There are additional moral conflicts that permeate Nostromo's life. Although he has been betrothed to Linda, he falls in love with Giorgio Viola's younger daughter Giselle. Conrad writes, "She had come upon him unawares. She was a danger. A frightful danger." (Conrad 1993). There are two secrets involved in their relationship: first, the secret they keep from Linda; and second, the secret of the hidden silver. So, on two fronts their love is surrounded by a sense of apprehension and guilt. "His moral condition is now in a climactic state of degeneration, as Nostromo moves irrevocably towards his execution for his moral outrages, in short, for his moral infidelity. Nostromo here exemplifies the man of pride in sight of his fall." (Panichas 2002).
The human circumstances that Conrad portrays lack the unwavering moral compasses of many other tales both past and present. In Nostromo there is no singular hero who embodies everything the author wishes to convey, nor is there a prevalent ethical code that makes itself apparent. Conrad endeavors to reveal that human lives are usually without any clear direction, and often, are filled with deceit and corruption to the very end. "Some of Conrad's critics and readers will no doubt be troubled by the novel's failure to provide any definiteness of hope or to chart a way out of the 'pit of corruption.' (Panichas 2002). Yet this approach is, in many ways more true to reality; and a small portion of reality is what Conrad hopes to capture with Nostromo. The reality that Conrad wished to convey is that human beings have limitations, and these limitations apply even to the morality of their actions.
By contrast to Conrad's other novels, Nostromo possesses numerous and complicated characters. But like his other novels the underlying message is deliberately distorted and muddled through the course of retelling. The fact that no moral theme -- other than corruption -- can be found among the characters suggests that Conrad was attempting to capture a cross section of human existence, and not merely justify a social value. In many ways, Nostromo is an attempt to mirror existence without the rose-colored glasses many choose to look through. Conrad is unforgiving and unapologetic in his forthright depiction of human confusion.
Disharmony is another theme that runs throughout the novel. Largely, this disharmony is caused by the mine, and ultimately, the silver it yields. The scramble for wealth that this creates contrasts the physical nature and beauty of the land. Additionally, the reality of the mine contrasts the perception of it in many of the characters' minds -- particularly the women. Women, in Nostromo, tend to have an impression of Costaguana and Africa that is not altogether a reflection of reality, but rather, a reflection of European values and beliefs. Meanwhile, the actual events surrounding the silver are incongruous with the beautiful watercolor images the women choose to remember. The disorder in Nostromo is more than simply political: it is seen in the characters' physical surroundings, their perceptions, and their inner struggles.
When, in the end, the province of Sulaco successfully attains its secession, there is no assurance that civic law and order will prevail." (Panichas 2002). By this point, the land has been so tarnished and defiled by the pursuit of material goods that chaos is all that remains.
Gould's promise of democracy assures foreign investors that their interests are secure; his value lay in his faith in modern industry. But this faith is lost in the novel's storm of nativist revolt, amidst people refusing to wait for profits from their own resources. The novel's polyphony of voices and perspectives as well as Conrad's use of British ideology and Latin American history challenges the heroic narrative of empire." (Ramirez 2004).
Once again, the myriad of individuals all clamoring for the same goals eventually drown out any clear message, or lead in any clear direction. In this way Nostromo is truly a glimpse into the manner by which individuals conduct themselves as members of society. By generating a society in perpetual upheaval Conrad places his characters in a setting where they are capable, in many ways, of perpetrating the most evil. Obviously, civilizations are designed so that every individual contributes to the overall good, but in Conrad's Africa all pretenses of a common good are discarded. Thus freed from the reigns of systemic notions of right and wrong, with only themselves and God to judge their actions, silver is the only thing held sacred.
As the novel concludes, it mirrors its opening. When Golfo Placido is first described it is shrouded in utter darkness: "At night the body of clouds advancing higher up the sky smothers the whole quiet gulf below with an impenetrable darkness, in which the sound of the falling showers can be heard beginning and ceasing abruptly -- now here, now there." (Conrad 1993). Light and dark symbolize the moral and the immoral, good and evil, perception and reality. A similar passage appears at the end: "Sky, land and sea disappear together out of the world when Placido... goes to sleep under its black poncho." (Conrad 1993). Hidden from the sun, the region is similarly hidden from any judgment on a moral scale. The darkness is not merely physical, but also exists in the hearts of Nostromo and Gould and all the selfish individuals who entered Africa with nothing on their mind other than how they could exploit her riches.
Conrad, Joseph. Nostromo. New York: Modern Library, 1993.
Jeffers, Thomas L. "The Logic of Material Interests in Conrad's Nostromo." Raritan 23 no2 80-111, fall 2003.