Out of Place

25 Jan

On page 50 of Heart of Darkness, Marlowe describes Kurtz’s blond, blue-eye Russian devotee quite positively—perhaps the most positively of any character in the book.  Marlowe says, “I was seduced into something like admiration–like envy…He surely wanted nothing from the wilderness but space to breathe in and to push through…If the absolutely pure, uncalculating, unpractical spirit of adventure had ever ruled a human being, it ruled this bepatched youth.”  The Russian seems to exist in a state of arrested development in which the realities of the world and of Kurtz’s “horror” have not touched him.  Unlike the “pilgrims,” the El Dorado Exploring Expedition, and Kurtz himself, the Russian appears to have no ulterior motive.

In some ways, the Russian seems to be more along the lines of a character in the adventure novels about Africa that Brantlinger mentions on page 189 of “The Mythology of the ‘Dark Continent.’”  The Russian believes in the imperial rhetoric Kurtz spouts, and, as Brantlinger points out, in the Protestant work ethic as presented in his precious book.  Even after witnessing all that Kurtz has done, he “remains calm” in the wilderness, at least relatively, even saying that Kurtz has “enlarged [his] mind” through their conversations (50).  Of all the characters in the novel, he doesn’t seem to belong—although he seems most at home with the local people and his surroundings, even telling Marlowe that he has friends among the “simple savages,” with whom he can stay.  Why did Conrad include this peculiar character?  Might he have written this character as an ironic poke at characters in adventure novels about Africa for boys?  Brantlinger does mention, on page 189, that Heart of Darkness fits ironically into the pattern of these adventure novels.  If this is too much of a stretch, what else might the Russian represent?       

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