets and information on Kurtz. He keeps up his appearances despite his involvement in the ivory trade and deep insight into the company’s real business and his role as keeping everything in “apple-pie order.”
Marlow’s Aunt is a loving person who secures for him a good position in the Company. She believes in the benevolence of the European civilization and its advancement of civilization in African. She is influenced by the Company officer’s wife. Marlow immediately gets a good position after being considered “a man you don’t get every day.” He later realizes that his aunt is a very influential person when the brickmaker pays respects to Marlow’s aunt.
This anonymous woman referred to as ‘Kurtz Intended’ in the novel, appears in the final pages of the novel. She represents women who dream of building fantasies. She trusts Kurtz which makes up her whole life. She only wants to know Kurtz’ last words and Marlow lies to her as he didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
The Helmsman is the person who steers the boat that carries Marlow. Although he shows his significance merely to impact the people on board, he becomes entirely passive when loneliness stares in his face. He demonstrates his stupidity when the natives attack the boat. He runs for the rifle and is killed.
The narrator is another important character. He is an anonymous character and does not reveal his personality anywhere in the novel. He has clearly stated it in the beginning that there is no relation among characters who boarded the Nellie, including Marlow. However, he narrates the story of Marlow from Marlow’s point of view. It seems that he is a romantic person and is impressed by the way Kurtz has made his name.