Places: Nostromo

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1904

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Places DiscussedCostaguana

Costaguana. NostromoImaginary South American republic vaguely located on the continent’s west coast, with the bulk of the country over the mountains, or cordillera, where is situated its capital, Santa Marta. Costaguana suffers under political corruption and instability, and its people live in great poverty.

Sulaco province

Sulaco province (suh-LAH-koh). Only maritime province of Costaguana and the only province in the country with a sound economy, thanks to its silver industry. The province has tried to gain its independence several times. After various military reversals, its independence is once again established by the end of the novel, with some degree of economic stability guaranteed by the mining of its silver resources.

Sulaco (town)

Sulaco (town). Provincial capital. European civilization exists here, but only as a thin veneer. The town’s main features are a cathedral, plaza, the Intendencia–later to become the presidential palace–and the Amarillo Club, where separatist leaders meet. The town bears the brunt of the damage done by the factional fighting that rages intermittently, and constantly re-invents itself. The Casa Gould, the town house of the British owner of the silver mine, represents some degree of continuity. Its English forms and customs survive the corrupting power of local politics. The corrupting force of the silver mine operates at a much deeper level.

Sulaco (port)

Sulaco (port). As the town of Sulaco lies a few miles inland, there is a small port, which plays a significant part in the communications network. In Costaguana, “communications” reduces itself to revolutionary expeditions and shipping out silver, the country’s only export. The railway runs from the port inland toward the mountains but seems not to extend beyond to the rest of the country. Its only significant destination is the branch line to the mine. The railway is financed by American capital attracted to the mineral wealth.

Casa Viola

Casa Viola (kah-sah vee-OH-lah). Italian restaurant run by Giorgio Viola located between the town and the port. The establishment is frequented by Nostromo (the nickname of Gian’ Battista), a fellow Italian and foreman of the dockers. Its in-between location signifies the placelessness and lack of identity of Nostromo, who is neither a sailor (rover) nor a citizen of the town. His lack of identity allows him to be corrupted.

Gould Concession

Gould Concession. Silver mine located about ten miles from the town, that has been run by the Gould family for three generations. Not only has the mine been a curse to Charles Gould’s father, it is the cause of much bloodshed, bribery, and political maneuvering. However “pure” its silver, and however efficiently the mine is run, Conrad uses this notion to question whether material wealth can ever be a civilizing force of itself, or only ever a corrupting, sapping one. The novel’s central dialogue over the nature of imperialism focuses on the mine.

Isabella Islands

Isabella Islands. Three islands off the coast of Sulaco port, set in the gulf. Only one, Great Isabel, is inhabitable. It is here that Nostromo and Decoud hide a cargo of silver ingots on behalf of the Gould Concession, to protect them from the revolutionaries. Later, a lighthouse is built on the island near where the treasure lies hidden. Nostromo’s physical death on the island is anticipated by his moral death, as he fails to surrender the treasure to its rightful owners. He is morally marooned, shipwrecked.

Golfo Placido

Golfo Placido. Great semicircular bay on which the port of Sulaco lies. The only other ports are sixty miles distant to the north and south. The seaboard is described as iron-bound. The gulf itself has a tangible heaviness and weight about it that press down. At night, its darkness is profound. Its isolating effect on Decoud is similar to that on Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness (1899), which uses a similar technique of equating physical and moral darkness. In Nostromo, the isolating darkness and soul-destroying silence are formed by the mountains, framed by their highest peak, Higuerota, ensuring a constant cloud-cover over the gulf.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Seven essays discuss irony, Conrad’s philosophy of history, and different views of the hero.Carabine, Keith, Owen Knowles, and Wiesław Krajka, eds. Contexts for Conrad. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1993. Helpful for understanding Nostromo as part of nineteenth century colonialism, capitalism, and frontier exploration. The piece focusing on the novel shows the relationship of Nostromo to nineteenth century criticism of capitalism.Hamner, Robert D., ed. Joseph Conrad: Third World Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1990. Gives the perspective of the colonized on colonialism. Calls Nostromo an early conceptualization of a postcolonial world.Jean-Aubry, Georges. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters. 2 vols. London: Heinemann, 1927. Includes Conrad’s notes on the sources for characters and episodes in Nostromo.Watt, Ian. Joseph Conrad: “Nostromo.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Contains a chronology of Conrad’s life and a chronology of events in Nostromo. Includes discussion of Conrad’s sources, elucidation of the novel’s narrative technique, notes on the characters as well as the history and politics in the novel, and a guide to further reading.
Categories: Places