(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nostromo is Conrad’s most expansive and ambitious political novel, a story that examines how both societies and individuals are adversely affected by the process of government in its most brutal form. The book combines several of Conrad’s recurring themes, most notably the harmful effects of imperialism, the baleful influence of wealth, and the evil results of individuals acting without the restraints of inner moral codes.

The story is set in the Occidental Province of Costaguana, a nation in Central America. Isolated behind an almost impassable mountain range and situated on a broad but windless bay, the Golfo Placido, Sulaco, the capital city of the province, has for centuries remained outside of events. Sulaco’s only importance comes from the riches of its nearby silver mine, known as the Gould Concession because it is operated by an English family of that name. The Goulds, who have lived in Costaguana for three generations, are permitted to work the mine so long as they pay sufficient bribes to whatever government happens to control Costaguana. Charles Gould, who has brought the mine to its greatest productivity, has grown tired of this endless extortion and resolves to throw his great wealth behind a revolution that will finally bring a responsible government to power in Costaguana.

The novel also follows the career of its title character, an Italian immigrant who is the leader of the stevedores and other dockworkers in Sulaco harbor and whose real name is Gian’ Battista Fidenza. Fidenza has been given the nickname “Nostromo,” meaning “one of ours,” by the Englishmen who operate Costaguana’s shipping line and is valued by his English masters for his ability to discipline his fellow workers. He is also a brave and resourceful individual, and when the Gould-inspired government seems about to collapse following another revolution, Nostromo is ordered to transport a shipment of silver to safety outside Costaguana. After his small craft is nearly wrecked...

(The entire section is 819 words.)

Nostromo Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Republic of Costaguana is in a state of revolt. Under the leadership of Pedrito Montero, rebel troops have taken control of the eastern part of the country. When news of the revolt reaches Sulaco, the principal town of the western section, which is separated from the rest of the country by a mountain range, the leaders begin to lay defense plans. The chief interest of the town is the San Tomé silver mine in the nearby mountains, a mine managed by Charles Gould, an Englishman who, although educated in England, was born in Sulaco, his father having been manager before him. Gould has made a great success of the mine. The semiannual shipment of silver has just come down from the mine to the customhouse when the telegraph operator in Esmeralda, on the eastern side of the mountains, sends word that troops have embarked on a transport under the command of General Sotillo and that the rebels plan to capture the silver ingots as well as Sulaco.

Gould decides to load the ingots onto a lighter, a barge used for loading and unloading ships’ cargo, and set it afloat in the gulf pending the arrival of a ship that will take the cargo to the United States. The man to guide the lighter will be Gian’ Battista, known in Sulaco as Nostromo—our man—for he is considered incorruptible. His companion will be Martin Decoud, editor of the local newspaper, who has been drawn from Paris and kept in Sulaco by the European-educated Antonia Avellanos, to whom he has just become engaged. Decoud has incurred the anger of Montero by denouncing the revolutionists in his paper; he has also conceived a plan for making the country around Sulaco an independent state, the Occidental Republic.

When Nostromo and Decoud set out in the black of night, Sotillo’s ship, approaching the port without lights, bumps into their lighter. Nostromo steers the lighter to a nearby uninhabited island, the Great Isabel, where he buries the treasure. He then leaves Decoud behind and rows the lighter to the middle of the harbor, pulls a plug, and sinks it. He swims the remaining mile to the mainland.

Upon discovering that the silver has been spirited away, Sotillo takes possession of the customhouse, where he conducts an inquiry. The next day, Sulaco is seized by Montero, who considers Sotillo of little worth.

When the Europeans and highborn natives who have not fled the town discover that Nostromo is back, they take it for granted that the silver has been lost in the harbor. They ask Nostromo to take a message to Barrios, who commands the loyalist troops on the eastern side of the mountains. After a spectacular engine ride up the side of the mountain and a subsequent six-day horseback journey through the mountain passes, Nostromo succeeds in delivering the message, and Barrios sets out with his troops by boat to relieve the town of Sulaco.

Coming into the harbor with the troops, Nostromo sights a boat that he recognizes as the small craft that had been attached to the lighter that had carried him and Decoud to Great Isabel. He dives...

(The entire section is 1245 words.)