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.)