Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Graduate School

First Advisor

Diane M. Borden

First Committee Member

Robert [?]

Second Committee Member

Gilbert W. Schedler

Third Committee Member


Fourth Committee Member

Louis Leiter


Conrad ' s significance as a major novelist having been well established by the present time , one may justly turn attention to a consideration of whether Nostromo, his masterpiece, deserves the paradoxical ranking critics generally accord it as a flawed and essentially inexplicable work of genius . Nostromo is the focus of the present study, which establishes by extensive analysis that Conrad employs a complex imagistic technique, manifesting thereby not only thematic content but also compositional method. Basic to this technique is the tend ency to view a subject in terms of polarities , around which to cluster images bearing thematic meaning . These images assume primary significance when viewed , not in isolation, but from the larger perspective of the novel as an organic unity . Though the sheer bulk of Nostromo and its epic-like scope can easily pull the eye as well as the attention of the reader away from details of imagery to geographic sweep and . grandeur, political intrigue, material pursuits , and revolution, significance lies in these details .

Creating a tremendous complexity of imagery through the simple process of dichotomizing human nature into its barbarizing and civilizing aspects, Conrad presents the microcosmic world of the novel; and significant as other aspects of his art may be, they are nonetheless subordinated to "this all-encompassing imagistic technique. The opening chapters of the novel present the central polarities of the human condition. To express the brutal or barbaric side of humanity, the author utilizes images of the natural world--plants and animals , natural forms described in architectural terms , weather of various types, the colors green and black, some condition resembling nakedness or undress, man in a primitive or pretechnological condition of existence, social disorder, and man whose operant principle is barbaric greed . To express that side of mankind which one may call civilizing or aspiring, the author employs images of domesticated plants and animals, man-made architectural forms, shelter {usually man-made) from natural elements , the color white, fabric or cloth of both simple and sophisticated kinds to indicate man's approximation to one polarity or the other, and man whose motivating principle is some kind of idealism, though this idealism may itself involve something of self - interest . Once aware of Conrad's dialectical patterning, the reader can readily determine the central theme of the novel.

Significantly , Conrad chooses social revolution as the vehicle for the idea of alternating states of barbarism and civilization; for within each state lie the seeds of its destruction. He thus reiterates in Nostromo one of his major themes , that which proclaims the essential depravity of human nature and the ultimate futility of those tissue-like veneers which civilization offers as saving agencies . Only mankind's striving or idealizing prevent the cycle of barbarism and civilization from ending in the total darkness of despair.

Uniting the polarities of human nature in the complex central symbol of a silver mine , Conrad manifests humanity's seemingly progressive but truly cyclical march . Other dualisms figure prominently in the imagery: ones of setting ; communication and transportation ; and family groupings , either those created by blood or those formed by some interest .

Conrad's command of thematic imagery is perhaps his greatest contribution to the genre of the novel. Nostromo will doubtless remain a difficult work for most readers, a difficulty attributable in large measure to the complexity of its imagery of despair. As should be the case with all critical approaches, the present study seeks to illumine the work, thereby enabling the reader to return to it with greater appreciation and understanding. With Nostromo, the task is a rewarding, though demanding one.





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