The Elusive Kurtz: A psychological character study of Joseph Conrad's antagonist Kurtz, as well as an analysis of imperialism and good vs. evil.

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Robyn Dennis


Mr. Jones

Period 1

The Elusive Kurtz

Throughout the greater part of Joseph Conrad's novelette, Heart of Darkness, the protagonist and narrator, Marlow, is unwittingly and markedly affected by an elusive and highly venerated character known only as Kurtz. His journey via steamship into the heart of the African Congo creates within him an entirely altered view of the twisted and despairing colonization and modernization sweeping through villages and decimating the native people. Yet, nothing was more surprising or foreign to Marlow than the impalpable existence of one man..."a very remarkable person"(29), who so influenced the entire scope of foreign pilgrims and settlers that the mere mention of his name elicited feelings of respect and approbation. Thus, though Kurtz is only tangibly present for a small section of the book, his influence affects each essential character and ultimately functions as the incarnate heart of darkness to each, though only few acknowledge this truth.

The allure of Kurtz is evident from the beginning of Marlow's story. Managers and agents within The Company speak openly of him as "...the best agent [and] exceptional man"(36), " a prodigy, an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else"(41). Kurtz's prowess as an agent and collector of ivory as well as his seeming mastery of the native peoples produces among the Europeans a sordid longing to achieve his stature and to morally justify their presence on the Dark Continent, even though he was entirely capable of filling "the small souls of the pilgrims with bitter misgivings"(85) . Delusional Europeans clung to the hope that Kurtz's initial ideals- that "(e)ach station should be like a beacon on the road to

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better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing"(54), coupled...