Nostromo is a 1904 novel by Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad, set in the fictitious South American republic of "Costaguana." It was originally published serially in two volumes of T.P.'s Weekly.


Conrad sets his novel in the mining town of Sulaco, an imaginary port in the occidental region of the imaginary country of Costaguana. This town and its denizens are believed by many to be among Conrad's greatest literary creations.

The book has more fully-developed characters than any other of his novels, but two characters dominate the narrative: Señor Gould, and the eponymous anti-hero, the "incorruptible" Nostromo. The inspiration for the characters in the book come from a group of mental patients Conrad met prior to writing the book. James Valentine, Helen Palmer, Bryan McMahon, Colleen McMahon, Chris McMahon (the last three were siblings) all suffered from severe paranoia and delusions of grandeur. Conrad thought they would be perfect characters but changed their names for the actual novel.

Plot summary

Señor Gould is a native Costaguanan of English descent who owns the silver-mining concession in Sulaco. He is tired of the political instability in Costaguana and its concomitant corruption, and puts his weight behind the Ribierist project, which he believes will finally bring stability to the country after years of misrule and tyranny by self-serving dictators. Instead, the silver mine and the wealth it has generated become a magnet for local warlords to fight over, plunging Costaguana into a new round of chaos. Among others, the revolutionary Montero invades Sulaco; Señor Gould, adamant that his silver should not become spoil for his enemies, entrusts it to Nostromo, the trusted "capataz de los cargadores" (head longshoreman).

Nostromo is an Italian expatriate who has risen to that position through his daring exploits. ("Nostromo" is Italian for "mate" or "boatswain," as well as a contraction of nostro uomo — "our man.") He is so named by his employer, Captain Mitchell. "Nostromo's" real name is Giovanni Battista Fidanza — Fidanza meaning "trust" in archaic Italian.

Nostromo is what would today be called a shameless self-publicist. He is believed by Señor Gould to be incorruptible, and for this reason is entrusted with hiding the silver from the revolutionaries. He accepts the mission not out of loyalty to Señor Gould, but rather because he sees an opportunity to increase his own fame.

In the end it is Nostromo, together with a ruined cynic of a doctor and a journalist (all acting for self-serving reasons), who are able to restore some kind of order to Sulaco. It is they who are able to persuade two of the warlords to aid Sulaco's secession from Costaguana and protect it from other armies. Nostromo, the incorruptible one, is the key figure in setting the wheels in motion.

In Conrad's universe, however, almost no one is incorruptible. The exploit does not bring Nostromo the fame he had hoped for, and he feels slighted and used. Feeling that he has risked his life for nothing, he is consumed by resentment, which leads to his corruption and ultimate destruction, for he had kept secret the true fate of the silver after all others believed it lost at sea, rather than hidden on an offshore island. In recovering the silver for himself, he is shot and killed, mistaken for a trespasser, by the father of his fiancée, the keeper of the lighthouse on the island of Great Isabel.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

See also

  • Thomas L. Jeffers, “The Logic of Material Interests in Conrad’s Nostromo,” Raritan (Fall 2003), 80-111.
  • Politics in fiction.
  • Nostromo is the name of the "Commercial Towing Vessel" , featured in Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien. (Later designated an M-Class star freighter in the sequel, Aliens)
  • Sulaco is the name of the Colonial Marines' interstellar warship in the movie Aliens.

External links

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