Marlow and Kurtz: The Character Foils from In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Marlow and Kurtz: The Character Foils from In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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Many characters have foils. A foil is a character that opposes another character, quite often the protagonist. Character foils are similar to the main character in some ways but often have one key difference. Sometimes, at some point the foils develop traits characteristic to the other. Often times, there is a factor, whether it be physical or psychological, which aids in the apparentness of the foils. In Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Marlow and Kurtz represent foils driven by the wilderness.
In Heart of Darkness, Marlow and Kurtz have many similarities. Perhaps the most apparent and literal similarity is the likeness of their journeys. Both men journey farther and farther into the African jungle. Kurtz, however, is driven to insanity. Marlow seems to find himself looking out over the edge of the cliff falling to insanity and turns around. Another shared characteristic is their attitude towards the natives or savages. Both men view them as insubordinate. Nonetheless, they have a sense of apathy towards them and their cause. By no means do they, however, see them as equal and proceed to do nothing to bring them to that level of equality. When both Marlow and Kurtz started their journeys, they had the idea that the savages were being civilized and Christianized and it was their mission to do just that. Likewise, they both do not, in any way, complete this “mission.” Marlow does not go into with this idea as his main purpose but his aunt definitely thinks that is his purpose for going. Rather, Marlow goes on the long and endearing journey for his love of adventure. This love of adventure did not just come about overnight. He tells his other shipmates, “Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for ho...


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...ters and foils of each other. Marlow could symbolize an innocent child corrupted by the world it lives in and Kurtz, the bully who took it upon himself to pick on the innocent kid. Marlow even aspires to be like Kurtz, had his perception not been distorted he may have found a different path leading to his fate. Mr. Kurtz tapered off into insanity, driven by the wilderness. Marlow, on the other hand, found himself, with his back to the jungle, looking over the edge of a cliff that would fall to insanity. Instead of doing as Mr. Kurtz had done and falling he turned around and left. Had Marlow lived in the Congo any longer he may have found himself the same place as Kurtz. Marlow saved himself from a trip aboard, in the words of Ozzy Osbourne, the crazy train



Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph, and Paul B. Armstrong. Heart of Darkness. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. Print.

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