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T. P.'s Weekly

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor

a novel by Joseph Conrad, published in 1904 (serialized in T. P.'s Weekly, 1904) shortly after the secession of Panama from Colombia. Regarded by many critics as Conrad's masterpiece, the novel is set in the fictional South American republic of Costaguana. It traces the history of the town and province of Sulaco from the time of Spanish rule under the Conquistadores to the period of its secession from Costaguana with the encouragement of European and American capital. The central characters are ‘Nostromo’, an Italian sailor who has come ashore and become the Capataz de Cargadores (the leader of the port's dockers), and Charles Gould, the owner of a silver mine, which becomes the dominant economic and political force in the province. Reference to Gould's grandfather, uncle, and father outline the relations between the mine and successive Costaguanan governments. Together these create the personal and political context that determines Gould's decision to make a success of the mine. In contrast to Gould, ‘the Idealist-creator of Material Interests’, ‘Nostromo’, to begin with, is interested only in his reputation. Gradually, it becomes clear that he aspires to the status of folk hero, but the action upon which he pins this hope, the transporting of a boat-load of silver, ends with his questioning the ideal. Conrad asserted that ‘Nostromo’ was not intended as the hero of the novel; silver was ‘the pivot of the moral and material events, affecting the lives of everybody in the tale’. The narrative is constructed through constant shifts in time, place, and point of view to produce a complex patterning of echoes and anticipations, affinities and contrasts. This technical virtuosity is necessitated by the nature of his thematic concerns: the innumerable intersecting forces that create the historical event, that are involved in the processes of historical and social change.

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