Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Conrad often uses the literary technique of personification, which attributes human qualities to inanimate objects, to portray the river as having strong emotional reactions to the uses to which people put it. As a result, the Pantai becomes a character in its own right, and there is a sense in which its actions are as significant as those of the novel’s human cast of performers.
The river also represents the flow of life passing by Almayer. The novel’s opening scene finds him envying the fate of a log tossed about in the stream’s violent currents, because its temporary suffering will be rewarded by a journey to freedom when the river eventually carries it to the sea. This moment foreshadows an episode at the conclusion of the novel when Almayer’s daughter, the only person he still loves, leaves him by sailing down the Pantai to the sea.
Conrad’s career as a merchant seaman included several visits to Borneo’s eastern coast during the late 1880’s, when he encountered a Dutch trader upon whom he based Almayer. The novel closely follows the actual topographical and sociological character of the region.
Almayer’s house. Combination residence and business premise located on the banks of the Pantai. The novel stresses the decrepit, rundown condition of what is both literally and figuratively Almayer’s “folly.” The living area of the house is a shambles uncared for by Almayer’s estranged wife and lax servants. On the rare occasions when visitors call, not even a full set of glasses can be assembled. The warehouse portion of the house is equally pathetic and contains only a few rotting specimens of unsalable merchandise. Particular stress is placed on the ramshackle condition of the jetty that runs down to the river from the house, which symbolizes the decayed relationship between Almayer’s commercial ambitions and his actual capacity to conduct business.
In architectural terminology, a “folly” is an excessively ornamental tower or mock ruin with only decorative value, which makes it an apt term for the literal ruin of Almayer’s home. His house is also a figurative representation of the folly that has accumulated as the result of his unsuccessful business, unhappy marriage and failed relationship with his daughter. The novel concludes with the final destruction of both follies: Almayer burns his home to the ground and then wills his own death as an escape from earthly failure.
Abdulla’s godown. Business premises, or “godown,” of Almayer’s main competitor, the Arab merchant Abdulla. The atmosphere of bustling activity at Abdulla’s place contrasts strongly with the desolate air of Almayer’s house and implies that the latter’s lack of success is due to personal inability rather than poor business conditions in the region.
Rajah of Sambir’s house. Residence of the ruler of the fictional state of Sambir, a province of what was then the Dutch East Indies. Its prosperity and liveliness again suggest that Almayer’s misery is due to his individual failings rather than a daunting environment.
*Macassar (mah-kah-SIHR). City in Indonesia’s Celebes Islands (later renamed Ujung Pandang). Briefly portrayed as the location of Almayer’s first employment as a businessman, its frenetic and profitable commercial life serves as an image of the paradise lost that he is unable to re-create on the Pantai.