Marlow And Kurtz Essay, Research Paper
A Characterization of Marlow and Kurtz
The characterization of Marlow and Kurtz begins with the physical appearance and then moves on to the psychological and/or emotional makeup of the two characters. Marlow is the protagonist of the story, who ventures to Africa looking to sail a steamboat, but finds much more. Kurtz is the unique victim of colonization; the wilderness captures him and he turns his back on all customs and people that were a part of him. Marlow and Kurtz are two opposite examples of the human condition. There are many similarities and many differences between the two of them that will be discussed in this paper.
I will start with the physical details about Marlow and Kurtz. The only physical description of Marlow is this: Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, and ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of his hands outwards, resembled an idol (Conrad1615). As William Bysshe Stein has pointed out, Marlow is here sitting in the so-called lotus posture, familiar to us from its representation in the Buddhist art of India and the Orient. This posture is the one adopted as a prerequisite to Yoga meditation and it suggests that Marlow is ready to engage in an exercise of intense introspection that will lead to some kind of personal enlightenment(Adams 121).
Marlow was a professional seaman and the captain of the Congo Rive Steamboat. He seems to possess a good work ethic: working hard is a means of achieving sanity. Marlow dislikes lies and therefore tells only two of them, both in extraordinary circumstances. In the middle of the story, Marlow interrupts himself to say, You know I hate, detest, and can t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies- which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world-what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do (1633). Marlow never vocalized a lie; he simply allowed others to continue to believe an untruth. First, the brick-maker thought Marlow was more influential than he actually was, and Marlow allowed him to continue to believe this. Secondly, the intended thought her fiance was a good man so Marlow allowed her to continue to believe this also.
As a child, Marlow had a passion for maps and it appears that he still does. He has a particular ambition to investigate the blank space of delightful mystery, indicating Africa, which was gradually being filled in with names and features as it was explored and colonized.
For Marlow, the journey up the Congo becomes a pilgrimage to meet Kurtz, the man of reputedly brilliant talent and eloquence who sends down more ivory than all the company s other traders put together(90 Reilly). Gradually, as the people that Marlow despised began to defame Kurtz, he (Marlow) became more interested in meeting him (Kurtz). Marlow, desperate to retain his illusions, wanted to meet a man reputed to be an emissary of pity, and science and progress (124Schwarz). Marlow tried to put the best possible interpretations on his motives: Perhaps he was simply a fine fellow who stuck to his work for his own sake (124Schwarz). The more Marlow became more disillusioned, the more Kurtz became the goal of his quest.
The more Marlow learns about Kurtz, he fears that he might turn into Kurtz, he is nonetheless able to emerge from the Congo with his ideals, morals and his civilized character intact, although somewhat sure of himself(159Meyer). After Kurtz s death, Marlow takes with him the knowledge of human nature that he gains from him. He says, I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul ( ).
In many respects, the view of Marlow is that of a typical European. Still, he is intended to be a versatile character, one of the few who does not belong to a distinct class, and can thus relate to different kinds of people with more ease than his peers in the story.