Doctor Faustus - Analyse the extract closely. In the course of your
writing, compare and contrast the presentation of Kurtz with that of
Faustus in Marlowe's play.
Doctor Faustus: Model answer
Analyse the extract closely. In the course of your writing, compare
and contrast the presentation of Kurtz with that of Faustus in
Initially, one could be forgiven for thinking that a novel written in
the early 2oth Century would have little in common with an Elizabethan
play yet "Heart of Darkness" and "Dr Faustus" are both the stories of
men who achieve great things using "unsound methods", methods that
ultimately condemn them. This essay will compare and contrast the
presentation of Kurtz in an extract from Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
with that of Faustus in Marlowe's play.
From the first scene of the play Faustus is a condemned man, signing
away his soul to the Devil in return for temporal power, "This night I
conjure though I die therefore" Kurtz is also presented to us as a man
in the final stages of his life, rapidly approaching death, "Kurtz's
life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into
the sea of inexorable time".
Faustus is presented as a flawed character whose intellect and
ambition seal his own fate. His ambition to achieve God-like
omnipotence whilst living on Earth is made possible by his
intellectual perception of the world. In the first scene Faustus lists
the discoveries and ideas of all the great authors he has studied:
theology, philosophy, logic, medicine then law. He finds reasons to
dismiss each discipline and, although he reconsiders theology, he
ultimately disregards it because he logically believes that all human
beings must sin and die. In his arrogance Faustus mistakes materiality
for a kind of spirituality; he is seduced by the idea of temporal
power and the riches it can bring him to such an extent that he is
prepared to sign away his soul to the Devil.
Kurtz also enjoys great temporal power and riches; he has been a
hugely successful ivory trader who has achieved almost god-like power
over the local African people through "unsound methods". Kurtz tells
the narrator "You show them you have in you something that is really
profitable, and then there will be no limits to the recognition of
your ability". Just like Faustus, Kurtz confuses material power with
spiritual power, seeing profit as the key to transcending human
Both Faustus and Kurtz are guilty of Hubris; a belief that they can
reach beyond the limitations of man to achieve the omnipotence of God.
There is something dreadful about the "unsound methods" that Kurtz has
used to achieve his power, just as Faustus uses the unsound methods of
magic and the Devil to achieve his worldly ambitions, "A sound
magician is a demi-god;/Here tire, my brains, to get a deity." The
narrator in "Heart of Darkness" suggests that Kurtz is damned
"possession of that soul satiated...