Marlow in “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad
Within Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow discovers a young Russian boy along his journey who reminds him of a harlequin.The harlequin represents a character Marlow can relate to and share similar ideas and beliefs with. He delivers the most information about Kurtz so far as he emphasizes Kurtz’s power and strength. The effect of Kurtz on the harlequin forces him to fuel the rumors and beliefs of Kurtz. The description and reference of the “harlequin” is even created by Marlow by the way he dresses although he is really a young Russian man. Marlow partially sees himself with the harlequin as they are both admirers of Kurtz but the harlequin seems to show more affection.
We first see the harlequin towards the end of the second chapter of the book where his physical appearance caught Marlow’s attention. Marlow stated “His aspect reminded me of something I had seen—something funny..like a harlequin.”(pg 48) He later describes his outfit, his clothes “..covered with patches all over, with bright patches, blue,red, and yellow—patches on the back, patches on the front, patches on elbows, on knees..”(pg 48) This interaction and instant connection allows the two to get into talks about Kurtz and his characteristics. Similarly to the other people Marlow interacts with on his journey, the harlequin has nothing but positive and uplifting words for Kurtz. In contrast, this character is much more fond of Kurtz and goes way deeper in praising and describing him. He tells Marlow, “I tell you,’ he cried, ‘this man has enlarged my mind.'”” (p. 50) Marlow is able to learn the true power of Kurtz even through some of his cruel actions such as his obsession to steal ivory and how he tried to harm the harlequin for ivory. We see the harlequin still try to defend Kurtz although he was harmed through his actions as he states, “You can’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man. No, no, no!…he wanted to shoot me..but I don’t judge him…I had a small lot of ivory the chief of that village near my house gave me…Well, he wanted it…He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased. I gave him the ivory. What did I care! But I didn’t clear out. No, no. I couldn’t leave him. I had to be careful, of course, till we got friendly again for a time.'””(pg 51) The harlequin emphasizes how Kurtz is trying to emulate himself as an idol over the natives, one whom they should fear and respect wholly(shows how everyone has similar views about him). It seems as if the harlequin is under some spell or trans that would allow him to still respect Kurtz after his actions but it just shows how influential and admirable Kurtz was and how he affected others. Marlow learns more about Kurtz through his conversation with the harlequin and allows him to see who Kurtz truly was beyond common beliefs.Because the harlequin was so close to Kurtz, the discussion with Marlow symbolized a connection where he was able to provide a source of information about Kurtz.
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The characteristics of the harlequin and his motives also contribute to the flow of Marlow’s journey as he sees himself through the harlequin with minor flaws. Marlow views him as a little child although he has abnormal views. Marlow describes the harlequin as “a..boyish face..” with “..little blue eyes that were perfectly round,”(pg 48). His physical appearance and personality allows Marlow to entertain his commentary and soak up the details about Kurtz. Marlow sees similarities with harlequin where they are both fond of Kurtz(even though the harlequin is more fond). Similarly to Marlow, the harlequin Russian is a seaman who is obsessed with the adventures in the Congo and the attributes of Kurtz. Even Marlow stated that he will “never betray him(Kurtz)”(pg.54). Both characters treat Kurtz as if he is a deity that must be praised and lifted. The harlequin stated in reference to Kurtz, “You don’t talk with that man—you listen to him..”(pg. 49)
The role of the harlequin in Heart of Darkness is to provide Marlow with a deeper understanding of who Kurtz is and to represent someone whom he is very similar to. Their interaction with one another allows Marlow to see the full picture of Kurtz as Conrad shows his true agendas.