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Characters

The Group of Listeners to Marlows Story


The four men, sitting on the deck of the ship called the Nellie and listening to
their companion by the name of Charles Marlow, play no role at all in the actual
story. These four men, therefore, do not concern us much except in connection
with our consideration of the structure of the novel and the technique of
narration in it. It is only the fifth man, Charles Marlow, who really matters.

Charles Marlow
He is the narrator of the main story, and he is supremely important in the novel
which deals with his experiences in the Congo. This man possesses extraordinary
powers of observation, of perception, of reflection, of meditation, and of analysis.
He is a man of action who, at the same time, has a strong philosophical bent of
mind and a penetrating psychological insight. It is through this mans eyes that
we witness the state of affairs in the Congo; and it is through his mind and his
thoughts that we arrive at our own conclusions about what was happening in a
dark country conquered by the whites who were ostensibly civilizing the savages
but who were actually pursuing their own selfish aims to satisfy their greed and
appease their lust for power and pelf. Marlow represents, to a large extent,
Conrads own reactions to things and people, and he represents Conrads own
view-point. Marlow is the colossus that bestrides the novel. Of course Mr. Kurtz is
the dominating character in the story, but the story is told by Marlow who is the
chief narrator in the book and who possesses an exceptional intelligence and
extraordinary powers of thinking and meditation, besides an unusual capacity for
observation. He may be regarded as the moving spirit behind the whole book. It
is through his eyes that we look at the Belgian Congo of Conrads time, and it is
through his eyes that we look at people including the personality and character
of Mr. Kurtz. And it is because of his liking for Mr. Kurtz that we also feel
somewhat inclined to take a lenient view of Mr. Kurtzs vices and degradation. As
already pointed out, Marlow represents Conrad himself; and that is why he
appears to us to be an excellent combination of a capacity for offering us with a
philosophical commentary, and a psychological insight into the characters of
people.
The Two Knitting Women
These two women have no part to play in the action of the novel, but they are
important in a symbolic sense. The elder one of the two seems to Marlow to
know everything about everybody including himself. He thinks of the elder
woman as one who possesses supernatural powers. The two together seem to
him to be guarding the door of darkness. They are knitting black wool as if they
were weaving a shroud for the unknown dead. Symbolically these women
represent the Fates of ancient mythology. In other words, they are to be

imagined as the arbiters of the destiny of every human being in this world.
Marlows seeing them is only a bad omen for the voyage which he is going to
undertake.
Marlows Aunt
Marlows aunt is described by Marlow as a dear, enthusiastic soul. It is she who
is instrumental in getting Marlow a job in the service of a Belgian trading
company. She expresses the view that the white men, who visit the interior of
any dark country, do a great service to the natives because they have a civilizing
effect on these ignorant and backward people. Marlow does not share this view
and, in this context, he says that women live in a world of their own, a world
which is divorced from the stark realities of life.
The Companys Doctor
The doctor is not an ordinary member of the medical profession. He is a
physician-cum-psychologist. He not only examines the health of the body, but
also measures the skulls, of the men whom he examines for admission to the
companys service. He is interested in studying the effects of the climate and the
environment of the African countries upon the minds of the visiting Europeans.
He speaks to Marlow half jokingly and half earnestly. On the whole he is an
interesting man who provides the basis for several touches of humour in
Marlows narration.
The Companys Chief Accountant
This mans chief qualification is that he keeps his account-books in perfect order
and that, furthermore, he maintains a neat and tidy personal appearance.
Marlow finds him flawlessly and neatly dressed in the midst of the squalor and
the sordid surroundings. Indeed, Marlow thinks it a great achievement on the
part of this man to dress so well in this environment. However, this man strikes
us as being partly a comic figure because of his continuing to dress himself
nicely even though it is not at all necessary for him to do so at the place where
he lives. His starched collar, white cuffs, snowy trousers, and varnished boots
seem to be out of tune with his surroundings.
The Manager of the Central Station
The manager is a self-important man who does not even ask Marlow to take a
seat when Marlow appears before him first after his twenty-mile walk that day.
Marlow tells us that the manager inspired neither love nor fear nor respect in
anybody, and that he inspired only uneasiness in people. Marlow further says
that there was nothing within this man. The manager has neither learning nor
intelligence; but he does_ have ambition. He feels jealous of Mr. Kurtz because he
thinks that Mr. Kurtz might one day supersede him and rise to the topmost
position.
The Brick-Maker

The brick-maker is a brick-maker in name only because he makes no bricks; and


he makes no bricks because the raw materials for the making of bricks are not
available to him. Having no bricks to make, the only function he performs is to
serve as a kind of assistant to the manager who also makes use of this man as
his spy and informer. The brick-maker provides to Marlow plenty of miscellaneous
information about various matters pertaining to the conditions prevailing in this
region, and also pertaining to the various persons including Mr. Kurtz.
The Managers Boy-Servant
The managers boy-servant is described by Marlow as an overfed young negro
who treats the white men, in the very presence of his master, in a very insolent
manner. It is this boy-servant who ultimately reports Mr. Kurtzs death to his
master and the others who are taking their dinner in the mess-room of the ship.
The words which he speaks at this time have become famous. Speaking in a tone
of scathing contempt, this boy-servant. says: Mistah Kurtzhe dead.
The Managers Uncle
The managers uncle is the leader of an expedition called the Eldorado Exploring
Expedition. In appearance, this man resembles a butcher working in a poor
neighbourhood; and his eyes have an expression of cunning in them. He has a fat
belly and short legs. Thus he looks a comic figure but he is actually a villain who
shows his craftiness in his conversation with his nephew (the manager of the
Companys Central Station).
The Russian
The Russian looks like a harlequin or clown because of the multicoloured clothes
which he wears. He is an adventurer who travels to satisfy his spirit of adventure
and also to gather knowledge. He is a seasoned seaman, and very fond of
smoking tobacco, with a preference for English tobacco. This Russian is a great
admirer of Mr. Kurtz, and he gives Marlow plenty of information about that man
and that mans influence over the natives. His devotion to Mr. Kurtz is very
touching, indeed.
Mr. Kurtz
Mr. Kurtz is the central figure in the novel. Although the main theme of the novel
is the conditions prevailing in the Belgian Congo as witnessed by Marlow (or
Conrad), yet Mr. Kurtz seems to dominate the novel. He is actually an agent of
the Belgian trading company but, by virtue of his special talents, he becomes a
kind of god in the eyes of the natives. In course of time, he acquires so much
influence and prestige at the station where he is posted that the chiefs of the
native tribes come crawling to him in order to pay their homage to him. He
becomes a cult-figure for the savages of the whole region; and he begins to
share many of the beliefs, superstitions, and customs of these people. He
presides over the midnight dances of the savages which always end with
unspeakable rites. Mr. Kurtz has extraordinary gifts of speech and
conversation. His speeches are marked by exceptional, eloquence. Although he is

bitterly disliked by the white manager of the Central Station and by the other
white men working in the Congo, yet he is able to win the admiration and
devotion not only of a Russian explorer but also of Marlow who is a most
intelligent and experienced man. Mr. Kurtz dies while being brought back from
his station to be sent back to Europe because of his illness.
The Native Woman
The native woman who appears on the scene towards the end of the story has a
very impressive and majestic appearance. She wields a lot of influence over the
savages because of her closeness to Mr. Kurtz. In fact, she controls Mr. Kurtzs
household and may be regarded as his housekeeper. Perhaps she has also been
his mistress. On one occasion she had come into conflict with the Russian who,
thereafter, has never trusted her, and who has always been on his guard against
her. She does not want that Mr. Kurtz should be taken away by the white men
from his headquarters, but she feels helpless in the face of the determination of
the manager and his assistants to take the ailing Mr. Kurtz away. She is perhaps
intended by the author to_ be regarded by us as the finest specimen of the
womanhood in the wilds of the Congo.
Mr. Kurtzs Fiancee
Mr. Kurtzs intended is a fine woman who is very devoted to him. If he had lived,
he would surely have married her. She has been waiting for him to return, but
she feels terribly disappointed and grieved on learning about his death. When
Marlow meets her a year after Mr. Kurtzs death, he finds her still in mourning.
She speaks to Marlow in glowing terms about Mr. Kurtz, and about Mr. Kurtzs
ideas and ideals. However, she is living in a world of illusions. If she had known
the reality about Mr. Kurtz, she would have felt terrified of him. As it is, she
cherishes sweet memories of the man. She feels very touched when Marlow tells
her that Mr. Kurtzs last word was her name. Of course, Marlow has told her a lie,
but she does not know that it is a lie, and, therefore, she feels immensely
pleased and deeply moved on being told that her lovers last thoughts were
about her.
Some Other Characters
A few other minor characters may be mentioned here. One is the foreman or a
boiler-maker by trade. He is a good worker and, a widower with six young
children. The passion, of his life is pigeon-flying; and he is an enthusiast and a
connoisseur in this field. However, he hardly plays any role in the story except
helping Marlow in repairing the wrecked steamer. Then there is the helmsman
who steers Marlows steamer for a part of the voyage but is then killed by the
attacking natives. Marlow says that the helmsman was a fool because he got
killed through a blunder of his own. According to Marlow, this man had no
restraintjust like Kurtz. The cannibal crew of Marlows steamer also deserve a
word. These men are willing workers and, although they feel a Braving for human
flesh, they do not attack the white men on board the steamer to eat their flesh.
Thus they possess self-restraint which even Mr. Kurtz did not possess. Finally,

there are the persons who call on Marlow in Brussels in order to obtain from him
the packet of papers and the photograph which Mr. Kurtz had given to him. These
persons include (i) a clean-shaved man with an official manner and wearing goldrimmed spectacles; (ii) a cousin of Mr. Kurtz; and (iii) a journalist.