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Heart of Darkness
By Joseph Conrad

Main Characters

Marlow - Young man who decides that it would be exiting to travel into Africa hunting ivory and does so by taking the place of a dead steamboat captain.

Kurts - Famous man among the ivory seekers who has lived and hunted on the continent for a while and has exploited the savages becoming much like a savage himself.

Russian fool - Man who is known by his clothes with many colorful patches making him look much like a harlequin.  He works with Kurtz who proves to be poor company for him.

The Intended - Kurtz’s bride to be who at the end of the book still thinks that Kurtz was the great man that she remembered him to be and Marlow doesn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.

Minor Characters

Helmsman - Man who steers the steamboat but goes away from the wheel to fight the savages only to be killed by an arrow.

Accountant - Accountant who takes care of the money matters for Kurtz and has lived on the continent for three years trying to keep his civilized nature.


Central Station - This is the station where Marlow meets the accountant and observes the way the whites do nothing but exploit the blacks to do pointless labor.

Inner Station - This is the station where Kurtz works and where Marlow finds him being worshipped by the savages.

Thames River - Marlow tells his story to various people here.


 Marlow sits at the Thames River in the evening with several other people and begins telling the story about how he entered into the dark continent out of nowhere.  No one wants to listen but he continues anyway.
 Marlow expressed a desire to go to Africa to his Aunt who got him a position as a captain of a steamboat of an ivory company.  The previous captain Freslaven died in a scuffle with the natives and Marlow took his place.  A few days later, Marlow travels to Africa and gets to the first station where he meets the accountant who keeps track of the funds in Kurtz’s company.  The man is interesting to Marlow since he’s been on the continent for three years, yet he keeps himself clean and well dressed.  Marlow finds the blacks being poorly treated and ordered to do meaningless work by the whites.  Marlow continues down the river on his steamboat with a crew of several whites and about 20 to 30 blacks.  As he travels down the river, he comes across this shack where he picks up wood, and a note cautioning him to travel carefully.  He continues down the river and becomes surrounded by savages in the fog.  Marlow is frightened but the savages don’t do anything... until the fog rises.  The savages attack and Marlows men fire back.  The arrows of the savages have little effect on Marlow’s men or his boat.  And the guns of Marlow’s men have little effect on the savages since they fire too high.  Only Marlow’s helmsman dies.  Marlow blows the whistle and mysteriously, all the savages retreat in fear.  Marlow shortly reaches the inner station where he is greeted by the Russian Fool who seems to survive in the heart of the continent by not knowing what’s going on around him.  Kurtz is very ill and needs to be taken back to England, but he does not want to go.  In fact, he is the one who ordered the attack on the steamboat so that they couldn’t take him back to England.  Kurtz is worshipped by the natives and completely exploits them.  Kurtz tries to escape to the natives but Marlow catches him and takes him back to the steamboat head back for England.  While still on the river, Kurtz dies saying, “The horror, the horror.”  Marlow returns to England.  He visits Kurtz’s intended who is still in mourning a year after Kurtz’s death.  She still remembers Kurtz as the great man he was before he left, and Marlow doesn’t tell her what he had become before he dies.  Marlow gives Kurtz her old letters and leaves.


Shoes - These symbolize civilization and protection.

Ivory - The symbolizes the pagan God that is so worshipped by Kurtz and other whites.

Whistle - This symbolizes the unsupported fear each man has.


 Conrad’s prose is very descriptive and informative.  He portrays terrifying images and conveys horrifying truths in a mystic voice that contrasts effectively with the true horrors of his message.  Foreshadowing and suspense is used to heighten this exciting novel.

Dominant Philosophy

 Conrad deals in this novel with the dark heart of mankind, a topic he seems to enjoy writing about.  He tells us that man in inherently evil and his evils is only masked by civilization.


1.  “And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’”  Marlow says this at the beginning of his story.  Page 65.

2.  “The biggest, the most blank, so to speak - that I had a hankering after.”  Marlow says this about what Africa appear on the map.  Page 71

3.  “God-forsaken wilderness.”  Marlow says this about the continent.  Page 73

4. “I don’t like work, no one does, but I, like what is in the work, the chance to find yourself.”  Marlow says this about his trip to the continent.  Page 99

5.  “It was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage.”  Marlow says this about the ivory company on Africa.  Page 102.

6.  “Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a center for trade of course but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.”  Page 107  Kurtz says this to his company about his goals of the trade centers on the river.

7.  “I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest... to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.”  Marlow says this about the uncle of the manager.  Page 109

8.  “Save me! - save the ivory, you mean.”  Kurtz says this as he is dying.  Page 138

9.  “A light was still burning but Kurtz was not there.”  Marlow says this about the time he found that Kurtz had escaped.  Page 141

10.  “This I did directly, the simple funeral was over.”  Marlow says this about the time he tossed the dead helmsmen overboard after he got shot with an arrow.  Page 125

11.  “He looked like a harlequin.”  Marlow says this about the Russian he found at Inner Station.  Page 126

12.  “He was an insoluble problem.”  Marlow says this about the Russian who seemed like a harlequin.  Page 129

13.  “But now’ he waved his arm, and in the twinkling of an eye was in the utter most depths of despondency.”  Marlow describes his conversation with he Russian.  page 127

14.  “even apart from the very natural aversion I had to beat that shadow.”  Marlow says this about the inner evil in mankind.  Page 142

15.  “I had immense plans.”  Kurtz says this to Marlow as he dies.  Page 143