Character Foils: Marlow Vs Kurtz Essay

1007 words - 4 pages

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 hours…there were many blank spaces on the earth and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map... I would point my finger on it and say: When I grow up I will go there” (Conrad 8). Kurtz does not display this same love for adventure; one of their opposites. Kurtz is idolized by the natives. Some people might even go as far to say that Kurtz has turned into a savage himself. This is evidenced by his participation in untold rituals and other such events. After finding out that a native attack on their ship was in order to keep Kurtz there Marlow requests to speak with Kurtz. His harlequin assistant simply replies, “You do not talk with that man- you listen to him” (Conrad 53). The natives obviously do not want Kurtz to leave. The natives do not look up to most of the white men in this manner, especially not Mr. Marlow.
There are essentially very few differences between Marlow and Kurtz. A main and apparent difference between the two men is what they love. It is evident to all that Kurtz feels a deep affection towards ivory. An affection even more so...

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