The Characterization of Marlow in The Heart of Darkness and Willard in Apocalypse Now.

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The characterization of Marlow and Willard in their respective contexts seems to follow a similar pattern. Marlow, the protagonist in Heart of Darkness, journeys to Congo during the imperialist period. He witnesses actions in certain areas that cause him to doubt the concept of civilization, and hence refers to them as “darkness.” His trip, on the other hand, has a goal in mind, and he wants to find a man at the end of it. Kurtz is an abbreviation for “Kurtz Willard wants to encounter a man named Willard in the Cambodian jungle. He, therefore, passes through Vietnam in a river, Nung, due to legal restrictions. Both these men arrived at their destinations and had a tale afterwards to tell. This paper, however, focusses on the characters of the individuals as they progressed towards their targets. The events that happened and shaped them and helped reveal their personal traits.

Characterization of Marlow in The Heart of Darkness and Willard in Apocalypse Now.

Marlow

As the Nellie cruises down the Thames, we meet a troupe of men quite intimate. This is implied by the narrator’s statement “between us, there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea (Bloom 2009, p.19).” We are introduced to the individuals, the Director of the Company whom they all adored, the Lawyer they respected and Marlow. The narrator says nothing of himself and only chooses to align himself the group through the seamen bond they share. We quickly notice Marlow’s prominence to the narrator as he is the only one among the four mentioned by name. He then describes him as with, “sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol (Lukeman 2010).” The descriptions given by the narrator portray Marlow as a non-indulgent person, an individual who bore himself with dignity. The term idol applies favourably for Marlow here suggesting that the narrator admired him. The descriptions also portray Marlow as a man accustomed to misery. The narrator goes on to speak of the meditative silence that fell upon the boat and their lack of desire to engage each other socially. As the day darkens, the serenity upon the waters becomes more profound while the brilliance is rendered abysmal. Marlow breaks the silence “suddenly” in what can be considered as a cryptic statement. We, therefore, gather Marlow to be quite a philosophical individual but also quite an intelligent one in that in offering, “And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth (Bloom 2009, p.19).” We meet a perceptive man who had known of this “darkness” and now by considering the city that was behind him had judged it to be “Also, of one of the dark places of the earth.” Hitherto this divulgence, the narrator offers more on Marlow’s bearing. He says of him as the only one amongst the four who could still be called a seaman. He continues to say, however, that of this lot he was quite an uncharacteristic one and could be portrayed as more of a wanderer. He continues to elaborate that while the life of a seaman revolved around his ship and the sea, the meaning of their tales could be inferred directly from the lives they had led. For Marlow however, this was not true. The meaning of his life story began from the reasons that made him set out on the journey to the “heart of darkness” and who he had found at the at the culmination of it all. This further depicts Marlow as being queer and of a complicated nature. So that when he spoke earlier, his statement which seemed to stem from no obvious motivation was readily accepted by the lot.

Afterwards, he mentions the Roman colonisers and employs foregrounding elements for his story. He speaks of how the Roman soldiers must have found the place so different from their abodes back in the south. He mentions of the cold, fog, disease, tempests and death one would have to encounter. A decent citizen brought into the place would perhaps be astounded by the savagery of it. “Being forced to live in the midst of the incomprehensible (Conrad 2007, p.7).” “The disgust, the surrender, the hate (Conrad 2007, p.7).” We are introduced to the thought process of Marlow here. He congratulates these men for facing the darkness. He then later rebukes them for the conquest saying they were no colonialists but people who rejoiced in their strength which was simply an accident resulting from the weakness of their enemies. He further continues to say that all that they had accomplished was grabbing “what they could get for the sake of what was to be got,” robbery with violence and aggravated murder. He rebukes the whole idea of imperialism and conquests as, “the conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much (Conrad 2007, p.7). This shows Marlow to be a morally upright person and quite a learned an individual. He infers to having obtained this information from a book which he says he hopes could be trusted. He also appears to love reading. He was entirely enthralled by the book from a man in His Majesty’s Navy- Towson. Although the book was very insipid with many tables and figures, he was entirely thrilled that he had found something so real and handled it such care lest it “dissolves in his hands” (Conrad 2007, p.44).

Marlow is Judgmental. Many descriptions given to us by Marlow depict a judgmental person. Marlow describes the manager as, “commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and ordinary build. His eyes,

of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe (Schnauder 2009, p.124).” “He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness (Schnauder 2009, p.124).” In this context, Marlow points out that the Manager had no remarkable features. There was nothing he had that could inspire one to his devotion. At best all he could inspire was an uncomfortable experience. The manager’s Uncle and his band are also described unfavourably. Firstly, the band that the manager’s Uncle arrives with he calls, “an invasion, an infliction, a visitation (Conrad 2007, p.34).” The band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, and of these, he says, “There was not an atom of foresight or serious intention

in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe (Schnauder 2009, p.122).” He adds that their talk was the talk of “sordid buccaneers.” For the Uncle, he says, “In the exterior, he resembled a butcher in a poor neighbourhood, and his eyes had a look of sleepy cunning. He carried his fat paunch with ostentation on his short legs, and during the time his gang infested the station spoke to no one but his nephew (Conrad 2007, p.35).” Marlow’s distaste for the manager’s Uncle and his band is very evident. He had equated them generally to thieves and pirates and his Uncle though he appears in a grand manner, “with new clothes and tan shoes on a donkey,” seemed to him as a customary butcher and a calculating one at that nonetheless (Conrad 2007, p.34).

Marlow is Friendly. Marlow formed a friendship with the foreman among the mechanics. While the other pilgrims despised them over what he presumed a lack of manners he got along with the foreman. He had a good physical knowledge of who the foreman was and a little bit of his past. He was a “widower with six young children, and the passion of his life was pigeon–flying. He was an enthusiast and a connoisseur. He would rave about pigeons. After work hours he sometimes used to come over from his hut for a talk about his children (Conrad 2007, p.34).” They also used to fool around a lot. He says, “I don’t know why we behaved like lunatics (Conrad 2007, p.34).”

Marlow could be antagonistic. In his conversation with the brickmaker he says, “I had no idea why he wanted to be sociable, but as we chatted in there, it suddenly occurred to me the fellow was trying to get at something (Conrad 2007, p.28).” They had a conversation where Marlow unabashedly pointed out his (the brickmaker) ambition to be assistant manager. It becomes awkward afterwards when they engage in another conversation. The brick maker talks to him for long, but he (Marlow) is not interested in the conversation. The brick maker, “became very cold, and suddenly began to talk about a hippopotamus.” When he (the brickmaker) strode off later than night feeling disturbed and puzzled, Marlow felt relieved and “hopeful” and could now go back to concentrating on his steamer (Conrad 2007, p.33).

Marlow is highly regarded in the stations. Because of the recommendation, he received from his auntie, and the same people that appointed him chose Kurtz, the best agent on the field the Company had. Great things were expected from him. We learn this from the conversation with the brickmaker who was inquiring distantly about his connections back in Europe. On his arrival at Kurtz station. Kurtz ruffled through the letters then looked up at him and said, “I am glad” Marlow knew someone had been writing to Kurtz about him and the personal recommendations from the people that appointed him were turning up as he ruffled. The “I am glad” declaration was primarily due to those recommendations (Conrad 2007, p.70).

Marlow is Trustworthy. He kept his promise to Kurtz and kept the documents he gave him before his death and never revealed the contents to the company. The “Harlequin” guy was confident to trust him with Kurtz name before he left. In Kurtz also choosing to give the documents to him supports this personality of his.

Willard

A patch of land with palm trees suddenly consumed by fire. There’s the sound of the helicopter’s rotor, and the scene slowly disappears into a room where we get to meet him. Willard. An average looking Joe, not too fair not too terrible either, casting darting glances on the ceiling watching the fan. He seemed to be in remembrance of something. We see the alcohol, the smoke, lying side by side next to him and the gun that lay a little exposed under the pillow. We see his face for the first time when he gets up to peep out of the window. He appears rugged. And when he speaks we immediately notice he is a battle-scarred man. He remembers how he had wanted to go home after his first assignment, but when he got there, all he could think about was the jungle (Apocalypse Now, 1979). He had been waiting for a mission in that room, and now he was going insane. Literally. He had broken his arm on the mirror. It had been a week now. After a while, however, they brought him a mission. “A real choice mission (Apocalypse Now 1979).” He goes to the station to get briefed about it. We are arrested by his voice, the sorrow marked by the softly spoken words. We learn of this Kurtz that was to propel him up-river in the Vietnam on his search.

There were three gentlemen in that room. One was bespectacled, tall and dignified in a sense. His name was Luke. The other man, the only one in the chamber without marine uniform sat a little farther away. We later learn he was called Jerry. Then there was the general. He sat silently not even looking at him. Luke posed the questions as he answered. Willard denies any knowledge of the activities that he is charged with and points out that even though such activities might have existed, he was not “predisposed to discuss” any such activities (Apocalypse Now, 1979).Well, here was a man who could keep a secret. Apparently satisfied with this response, the General asks him to sit down for a meal. They speak of Colonel Kurtz, and a concerned expression falls over the general’s face when Luke play’s a recording of Kurtz. An eerie voice emanates from the speaker. It has an unsteady tone. The sound resembles that of a mentally insane person. The colonel says some very bizarre things. He says, “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering along the edge of a straight razor and surviving (Apocalypse Now, 1979).” In another recording, he says, “But we must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig. Cow after cow. Village after village. Army after army (Apocalypse Now, 1979).” The general seemed to be very uneasy about this business. Willard listened keenly, however. Never speaking unless directly addressed. That military discipline when in the presence of a higher power. The order was finally revealed, and he was to terminate the colonel.

So his journey upward into Cambodia began. We understand through his inward conversation that Willard was a battle hardened man who had killed people in his time. He knew war, and that murder in a place such as that one was a common occurrence. He did not understand why he had to terminate an American officer for murder. He thus sets off confused with no particular motive other than to just meet the man and talk to him. As he looks through the man’s dossier, we realise that Willard is a critical man. He had been a little drawn by the voice of the colonel from the recording back in the station, but his magnificent achievements portrayed in the dossier made it incomprehensible to him how such a man had such a voice. He says, “Like they said the man had an impressive career. I mean perfect (Apocalypse Now, 1979).” The more he read up on that character, the more fascinated he become by the mystery that was him.” Willard learns that he had trained for Airborne at age 38 to join the Green Berets, a special forces group. Willard testifies to the toughness of that program and wonders why a man at 38 would do that. A man with such a promising career had given it up for not much else. All he could ever achieve with that now was Colonel. Willard appears to be a balanced gentleman as he recounts this. He clearly shows what Kurtz ought to have done. He still abides in common sense.

Afterwards, they meet the Air Cavalry. They were to escort them to the mouth of the Nung River. They are a lively bunch with a language demeanour that was often too familiar and characteristic of men that have been together for too long. Willard says of Colonel Kilgore, the officer in charge that, “He wasn’t a bad officer I guess. He loved his boys, and you felt safe with him. He was one of those guys that had a weird light around him (Apocalypse Now, 1979).” This is in sharp contrast to Willard who as we see in the interview at the station when Luke asked him, “You’ve worked a lot on your own sir haven’t you?” And he replied affirmatively. Willard wasn’t a people person. He was reserved, quiet and contemplative. The Air Cavalry didn’t think much of him although his rank of captain was just a little less than that of the colonel. This is shown when they sat together that night at the captured beach, Kilgore jests his mission and his qualification in the Airborne division. This perhaps indicates that his bearing wasn’t one that evoked respect or admiration such as would lead one man to follow another. He was just an average guy to many. Kilgore had a bit of wild side which made him place his men’s life at risk unnecessarily. Willard notes this. He begins to wonder what it was that they had against Kurtz if that is how Kilgore fought the war.

Willard is not a very talkative person. His conversations even with the crew he travels with are often brief and formal. His walk is mostly an inward one for the most part. But once when they made a stop for fuel he physically harassed the person dispensing services at the station. While it is certainly easy to brand him as violent, his quick action did save the crew from a lot of hustle. This displays assertiveness. Most of his questionable actions also seem to stem from a major motivation such as when they had machine-gunned the crew of some boat they thought was carrying supplies for the northern Vietnamese. The chief of the vessel wanted to interrupt the mission to get medical care for her. This was probably just to add sop to his conscious. Willard shot and killed her. He had warned them not to stop, and he wasn’t going to allow them to take more time from his mission. He is focused and motivated. He also mentions that he hates lies. He says, machine- gunning a crew in half then giving them a Band-Aid was a lie and the more he saw it, the more he hated lies. More than that, however, he felt like, “Those boys were never going to look at me the same way again. And I felt I knew one or two things about Kurtz that weren’t in the Dossier (Apocalypse Now, 1979).” Willard is perceptive as he approaches Kurtz he understands what it is to be in the jungle, the things a man can do at times. He is also sad that he might have lost the trust of his companions.

In the climax of the movie, Willard hacks Kurtz to death. It seemed somehow merciful. He says, “Everybody wanted me to do it. Him most of all. I felt like he was up there waiting for me to take the pain away. He just wanted to go out like a soldier standing up.” “Even the jungle wanted him dead. And that’s who he took his orders from anyway (Mahoney 2014, p.565).” Kurtz did not fight back. He just suffered the blows till he lay there dying from where he pronounced judgment on his life and actions, “The horror.” He said. Willard had not come intending to kill him. In fact, he confesses that he thought that the “minute he looked at him, he’d know what to do. But it didn’t happen. I was in there with him for days not under guard. I was free. But he was aware that I wasn’t going anywhere. He knew more about what I was gonna do than I did (Reiter 2014, p.184).” Willard appears as understanding in this context. He brought relief to a burdened soul.

References

Apocalypse Now. (1979). [DVD] Directed by F. Coppola. Lionsgate.

Bloom, H. (2009). Joseph Conrad’s Heart of darkness. 1st ed. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism.

Conrad, J. (2007). Heart of darkness. 1st ed. Claremont, CA: Coyote Canyon Press.

Lukeman, N. (2010). The First Five Pages. 1st ed. [S.I.]: Touchstone.

Mahoney, D. (2014). The grail. 1st ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, p.565.

Reiter, G. (2014). The shadow self in film. 1st ed. p.184.

Schnauder, L. (2009). Free will and determinism in Joseph Conrad’s major novels. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Rodopi, p.124.

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