Character Kurtz in Heart Of Darkness


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Explore how Joseph Conrad presents the character Kurtz in ‘heart of darkness'
How does Conrad convince us that Kurtz has the ‘nature of a supernatural being'?

Heart of Darkness is an important novella in terms of pre 1914 literature and is considered by many one of the most important books in literature. In the 1890's Conrad sailed up the river Congo, so the novel was written from a good knowledge of the surroundings and personal experience of colonialism and the oppression that was a major part of Africa in the late 1800's. Although slavery was abolished in most places, slavery was still a major part of African life in those days due to many European countries fighting over the prospect of ivory and land and when they did get the land they slaved the Africans either keeping them in Africa to help with the ivory trade or shipping them off to Europe to be slaves there. In the novel Conrad presents Kurtz as a mystical being a god almost to the native people but he also shows him to be an evil and sinister man with a ‘heart of darkness' he does this by not actually presenting Kurtz as a human but a figure a ‘vapour of the earth.' Conrad also leads the reader along by not actually meeting Kurtz until the very end the rest of the book relies on peoples tales of Kurtz and what he has done which lead us to believe that he is a supernatural being.

The role of the narrator in the novel is a key part of what makes the novel so appealing because it is the story teller Marlow who has been through all of it, although there is one other narrator at the start of the novella who sets the scene. The primary narrator also talks about Marlow in a strange way he claims that he was sat in a way that ‘resembled an idol.' This infers that Marlow is a very wise and very powerful figure. He also talks a lot about the light and the dark ‘the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light.' Only the gloom to the west. Brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.' This extract paints a very vivid picture in the readers minds it talks about getting closer to Africa every minute and the evil is just waiting there as if angered by there presence.

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This could be a warning sign as to how the story could end up as the narrator is referring to Africa as the gloom, when the first narrator ends it is quite difficult to see where he ends and Marlow begins but it becomes clearer when you read on. But before the first narrator stops he tells us that Marlow has ‘the propensity to spin yarns.' This means he has the habit of over exaggerating this gives the reader doubts if this whole story is true and the way Marlow talks about Kurtz later on in the story as a supernatural being may well be and over exaggeration of Kurtz's power. This makes the reader feel doubtful and question Marlow's integrity as he may be exaggerating some parts of the story particularly Kurtz, and this may make the reader unable to trust Marlow's farfetched stories

Although this has been said there was absolutely no mention of Kurtz until page 38 were Marlow is talking to the accountant Marlow is keen to find out what Kurtz has done and why he is so praised and feared all over Africa he asks the accountant who Mr Kurtz was and the accountant simply said ‘he was a first-class agent.' He then added ‘he was a very remarkable person' this is the first time Marlow gets any information about Kurtz and he realises how powerful and inspirational this man really was. This mention of Kurtz only makes the reader want to read and as Kurtz is talked about as a supernatural being and as the story progresses the reader is more aware of the impact that Kurtz has had and is more anxious to meet him.

The setting is a big part of how the story unfolds, and the closer the boat gets to Kurtz up the river the more sinister and edgy the descriptions of the settings are. Conrad shows vivid pictures of sinister rainforests and murky rivers. ‘silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.' This could show the silent power of the jungle just lying in wait for colonialism to end and for those people to go. Conrad writes about the jungle in unexplainable darkness and is linking this with Kurtz's path of destruction up the river ‘for me it crawled towards Kurtz exclusively.' This shows the way that Marlow had somehow become obsessed with the finding of Kurtz and now it had consumed him so much that all he thought about was him. The forest had done that to him as there was so much evil in the leading to Kurtz it was hard not to see it ‘a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.' The jungle also seemed to become an enemy to Marlow as there was an heir of uneasiness all around this is because of the way Conrad writes about the setting the way he talks about the darkness the impenetrability of it, it seemed like a fortress was surrounding Kurtz and slowly Marlow was getting to it.

Kurtz is in many ways the most important character of the novella and although he is not present for most of the book the reader feels that there was something of him there in the way that the forest was described and the way that the river seemed to be against Marlow, there always seemed to be a part of Kurtz there the evil of his mind. Conrad makes this possible by making Kurtz a god like being a ‘vapour of the earth' and his mind and spirit was everywhere in the jungle that he owned. He was described and praised by many people ‘whatever he was he was not common' but even though we hear so much about him there is no evidence of he has done they are all just rumours and maybe exaggerations. Kurtz was described and talked about by most people Marlow came across but he was said to have been an evil person only when Marlow was sailing up the river there are hints of his immense evil. ‘the inner truth is hidden – luckily, luckily' this could show that maybe Marlow might be going insane slowly, the constant thinking of Kurtz and his power may have slowly been making Marlow insane. And when the realisation dawns upon him that he might not even be able to see Kurtz he realises that ‘"now I will never hear him." The man presented himself as a voice.' This shows the amount that Marlow respects and honours Kurtz he can't even imagine him being a real person. Kurtz was definitely a mystery to Marlow because he doesn't know anything about Kurtz and what he has done all that has been said about him was that he was an extraordinary man.

Kurtz's effect on others was very strong. He made people believe that he was something special something amazing and people worshiped him for it a good example of a person that worshiped Kurtz was the harlequin character. The harlequin was in awe of Kurtz's abilities and talked about him as if he was a god or a supernatural person as if he could not be real. Marlow was in awe of how much he had got in such little time. ‘Everything belonged to him – but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own.' This is a very important quote as it shows what Marlow really knows about Kurtz and his powers have made him so great but Marlow asked himself what made him so powerful how did he become this great and how many powers of darkness did Kurtz himself belong to. ‘He had taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land - I mean literally.' But ultimately the prospect of Kurtz was to much for Marlow as when Marlow does finally see Kurtz he had fallen ill and was facing death ‘it was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze.'

Kurtz's character in many ways is a real character and could be a realistic and real person and therefore is convincing. Although he shows unremorseful evil all through the book and is seen to be the heart of darkness when Marlow finally does meet him he seems to be quite sane. ‘Believe me or not his intelligence was perfectly clear' he also shows remorse with his dying words ‘the horror, the horror.' This is open to many interpretations and is a very famous quote but in my opinion Kurtz has realised that mankind given the chance can do horrific things like what he did in Africa and only when he dies he realises this. Although the character is convincing to be a man of pure evil, there may have been some exaggeration in the novel as at the start of the novel the anonymous narrator does tell us Marlow has the ‘propensity to spin a yarn.' And therefore Kurtz's whole story and background could be an exaggeration. But in my opinion Kurtz was a very real character and was a convincing and intriguing character all the way through the novel.


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