Study Guide

The Brickmaker in Heart of Darkness

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The Brickmaker

The brickmaker is another rather useless worker in the crew at Central Station, even though you'd think that, with a name like "brickmaker," he'd actually be up to something useful. Marlow notes "There wasn't a fragment of a brick anywhere in the station, and he had been there more than a year—waiting. It seems he could not make bricks without something … Anyway, it could not be found there and as it was not likely to be sent from Europe, it did not appear clear to me what he was waiting for" (1.56).


This obvious idleness is one of the reasons Marlow—who's definitely a hard worker—dislikes him so much. The other agents call him the "manager's spy" (1.56), and, appropriately, he tries to pry information out of Marlow. At first, Marlow is baffled trying to figure out what the guy wants, but in the end we find that the brickmaker is only seeking to advance his position in the Company.

Like the manager and his uncle, he's driven by ambition. However, unlike the manager, the brickmaker is a sycophant, sucking up to the people who he thinks will help him climb the Company ladder. He has no problem flattering and cajoling his way into what he wants.

Brickmaker, Brickmaker, Make Me a Brick

Check out how Marlow describes the brickmaker as having a "forked little beard and a hooked nose" (1.56), calling him a "papier-mâché Mephistopheles." (FYI, Mephistopheles was the devil in another story, Faust.) Indeed, the man has many of the characteristics attributed to Satan. He's lazy, greedy, and ambitious—plus, he has that silver tongue to tempt people into sin.

One last thing: the "hooked nose" and greed (having a "whole candle all to himself" [1.56]) make the brickmaker sound a lot like late nineteenth and early twentieth century stereotypes of Jewish people. And then there's the whole joke about needing "straw" to make bricks, which is an allusion to the story in the Hebrew Bible book of Exodus about the Israelites who the Pharaoh enslaved to make bricks (with straw).

What do you think? Is Conrad hitting the anti-Semitism button here? And, if so, what could he possibly be suggesting about Jewish people? About humanity in general?

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