Kurtz is in charge of the Inner Station, the company station deepest in the interior of the Congo. Kurtz is noted for his ability to obtain more ivory than all of the other station managers together. At the same time he is feared for his connections within the upper levels of the company and his unsound methods of operation. When Marlow encounters Kurtz, Kurtz is in very poor health. Kurtz dies before he can be returned to Europe. Initially Kurtz has noble intentions, believing that Europeans can help to bring culture to the region and its inhabitants; however, his experiences in the interior radically transform him and his philosophy.
Charlie Marlow is the novel’s main character. He is a well-seasoned seaman who captains a riverboat steamer up the Congo River into the heart of Africa.
He is a man who loves exploring uncharted areas, but he is transformed by his experience in the Congo and his encounters with the enigmatic Kurtz. He comes to admire Kurtz and vows to protect Kurtz’s memory and the message he espouses.
The Central Station Manager is the main company agent in the area. Even though Kurtz is his most productive agent, he wants to remove him because he fears that Kurtz wants to take his job. The Manager serves as a contrast to Kurtz in that while Kurtz commands so much respect that he is actually revered by his followers, the Manager survives by making things uncomfortable for his workers.
The Brickmaker is a company worker at the Central Station. He was initially sent to make bricks, but as the ingredients for brick making cannot be located in the region, he has become the Central Station Manager’s secretary. Other workers think of him as a spy for the Manager. He does, however, believe that Kurtz is destined for great things within the company.
The Pilgrims. Marlow refers to the company workers as “pilgrims.”
The Cannibals. Marlow refers to the natives hired to help run the steamboat as cannibals. Marlow respects their ability to control their urges and to remain calm in the face of adversity. In many ways, the cannibals are more civilized than the Pilgrims.
The Eldorado Exploration Expedition is a large caravan led by the uncle of the Central Station Manager. The Expedition comes to the Central Station while Marlow is there. Marlow later learns that it meets an untimely end in the jungle.
The Fireman is a native Marlow employs to run the boiler on his boat. Marlow describes the fireman as a rather savage individual who has been trained to tend the boiler.
The Helmsman is a native who steers Marlow’s steamboat. He is killed by a spear in an exchange with Kurtz’s followers when the boat nears Kurtz’s Inner Station. Marlow dumps his body into the river.
The Harlequin is a Russian sailor who wandered into the jungle in search of adventure. He eventually encountered Kurtz and was immediately captivated by him. He now lives at Kurtz’s Inner Station. His clothes are made of a sturdy cloth but are patched numerous times with bright colored fabric, which reminds Marlow of a traditional harlequin.
The Intended is Kurtz’s fiancee. She is a refined, cultured woman, and she remains faithful to Kurtz long after his death. Marlow visits her upon his return to Europe, giving her a small packet of letters Kurtz has written and a photograph. She implores Marlow to tell her Kurtz’s last words.
The Native Woman may be Kurtz’s mistress. Clearly, she has a strong affection for him. She is the dark counterpart to Kurtz’s fiancee, his Intended.
Captain Fresleven is the man Marlow replaces. He is killed in a scuffle with a native chief over two hens. Fresleven beats the elderly chief, and the chief’s son kills him with a spear.
Marlow’s Aunt. Marlow’s aunt uses the influence of her friends to secure his position as a steamboat captain. She wants Marlow to undertake the adventure, stressing that he should help to stamp out the savage ways of the natives.
The Nellie is the ship, anchored in the Thames River, on which Marlow tells his tale.
The Director of Companies, the Lawyer, and the Accountant. These men are present on the Nellie when Marlow tells his tale. They are friends of Marlow, and they have all shared various adventures at sea. They do not play a significant role in the story, though they do occasionally scoff at it.
The Narrator. The actual narrator remains unnamed. Nothing is learned of him, except that he is an acquaintance of Marlow.