Study Guide

Nostromo Quotes

  • Politics

    And he could speak with knowledge; for on a memorable occasion he had been called upon to save the life of a dictator, together with the lives of a few Sulaco officials—the political chief, the director of the customs, and the head of police—belonging to an overturned government. Poor Señor Ribiera (such was the dictator's name) had come pelting eighty miles over mountain tracks after the lost battle of Socorro, in the hope of out-distancing the fatal news—which, of course, he could not manage to do on a lame mule. (I.2.9)

    This moment, which occurs early in the book, gives us a sneak peek into the political shenanigans that will take center stage about midway through the novel. In typical form, the narrator stays "above the fray," if you will—s/he doesn't even give us a hint that this little affair of the "overturned government" ends up being at the center of the novel's plot.

    He accepted with a like calm the shocking manner in which the Sulaco ladies smothered their faces with pearl powder till they looked like white plaster casts with beautiful living eyes, the peculiar gossip of the town, and the continuous political changes, the constant "saving of the country," which to his wife seemed a puerile and bloodthirsty game of murder and rapine played with terrible earnestness by depraved children. (I.6.8)

    Here, the narrator touches upon Charles Gould's perspective on all the political upheavals that Costaguana has endured over time. He cites his weariness with these conflicts in his decision to get the San Tomé mine up and running (he wants to make the country prosperous so they stop fighting all the time).

    Of course, rumours had reached him already of the newcomer's intentions. Besides, he had received an official warning from Sta. Marta. His manner was intended simply to conceal his curiosity and impress his visitor. But after he had locked up something valuable in the drawer of a large writing-desk in a distant part of the room, he became very affable, and walked back to his chair smartly. (I.7.12)

    In this moment, we're privy to a meeting between a "provincial Excellency" (I.7.10) and Charles Gould. It appears that the meeting gets a lot friendlier when the Excellency gets some cash (presumably from Gould) and squirrels it away in his drawer.

    This gossip of the inland Campo, so characteristic of the rulers of the country with its story of oppression, inefficiency, fatuous methods, treachery, and savage brutality, was perfectly known to Mrs. Gould. That it should be accepted with no indignant comment by people of intelligence, refinement, and character as something inherent in the nature of things was one of the symptoms of degradation that had the power to exasperate her almost to the verge of despair. (I.8.28)

    As you can see from this quote, the country has a fairly nasty/disorganized political history, which both of the Goulds find incredibly frustrating. In particular, Mrs. Gould is ticked off that no one seems willing to push for change.

    In the contests that broke out at the end of his rule (which had kept peace in the country for a whole fifteen years) there was more fatuous imbecility, plenty of cruelty and suffering still, but much less of the old-time fierce and blindly ferocious political fanaticism. It was all more vile, more base, more contemptible, and infinitely more manageable in the very outspoken cynicism of motives. (I.8.44)

    Referred to here, the reign of Guzmán Bento is kind of a big old shadow hanging over the book. Bento tortured a couple of our main characters (i.e., the doctor and Don José) and was quite the evil (to say nothing of crazy) tyrant. Unsurprisingly, he looms large in the memories of lots of characters.

    What was currently whispered was this—that the San Tomé Administration had, in part, at least, financed the last revolution, which had brought into a five-year dictatorship Don Vincente Ribiera, a man of culture and of unblemished character, invested with a mandate of reform by the best elements of the State. (I.8.45)

    It seems that the Goulds eventually got tired of watching Costaguana's political nonsense and took matters into their own hands. Although Charles tries to appear distanced from political maneuverings (when it suits him), he seems to have given some money to help ensure a particular man—Don Vincente Ribiera—came to power. That doesn't really sound like "staying out of it," but whatever you say, Charles...

    It was his open letter of appeal that decided the candidature of Don Vincente Ribiera for the Presidency. Another of these informal State papers drawn up by Don José (this time in the shape of an address from the Province) induced that scrupulous constitutionalist to accept the extraordinary powers conferred upon him for five years by an overwhelming vote of congress in Sta. Marta. It was a specific mandate to establish the prosperity of the people on the basis of firm peace at home, and to redeem the national credit by the satisfaction of all just claims abroad. (II.1.12)

    We are getting some more details about the political maneuvering that brought Don Vincente to power. Ironically enough, compared to some of the backdoor stuff we hear about in the novel, this sounds pretty tame. Basically, they had to cajole this moral, constitutionally minded person to take on the powers of the presidency, and his goal was to spread the wealth around to the people. Guzmán Bento, he was not.

    Charles Gould's position—a commanding position in the background of that attempt to retrieve the peace and the credit of the Republic—was very clear. At the beginning he had had to accommodate himself to existing circumstances of corruption so naively brazen as to disarm the hate of a man courageous enough not to be afraid of its irresponsible potency to ruin everything it touched. It seemed to him too contemptible for hot anger even. He made use of it with a cold, fearless scorn, manifested rather than concealed by the forms of stony courtesy which did away with much of the ignominy of the situation. (II.1.17)

    First of all: Wow, that first sentence is a mouthful. Did you follow all that? Okay, good. Anyway, here we get more information about Charles Gould's motivations in getting involved (but not really!) with Costaguana politics.

    "Montero was bribable. Why, I suppose he only wanted his share of this famous loan for national development. Why didn't the stupid Sta. Marta people give him a mission to Europe, or something? He would have taken five years' salary in advance, and gone on loafing in Paris, this stupid, ferocious Indio!" (II.5.59)

    These are Martin Decoud's words to Antonia. He is upset that no one thought to bribe Montero, which (we have to assume) would have been a completely reasonable thing to do in Costaguana.

    "Costaguana for the Costaguaneros," interjected the doctor, sardonically. "It is a fine country, and they have raised a fine crop of hates, vengeance, murder, and rapine—those sons of the country." (III.1.10)

    The doctor comments acidly here on the political legacy they've managed to foster, and which Gould, the doctor, and others are working to protect from the Monterist uprising.

  • Wealth

    Utterly waterless, for the rainfall runs off at once on all sides into the sea, it has not soil enough—it is said—to grow a single blade of grass, as if it were blighted by a curse. The poor, associating by an obscure instinct of consolation the ideas of evil and wealth, will tell you that it is deadly because of its forbidden treasures. The common folk of the neighbourhood, peons of the estancias, vaqueros of the seaboard plains, tame Indians coming miles to market with a bundle of sugar-cane or a basket of maize worth about threepence, are well aware that heaps of shining gold lie in the gloom of the deep precipices cleaving the stony levels of Azuera. (I.1.2)

    As we discuss elsewhere (see "Symbols" and "What's Up With the Ending?"), the story of three men who went looking for this treasure—and died in the process—seems like a pretty obvious metaphor for all the lives that are ruined in the quest to protect the Goulds' silver.

    "We can't move mountains!" Sir John, raising his head to follow the pointing gesture, felt the full force of the words. The white Higuerota soared out of the shadows of rock and earth like a frozen bubble under the moon. All was still, till near by, behind the wall of a corral for the camp animals, built roughly of loose stones in the form of a circle, a pack mule stamped his forefoot and blew heavily twice. The engineer-in-chief had used the phrase in answer to the chairman's tentative suggestion that the tracing of the line could, perhaps, be altered in deference to the prejudices of the Sulaco landowners. The chief engineer believed that the obstinacy of men was the lesser obstacle. Moreover, to combat that they had the great influence of Charles Gould, whereas tunnelling under Higuerota would have been a colossal undertaking. (I.5.20-22)

    Sir John and the chief engineer of the Costaguana railway are arguing about whether it's easier to move mountains or for a rich dude to use his wealth to influence men to play ball. As you can see, the Goulds' wealth is voted most likely to succeed.

    Guzmán Bento of cruel memory had put to death great numbers of people besides Charles Gould's uncle; but with a relative martyred in the cause of aristocracy, the Sulaco Oligarchs (this was the phraseology of Guzmán Bento's time; now they were called Blancos, and had given up the federal idea)… (I.6.6)

    Here, we learn the origins of the Blanco party that is mentioned frequently throughout the book. Also, there's a reference to Charles Gould's uncle, a member of the Sulaco aristocracy who was "martyred" under the Bento regime. This moment definitely highlights the political tensions that stem from wealth.

    "But there are facts. The worth of the mine—as a mine—is beyond doubt. It shall make us very wealthy. The mere working of it is a matter of technical knowledge, which I have—which ten thousand other men in the world have. But its safety, its continued existence as an enterprise, giving a return to men—to strangers, comparative strangers—who invest money in it, is left altogether in my hands. I have inspired confidence in a man of wealth and position. You seem to think this perfectly natural—do you? Well, I don't know. I don't know why I have; but it is a fact. This fact makes everything possible, because without it I would never have thought of disregarding my father's wishes. I would never have disposed of the Concession as a speculator disposes of a valuable right to a company—for cash and shares, to grow rich eventually if possible, but at any rate to put some money at once in his pocket. No. Even if it had been feasible—which I doubt—I would not have done so. Poor father did not understand. He was afraid I would hang on to the ruinous thing, waiting for just some such chance, and waste my life miserably. That was the true sense of his prohibition, which we have deliberately set aside." (I.6.71)

    Charles makes the case for how his wealth and know-how can benefit others. Far from seeming greedy, Charles expresses a genuine desire to help his fellow countrymen, including "strangers." Do you buy it?

    "What is wanted here is law, good faith, order, security. Any one can declaim about these things, but I pin my faith to material interests. Only let the material interests once get a firm footing, and they are bound to impose the conditions on which alone they can continue to exist. That's how your money-making is justified here in the face of lawlessness and disorder. It is justified because the security which it demands must be shared with an oppressed people. A better justice will come afterwards. That's your ray of hope." His arm pressed her slight form closer to his side for a moment. "And who knows whether in that sense even the San Tomé mine may not become that little rift in the darkness which poor father despaired of ever seeing?" (I.6.105)

    We're still listening to Charles go on about how his "material interests" will help the country as a whole. He also acknowledges, though, that his sudden passion for mining has something to do with wanting to make up for the less-than-perfect legacy/track record his father left behind.

    The Excellency was a man of many moods. With the receipt of the money a great mellowness had descended upon his simple soul. Unexpectedly he fetched a deep sigh. (I.7.15)

    This provincial "Excellency" has just received money from Charles Gould (at least, that's strongly suggested). Wealth greases the wheels of everything in Costaguana, politics definitely included…

    For the San Tomé mine was to become an institution, a rallying point for everything in the province that needed order and stability to live. Security seemed to flow upon this land from the mountain-gorge. The authorities of Sulaco had learned that the San Tomé mine could make it worth their while to leave things and people alone. (I.8.30)

    As Charles had hoped/predicted, wealth is (at least temporarily) able to buy peace—in this case, not by making "the people" prosperous, but rather by incentivizing people to leave others alone.

    Charles Gould was not present at the anxious and patriotic send-off. It was not his part to see the soldiers embark. It was neither his part, nor his inclination, nor his policy. His part, his inclination, and his policy were united in one endeavour to keep unchecked the flow of treasure he had started single-handed from the re-opened scar in the flank of the mountain. As the mine developed he had trained for himself some native help. There were foremen, artificers and clerks, with Don Pepe for the gobernador of the mining population. For the rest his shoulders alone sustained the whole weight of the "Imperium in Imperio," the great Gould Concession whose mere shadow had been enough to crush the life out of his father. (II.2.9)

    This is kind of an odd moment, because it seems like Gould now wants to have it both ways—is he involved in politics/national affairs or not? Here, it sounds like pursuit of the treasure is now an end in and of itself.

    "Charles Gould," said the engineer-in-chief, "has said no more about his motive than usual. You know, he doesn't talk. But we all here know his motive, and he has only one—the safety of the San Tomé mine with the preservation of the Gould Concession in the spirit of his compact with Holroyd. Holroyd is another uncommon man. They understand each other's imaginative side. One is thirty, the other nearly sixty, and they have been made for each other. To be a millionaire, and such a millionaire as Holroyd, is like being eternally young. The audacity of youth reckons upon what it fancies an unlimited time at its disposal; but a millionaire has unlimited means in his hand—which is better. One's time on earth is an uncertain quantity, but about the long reach of millions there is no doubt." (III.1.35)

    The chief engineer thinks that immense wealth is basically as good as immortality—at least if you are as wealthy as the American steel and silver tycoon Holroyd. Given a choice between the Fountain of Youth and the Fountain of Wealth, this engineer would totally jump into the money pool.

    Sulaco was the land of future prosperity, the chosen land of material progress, the only province in the Republic of interest to European capitalists. Pedrito Montero, following the example of the Duc de Morny, meant to have his share of this prosperity. This is what he meant literally. Now his brother was master of the country, whether as President, Dictator, or even as Emperor—why not as an Emperor?—he meant to demand a share in every enterprise—in railways, in mines, in sugar estates, in cotton mills, in land companies, in each and every undertaking—as the price of his protection. (III.5.5)

    The wealth and prosperity that the Goulds have created in Costaguana catches the eye of Pedrito Montero and his brother, and they seem to think that that wealth should be in their hands, rather than that of the foreigners.

    These words gave him an unwonted sense of freedom; they cast a spell stronger than the accursed spell of the treasure; they changed his weary subjection to that dead thing into an exulting conviction of his power. He would cherish her, he said, in a splendour as great as Dona Emilia's. The rich lived on wealth stolen from the people, but he had taken from the rich nothing—nothing that was not lost to them already by their folly and their betrayal. For he had been betrayed—he said—deceived, tempted. She believed him… He had kept the treasure for purposes of revenge; but now he cared nothing for it. He cared only for her. (III.12.105)

    Our hero thinks that stealing is okay as long as the person you're stealing from is so rich they won't notice it. Also, he claims to have done it out of revenge rather than greed… because revenge is nicer? Maybe someone should tell him that two wrongs don't make a right, and that revenge often ends super-badly.

  • Foreignness and the "Other"

    Guzmán Bento of cruel memory had put to death great numbers of people besides Charles Gould's uncle; but with a relative martyred in the cause of aristocracy, the Sulaco Oligarchs (this was the phraseology of Guzmán Bento's time; now they were called Blancos, and had given up the federal idea), which meant the families of pure Spanish descent, considered Charles as one of themselves. With such a family record, no one could be more of a Costaguanero than Don Carlos Gould; but his aspect was so characteristic that in the talk of common people he was just the Inglez—the Englishman of Sulaco. (I.6.6)

    According to the narrator, being an "authentic" Costaguanero means being like residents of "pure" Spanish descent. It's notable that this definition leaves out the indigenous population of Costaguana… and essentially entails being of European extraction? Something is very wrong with this picture.

    A spreading cotton-wool tree shaded a thatched ranch by the road; the trudging files of burdened Indians taking off their hats, would lift sad, mute eyes to the cavalcade raising the dust of the crumbling camino real made by the hands of their enslaved forefathers. And Mrs. Gould, with each day's journey, seemed to come nearer to the soul of the land in the tremendous disclosure of this interior unaffected by the slight European veneer of the coast towns, a great land of plain and mountain and people, suffering and mute, waiting for the future in a pathetic immobility of patience. (I.7.4)

    In this passage, Mrs. Gould seems to come closer to the "soul" of Costaguana as she moves away from the parts that are more Europeanized. Strangely, however, this "real" Costaguana doesn't really get a voice; twice, the narrator identifies indigenous peoples as "mute." In this way, the narrator kind of sets up the indigenous population as the Other that seems foreign/incomprehensible to the actual foreigners—for example, Mrs. Gould or the English-speaking narrator who probes this world.

    He took up a paper fan and began to cool himself with a consequential air, while Charles Gould bowed and withdrew. Then he dropped the fan at once, and stared with an appearance of wonder and perplexity at the closed door for quite a long time. At last he shrugged his shoulders as if to assure himself of his disdain. Cold, dull. No intellectuality. Red hair. A true Englishman. He despised him. (I.7.19)

    These are the thoughts of a certain provincial Excellency who has just met with (and apparently received money from) Charles Gould. It seems he was not impressed with his "true English"ness, though he had laid on the charm heavily with Charles (and totally appreciated the cash).

    Amongst the cries of the mob not the least loud had been the cry of death to foreigners. It was, indeed, a lucky circumstance for Sulaco that the relations of those imported workmen with the people of the country had been uniformly bad from the first. (II.1.2)

    Silver lining? Apparently railway workers (who are described as mostly Basque and Italian) were even more committed to defending the city from protests and looting because they had never really gotten along with the indigenous population.

    Less than six months after the President-Dictator's visit, Sulaco learned with stupefaction of the military revolt in the name of national honour. The Minister of War, in a barrack-square allocution to the officers of the artillery regiment he had been inspecting, had declared the national honour sold to foreigners. The Dictator, by his weak compliance with the demands of the European powers—for the settlement of long outstanding money claims—had showed himself unfit to rule. (II.2.3)

    Anger at foreign influences in Costaguana is at the heart of the Monterist uprising. Well, at least according to the Monteros. And the Monteros aren't the most reliable source in the world.

    It was generally believed that with her foreign upbringing and foreign ideas the learned and proud Antonia would never marry—unless, indeed, she married a foreigner from Europe or North America, now that Sulaco seemed on the point of being invaded by all the world. (II.2.13)

    The implication here seems to be that, having been exposed to foreign ideas/education, Antonia wouldn't be interested in getting married to a Costaguanero, probably because she had become too snooty. Also, that's kind of a sad throwaway line about Sulaco being invaded by the world, right?

    "That!—that! oh, that's really the work of that Genoese seaman! But to return to my noises; there used to be in the old days the sound of trumpets outside that gate. War trumpets! I'm sure they were trumpets. I have read somewhere that Drake, who was the greatest of these men, used to dine alone in his cabin on board ship to the sound of trumpets. In those days this town was full of wealth. Those men came to take it. Now the whole land is like a treasure-house, and all these people are breaking into it, whilst we are cutting each other's throats. The only thing that keeps them out is mutual jealousy. But they'll come to an agreement some day—and by the time we've settled our quarrels and become decent and honourable, there'll be nothing left for us. It has always been the same. We are a wonderful people, but it has always been our fate to be"—he did not say "robbed," but added, after a pause—"exploited!" (II.5.9)

    Martin is dropping some truth bombs that no one (at least Antonia, Mrs. Gould, and Don José) wants to hear. Which is unsurprising, given that he's basically talking about how, throughout history, foreigners have cashed in on Costaguana's resources while the population was busy with infighting. It's good to remember here that Conrad has a rep for being suspicious of progress, since Decoud is suggesting that things haven't really changed since the time of Drake—and Sir Frances Drake lived a long, long time ago

    The tide of political speculation was beating high within the four walls of the great sala, as if driven beyond the marks by a great gust of hope. Don Juste's fan-shaped beard was still the centre of loud and animated discussions. There was a self-confident ring in all the voices. Even the few Europeans around Charles Gould—a Dane, a couple of Frenchmen, a discreet fat German, smiling, with down-cast eyes, the representatives of those material interests that had got a footing in Sulaco under the protecting might of the San Tomé mine—had infused a lot of good humour into their deference. Charles Gould, to whom they were paying their court, was the visible sign of the stability that could be achieved on the shifting ground of revolutions. (II.5.94)

    Okay, we kind of get what the Monterists are talking about now; it seems like a lot of different countries have the ear of the (also foreign) "King of Sulaco," who is supposedly the big symbol of security. He's like a big blanky, except more political and scary.

    "Ah! But Don Carlos is so English," he began. Mrs. Gould interrupted— "Leave that alone, Don Martin. He's as much a Costaguanero—No! He's more of a Costaguanero than yourself." (II.6.96-97)

    Apparently Mrs. Gould doesn't like that Martin keeps beating the "Charles is so English!" drum. Of course, she's right that Martin is just as foreign as Charles, if not more so, since he's of European extraction and lived in Europe for a long time before returning to Costaguana.

    I know the intentions of Montero's brother, Pedrito, the guerrillero, whom I exposed in Paris, some years ago, in a cafe frequented by South American students, where he tried to pass himself off for a Secretary of Legation. He used to come in and talk for hours, twisting his felt hat in his hairy paws, and his ambition seemed to become a sort of Duc de Morny to a sort of Napoleon. (II.7.43)

    Ha—so even that great revolutionary, Pedrito, clocked significant hours in Europe. Also, he seemed to want to model his political career after that of a French statesman.

  • Religion

    The impious adventurers gave no other sign. The sailors, the Indian, and the stolen burro were never seen again. As to the mozo, a Sulaco man—his wife paid for some masses, and the poor four-footed beast, being without sin, had been probably permitted to die; but the two gringos, spectral and alive, are believed to be dwelling to this day amongst the rocks, under the fatal spell of their success. Their souls cannot tear themselves away from their bodies mounting guard over the discovered treasure. They are now rich and hungry and thirsty—a strange theory of tenacious gringo ghosts suffering in their starved and parched flesh of defiant heretics, where a Christian would have renounced and been released. (I.1.4)

    Here, we get the tale of two gringos and one mozo who went looking for treasure. The mozo, a Christian, was allowed to die when things went south, whereas the gringos (who ostensibly weren't Christian) weren't. This moment sets us up for the way Christianity/Catholicism is threaded into the background of the novel without ever really taking center stage.

    The old republican did not believe in saints, or in prayers, or in what he called "priest's religion." Liberty and Garibaldi were his divinities; but he tolerated "superstition" in women, preserving in these matters a lofty and silent attitude. (I.3.3)

    This passage refers to Giorgio Viola's attitude about religion. It seems that he's more interested in worshiping political principles and figures than anything else. The way he views the relative importance of religion and politics kind of mimics the way the book treats these topics.

    Though he disliked priests, and would not put his foot inside a church for anything, he believed in God. Were not the proclamations against tyrants addressed to the peoples in the name of God and liberty? "God for men—religions for women," he muttered sometimes. In Sicily, an Englishman who had turned up in Palermo after its evacuation by the army of the king, had given him a Bible in Italian—the publication of the British and Foreign Bible Society, bound in a dark leather cover. In periods of political adversity, in the pauses of silence when the revolutionists issued no proclamations, Giorgio earned his living with the first work that came to hand—as sailor, as dock labourer on the quays of Genoa, once as a hand on a farm in the hills above Spezzia—and in his spare time he studied the thick volume. He carried it with him into battles. Now it was his only reading, and in order not to be deprived of it (the print was small) he had consented to accept the present of a pair of silver-mounted spectacles from Señora Emilia Gould, the wife of the Englishman who managed the silver mine in the mountains three leagues from the town. She was the only Englishwoman in Sulaco. (I.4.47)

    While he's still not super-interested in organized religion, Giorgio Viola seems to believe in God and think this belief can fuel the holiest thing around: political commitments. What do you make of his reference to Mrs. Gould and her Englishness at the end of this series of thoughts about religion, though?

    "Mr. Holroyd's sense of religion," Mrs. Gould pursued, "was shocked and disgusted at the tawdriness of the dressed-up saints in the cathedral—the worship, he called it, of wood and tinsel. But it seemed to me that he looked upon his own God as a sort of influential partner, who gets his share of profits in the endowment of churches. That's a sort of idolatry. He told me he endowed churches every year, Charley." "No end of them," said Mr. Gould, marvelling inwardly at the mobility of her physiognomy. "All over the country. He's famous for that sort of munificence." "Oh, he didn't boast," Mrs. Gould declared, scrupulously. "I believe he's really a good man, but so stupid! A poor Chulo who offers a little silver arm or leg to thank his god for a cure is as rational and more touching." "He's at the head of immense silver and iron interests," Charles Gould observed. "Ah, yes! The religion of silver and iron. He's a very civil man, though he looked awfully solemn when he first saw the Madonna on the staircase, who's only wood and paint; but he said nothing to me. My dear Charley, I heard those men talk among themselves. Can it be that they really wish to become, for an immense consideration, drawers of water and hewers of wood to all the countries and nations of the earth?" (I.6.62-66)

    As you can see, Mrs. Gould is pretty critical of Holroyd's religious views and proselytizing. Also, her throwaway comment about the "religion of silver and iron" is interesting—she sees Mr. Holroyd's loyalties as divided. Sharp eye there, Mrs. Gould.

    Of course, he was too great a man to be questioned as to his motives, even by his intimates. The outside world was at liberty to wonder respectfully at the hidden meaning of his actions. He was so great a man that his lavish patronage of the "purer forms of Christianity" (which in its naive form of church-building amused Mrs. Gould) was looked upon by his fellow-citizens as the manifestation of a pious and humble spirit. But in his own circles of the financial world the taking up of such a thing as the San Tomé mine was regarded with respect, indeed, but rather as a subject for discreet jocularity. It was a great man's caprice. (I.6.92)

    The American steel/silver tycoon Holroyd likes to put his cash toward the spread of Protestantism, and he's definitely interested in turning gold into Godliness in Costaguana. Of course, an increase in the popularity of Protestantism in Costaguana would be at odds with the existing Catholic tradition in that country… which was also imported.

    It was known that Father Corbelán had come out of the wilds to advocate the sacred rights of the Church with the same fanatical fearlessness with which he had gone preaching to bloodthirsty savages, devoid of human compassion or worship of any kind. Rumours of legendary proportions told of his successes as a missionary beyond the eye of Christian men. He had baptized whole nations of Indians, living with them like a savage himself. It was related that the padre used to ride with his Indians for days, half naked, carrying a bullock-hide shield, and, no doubt, a long lance, too—who knows? That he had wandered clothed in skins, seeking for proselytes somewhere near the snow line of the Cordillera. Of these exploits Padre Corbelán himself was never known to talk. But he made no secret of his opinion that the politicians of Sta. Marta had harder hearts and more corrupt minds than the heathen to whom he had carried the word of God. (II.5.104)

    Oof, there's a lot going on here. Father Corbelán is arguably spreading the influence of foreign ideas by trying to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism. However, he also tries to adopt their ways, which he seems to prefer to the corruption of politicians in Sta. Marta. Meanwhile, the narrator refers to these indigenous peoples as "bloodthirsty savages, devoid of human compassion or worship of any kind," which is pretty dang harsh if you ask us.

    "And you—you are a perfect heathen," he said, in a subdued, deep voice. He made a step nearer, pointing a forefinger at the young man's breast. Decoud, very calm, felt the wall behind the curtain with the back of his head. Then, with his chin tilted well up, he smiled. "Very well," he agreed with the slightly weary nonchalance of a man well used to these passages. "But is it perhaps that you have not discovered yet what is the God of my worship? It was an easier task with our Barrios." (II.5.107-109)

    Here, Martin is bantering with Father Corbelán about Martin's (lack of?) religious views. Just a little while before, the padre had said that Barrios's god is a bottle. Martin seems to find it funny when Corbelán "teases" him about being a heathen.

    "The introduction of a pure form of Christianity into this continent is a dream for a youthful enthusiast, and I have been trying to explain to you why Holroyd at fifty-eight is like a man on the threshold of life, and better, too. He's not a missionary, but the San Tomé mine holds just that for him. I assure you, in sober truth, that he could not manage to keep this out of a strictly business conference upon the finances of Costaguana he had with Sir John a couple of years ago. Sir John mentioned it with amazement in a letter he wrote to me here, from San Francisco, when on his way home." (III.I.35)

    The chief engineer is talking about Holroyd and his enthusiasm for bringing "a pure form of Christianity" to South America. The implication is that his financial stake in the San Tomé mine is making it possible for him to pursue that dream.

    The first Cardinal-Archbishop of Sulaco had preserved his fanatical and morose air; the aspect of a chaplain of bandits. It was believed that his unexpected elevation to the purple was a counter-move to the Protestant invasion of Sulaco organized by the Holroyd Missionary Fund. (III.11.30)

    After the creation of the Occidental state, Father Corbelán becomes Cardinal-Archbishop. As you can see here, some people thought this was just a slick political move to help prevent the spread of Protestantism.

    "Give me the book." Linda laid on the table the closed volume in its worn leather cover, the Bible given him ages ago by an Englishman in Palermo. "The child had to be protected," he said, in a strange, mournful voice. (III.13.132)

    At the end of the novel, old Giorgio goes back to reading his bible after shooting Nostromo. Linda notes that he seems to be a bit out of it, changed by the act that he committed but totally in denial about it. It seems that he's trying to take refuge in the book that accompanied him into battle, even thought shooting a defenseless man and going into battle are way different.

  • Power

    In this way only was the power of the local authorities vindicated amongst the great body of strong-limbed foreigners who dug the earth, blasted the rocks, drove the engines for the "progressive and patriotic undertaking." In these very words eighteen months before the Excellentissimo Señor don Vincente Ribiera, the Dictator of Costaguana, had described the National Central Railway in his great speech at the turning of the first sod. (I.5.1)

    Apparently the local labor force (which consists of a lot of foreigners, it seems) needed to be convinced to affirm the "power of the local authorities." In the previous chapter, Giorgio had been taking up their cause, which ostensibly helped make these foreign laborers inclined to fall into line. Giorgio seems to be a fairly influential guy, in his own sphere.

    "The Costaguana Government shall play its hand for all it's worth—and don't you forget it, Mr. Gould. Now, what is Costaguana? It is the bottomless pit of 10 per cent: loans and other fool investments. European capital has been flung into it with both hands for years. Not ours, though. We in this country know just about enough to keep indoors when it rains. We can sit and watch. Of course, some day we shall step in. We are bound to. But there's no hurry. Time itself has got to wait on the greatest country in the whole of God's Universe. We shall be giving the word for everything: industry, trade, law, journalism, art, politics, and religion, from Cape Horn clear over to Smith's Sound, and beyond, too, if anything worth taking hold of turns up at the North Pole. And then we shall have the leisure to take in hand the outlying islands and continents of the earth. We shall run the world's business whether the world likes it or not. The world can't help it—and neither can we, I guess." (I.6.81)

    This is Holroyd basically musing to Charles about how powerful America is and will be, as well as the influence it's likely to have on Costaguana.

    "This young fellow," he thought to himself, "may yet become a power in the land." (I.6.89)

    Here we have Holroyd again, musing about how the young Gould might actually become a power player. As we know from finishing the book (you finished it, right?), he does.

    "What is wanted here is law, good faith, order, security. Any one can declaim about these things, but I pin my faith to material interests. Only let the material interests once get a firm footing, and they are bound to impose the conditions on which alone they can continue to exist. That's how your money-making is justified here in the face of lawlessness and disorder. It is justified because the security which it demands must be shared with an oppressed people. A better justice will come afterwards. That's your ray of hope." His arm pressed her slight form closer to his side for a moment. "And who knows whether in that sense even the San Tomé mine may not become that little rift in the darkness which poor father despaired of ever seeing?" (I.6.105)

    Charles seems to believe that "material interests" have the power to bring about basically anything you could want (like "law, good faith, order, security"). That explains why he's more interested in production than politics… or is production just a form of politics?

    The heavy stonework of bridges and churches left by the conquerors proclaimed the disregard of human labour, the tribute-labour of vanished nations. The power of king and church was gone, but at the sight of some heavy ruinous pile overtopping from a knoll the low mud walls of a village, Don Pepe would interrupt the tale of his campaigns to exclaim— "Poor Costaguana! Before, it was everything for the Padres, nothing for the people; and now it is everything for those great politicos in Sta. Marta, for negroes and thieves." (I.7.7-8)

    In this passage, Don Pepe reflects on shifting power dynamics over time in Costaguana. He really sounds like an old man sitting on his front stoop complaining about "kids these days."

    He had not been disappointed in the "King of Sulaco." The local difficulties had fallen away, as the engineer-in-chief had foretold they would, before Charles Gould's mediation. Sir John had been extremely feted in Sulaco, next to the President-Dictator, a fact which might have accounted for the evident ill-humour General Montero displayed at lunch given on board the Juno just before she was to sail, taking away from Sulaco the President-Dictator and the distinguished foreign guests in his train. (I.8.45)

    Here, we get a glimpse of just how powerful Charles is. He's able to move metaphorical mountains to smooth the path for the construction of the railway and ensure Sir John has everything he needs on his visit.

    Charles Gould's position—a commanding position in the background of that attempt to retrieve the peace and the credit of the Republic—was very clear. At the beginning he had had to accommodate himself to existing circumstances of corruption so naively brazen as to disarm the hate of a man courageous enough not to be afraid of its irresponsible potency to ruin everything it touched. It seemed to him too contemptible for hot anger even. He made use of it with a cold, fearless scorn, manifested rather than concealed by the forms of stony courtesy which did away with much of the ignominy of the situation. (II.1.17)

    This passage emphasizes that Charles's political power, while in the background of things, is clear to basically everyone (even though he denies political involvement). He's very much the man behind the curtain.

    "That!—that! oh, that's really the work of that Genoese seaman! But to return to my noises; there used to be in the old days the sound of trumpets outside that gate. War trumpets! I'm sure they were trumpets. I have read somewhere that Drake, who was the greatest of these men, used to dine alone in his cabin on board ship to the sound of trumpets. In those days this town was full of wealth. Those men came to take it. Now the whole land is like a treasure-house, and all these people are breaking into it, whilst we are cutting each other's throats. The only thing that keeps them out is mutual jealousy. But they'll come to an agreement some day—and by the time we've settled our quarrels and become decent and honourable, there'll be nothing left for us. It has always been the same. We are a wonderful people, but it has always been our fate to be"—he did not say "robbed," but added, after a pause—"exploited!" (II.5.9)

    Here Martin Decoud voices another unpopular opinion: Costaguana is exploited. Naturally, the other aristocrats/foreigners he's speaking do not want to hear this. No one wants to hear nasty words like "exploited" when they're getting rich and powerful off of the land.

    Nobody in the town has any real power except the railway engineers, whose men occupy the dismantled houses acquired by the Company for their town station on one side of the Plaza, and Nostromo, whose Cargadores were sleeping under the arcades along the front of Anzani's shops. (II.7.11)

    Decoud goes against the prevailing wisdom (which says that Charles Gould is the most powerful man in Sulaco, natch) to say that the railway engineers and Nostromo are actually holding the reins. Do you think that's true?

    What he had heard Giorgio Viola say once was very true. Kings, ministers, aristocrats, the rich in general, kept the people in poverty and subjection; they kept them as they kept dogs, to fight and hunt for their service. (III.7.8)

    In this moment, the narrator gives us Nostromo's (pretty damning) thoughts about the (huge) moral failings of the rich and powerful.

  • Race/Ethnicity

    A spreading cotton-wool tree shaded a thatched ranch by the road; the trudging files of burdened Indians taking off their hats, would lift sad, mute eyes to the cavalcade raising the dust of the crumbling camino real made by the hands of their enslaved forefathers. And Mrs. Gould, with each day's journey, seemed to come nearer to the soul of the land in the tremendous disclosure of this interior unaffected by the slight European veneer of the coast towns, a great land of plain and mountain and people, suffering and mute, waiting for the future in a pathetic immobility of patience. (I.7.4)

    This is one of several problematic references to race in the book. The narrator refers twice to "Indians" as "mute"—say what? Honestly, do you know of entire groups of human beings that are silent? Didn't think so—way to oversimplify a population you don't understand, Conrad.

    By the way, this is the kind of stuff that makes people really cranky about Heart of Darkness. Even though that novel(la) offers a pretty strong critique of colonialism and its violence, it also portrays indigenous peoples as "mute."

    "Poor Costaguana! Before, it was everything for the Padres, nothing for the people; and now it is everything for those great politicos in Sta. Marta, for negroes and thieves." (I.7.7-8)

    Okay, did we mention there are lots of problematic references to race? Well there are. Characters often align criminality with being "negro," and we get a sample of that tendency here.

    It was reported in Sulaco that up there "at the mountain" Don Pepe walked about precipitous paths, girt with a great sword and in a shabby uniform with tarnished bullion epaulettes of a senior major. Most miners being Indians, with big wild eyes, addressed him as Taita (father), as these barefooted people of Costaguana will address anybody who wears shoes; but it was Basilio, Mr. Gould's own mozo and the head servant of the Casa, who, in all good faith and from a sense of propriety, announced him once in the solemn words, "El Señor Gobernador has arrived." (I.8.6)

    Again, do we have to be so offensive? To say nothing of cliché? Here, "Indians" are referred to as having "wild" eyes. This is one of many moments in which non-Europeans are referred to as wild or savage.

    The clamour of this Negro Liberalism frightened Señor Avellanos. A newspaper was the only remedy. And now that the right man had been found in Decoud, great black letters appeared painted between the windows above the arcaded ground floor of a house on the Plaza. (II.3.27)

    Martin Decoud was installed as the head of the anti-Monterist press in order to combat the pro-Montero journalism that was out there. In this passage (and elsewhere), the Monterist movement is not just associated with liberalism, but "Negro Liberalism."

    "Montero was bribeable. Why, I suppose he only wanted his share of this famous loan for national development. Why didn't the stupid Sta. Marta people give him a mission to Europe, or something? He would have taken five years' salary in advance, and gone on loafing in Paris, this stupid, ferocious Indio!" (II.5.59)

    Martin makes it about more than Montero's bad behavior when he calls him a "stupid, ferocious Indio." Bringing Montero's race into the equation highlights the prejudices swirling around the consciousness of the European-Costaguanero residents of Sulaco.

    "Could he not, a gentleman, have told this Sir John what's-his-name that Montero had to be bought off—he and all his Negro Liberals hanging on to his gold-laced sleeve? He ought to have been bought off with his own stupid weight of gold—his weight of gold, I tell you, boots, sabre, spurs, cocked hat, and all." (II.5.61)

    It's curious that Martin needs to bring the race of these particular Liberals up. We have seen characters associate being "Negro" with being criminals, so perhaps that's why Martin thinks this is a relevant point?

    Even Decoud himself seemed to feel that this was as much as he could expect of having her to himself till—till the revolution was over and he could carry her off to Europe, away from the endlessness of civil strife, whose folly seemed even harder to bear than its ignominy. After one Montero there would be another, the lawlessness of a populace of all colours and races, barbarism, irremediable tyranny. As the great Liberator Bolivar had said in the bitterness of his spirit, "America is ungovernable. Those who worked for her independence have ploughed the sea." (II.5.77)

    Yikes. Apparently now Martin is arguing that the presence of all races in Costaguana has opened the door for "irremediable tyranny." We're not sure what racial profile would be ideal for him (only Europeans, perhaps?), but he certainly seems to associate certain racial demographics with barbarity and political problems.

    It was known that Father Corbelán had come out of the wilds to advocate the sacred rights of the Church with the same fanatical fearlessness with which he had gone preaching to bloodthirsty savages, devoid of human compassion or worship of any kind. Rumours of legendary proportions told of his successes as a missionary beyond the eye of Christian men. He had baptized whole nations of Indians, living with them like a savage himself. It was related that the padre used to ride with his Indians for days, half naked, carrying a bullock-hide shield, and, no doubt, a long lance, too—who knows? That he had wandered clothed in skins, seeking for proselytes somewhere near the snow line of the Cordillera. Of these exploits Padre Corbelán himself was never known to talk. But he made no secret of his opinion that the politicians of Sta. Marta had harder hearts and more corrupt minds than the heathen to whom he had carried the word of God. (II.5.104)

    This moment is a little more complicated than some of the other references to indigenous Costaguaneros. Okay, yes, the narrator refers to these individuals as "bloodthirsty savages," which is in keeping with the generally racist tone of other mentions. That said, we have to mention that Father Corbelán seemed to find politicians more objectionable than heathens. So, perhaps this moment is actually trying to undermine the notion that indigenous peoples are savage?

    He became so interested that for an instant he forgot his precious prisoner. There is always something childish in the rapacity of the passionate, clear-minded, Southern races, wanting in the misty idealism of the Northerners, who at the smallest encouragement dream of nothing less than the conquest of the earth. Sotillo was fond of jewels, gold trinkets, of personal adornment. After a moment he turned about, and with a commanding gesture made all his officers fall back. He laid down the watch on the table, then, negligently, pushed his hat over it. (III.2.27)

    With this description of the dopey Sotillo, we get more curious stereotypes and racial profiling. Although complimenting the "Southern races" as "clear-minded," the narrator also calls them "childish" and greedy. Meanwhile, the worst thing the narrator can say about the Northerners is that they don't need encouragement to think big… not exactly the most Real Housewives-ready insult.

    "The Spanish race, sir, is prolific of remarkable characters in every rank of life…" (III.10.22)

    For a point of contrast with how indigenous peoples are portrayed, check out Captain Mitchell's reference to the greatness of the "Spanish race."

  • Patriotism

    Don José had recovered himself at once, but for a time he could do no more than murmur, "Oh, you two patriots! Oh, you two patriots!"—looking from one to the other. Vague plans of another historical work, wherein all the devotions to the regeneration of the country he loved would be enshrined for the reverent worship of posterity, flitted through his mind. The historian who had enough elevation of soul to write of Guzmán Bento: "Yet this monster, imbrued in the blood of his countrymen, must not be held unreservedly to the execration of future years. It appears to be true that he, too, loved his country. He had given it twelve years of peace; and, absolute master of lives and fortunes as he was, he died poor. His worst fault, perhaps, was not his ferocity, but his ignorance." The man who could write thus of a cruel persecutor (the passage occurs in his "History of Misrule") felt at the foreshadowing of success an almost boundless affection for his two helpers, for these two young people from over the sea. (II.1.15)

    Apparently Don José's patriotism is a big umbrella; it inspires him to appreciate even a vicious dictator who tortured him. Also, identifying the Goulds as "patriots" seems a bit odd—after all, Emilia isn't even from Costaguana. His reasoning for this wide embrace? They all love Costaguana.

    Charles Gould was not present at the anxious and patriotic send-off. It was not his part to see the soldiers embark. It was neither his part, nor his inclination, nor his policy. His part, his inclination, and his policy were united in one endeavour to keep unchecked the flow of treasure he had started single-handed from the re-opened scar in the flank of the mountain. As the mine developed he had trained for himself some native help. There were foremen, artificers and clerks, with Don Pepe for the gobernador of the mining population. For the rest his shoulders alone sustained the whole weight of the "Imperium in Imperio," the great Gould Concession whose mere shadow had been enough to crush the life out of his father. (II.2.9)

    As Barrios's troops head out to fight the Monterists, Gould is pretending he's above the feelings of patriotism… even though we know that he's basically at the heart of the whole situation that's sending these men to war.

    Then, confronting with a sort of urbane effrontery Mrs. Gould's gaze, now turned sympathetically upon himself, he breathed out the words, "Pro Patria!" (II.3.25)

    Martin discovered his "patriotism" because of his love for Antonia, so we're not really sure how genuine his exclamation is.

    His disdain grew like a reaction of his scepticism against the action into which he was forced by his infatuation for Antonia. He soothed himself by saying he was not a patriot, but a lover. (II.5.22)

    Martin seems to feel a bit ambivalent about getting drawn into political activities while pursuing his love of Antonia (which is what is keeping him in Sulaco). Apparently he needs to comfort himself by saying these activities aren't about patriotism, but love.

    "Some reason, you understand, I mean some sense, may creep into thinking; some glimpse of truth. I mean some effective truth, for which there is no room in politics or journalism. I happen to have said what I thought. And you are angry! If you do me the kindness to think a little you will see that I spoke like a patriot!" (II.5.28)

    This is Martin trying to defend himself after he offended basically all his European friends by saying he thought Costaguana and its people were exploited. It was a weird moment, since he seemed to be identifying with the Costaguaneros, even though he's arguably just as European as someone like the Charles Gould (who seemed to be targeted indirectly by his rant). Despite his protests to the contrary elsewhere, Martin suggests here that he feels some level of patriotism for Costaguana.

    "You know you were a very terrible person, a sort of Charlotte Corday in a schoolgirl's dress; a ferocious patriot. I suppose you would have stuck a knife into Guzmán Bento?" She interrupted him. "You do me too much honour." (II.5.46-47)

    Martin teases Antonia about the intensity of her patriotism, saying that she would have been an assassin: Charlotte Corday assassinated Jean-Paul Marat during the French revolution and was executed for her trouble.

    "We Occidentals," said Martin Decoud, using the usual term the provincials of Sulaco applied to themselves, "have been always distinct and separated. As long as we hold Cayta nothing can reach us. In all our troubles no army has marched over those mountains. A revolution in the central provinces isolates us at once. Look how complete it is now! The news of Barrios' movement will be cabled to the United States, and only in that way will it reach Sta. Marta by the cable from the other seaboard. We have the greatest riches, the greatest fertility, the purest blood in our great families, the most laborious population. The Occidental Province should stand alone. The early Federalism was not bad for us. Then came this union which Don Henrique Gould resisted. It opened the road to tyranny; and, ever since, the rest of Costaguana hangs like a millstone round our necks. The Occidental territory is large enough to make any man's country. Look at the mountains! Nature itself seems to cry to us, 'Separate!'' […]

    She shook her head. No, she was not startled, but the idea shocked her early convictions. Her patriotism was larger. She had never considered that possibility. (II.5.66)

    Here, Antonia's patriotism for all of Costaguana is at odds with Martin's suggestion that the Occidental Province split off into its own state.

    He did not care, he declared boldly; he seized every opportunity to tell her that though she had managed to make a Blanco journalist of him, he was no patriot. First of all, the word had no sense for cultured minds, to whom the narrowness of every belief is odious; and secondly, in connection with the everlasting troubles of this unhappy country it was hopelessly besmirched; it had been the cry of dark barbarism, the cloak of lawlessness, of crimes, of rapacity, of simple thieving. (II.5.77)

    Yes, yes, Martin—we get it; you're not a patriot. He seems to take issue with the very concept (not just Costaguana-related patriotism), since it's too "narrow" for the "cultured," in his view.

    "Well, she is a sensible woman, and perhaps Don Carlos is a sensible man. It's a part of solid English sense not to think too much; to see only what may be of practical use at the moment. These people are not like ourselves. We have no political reason; we have political passions—sometimes. What is a conviction? A particular view of our personal advantage either practical or emotional. No one is a patriot for nothing. The word serves us well. But I am clear-sighted, and I shall not use that word to you, Antonia! I have no patriotic illusions. I have only the supreme illusion of a lover." (II.5.83)

    More musings on patriotism from Martin here. Apparently he believes patriotism is never just love for love's sake—it's always offered for some kind of advantage to the patriot. That must be why he thinks loving Antonia is a more noble reason for political action.

    The indignation ran high in the knot of deputies behind José Avellanos. Don José, lifting up his voice, cried out to them over the high back of his chair, "Sulaco has answered by sending to-day an army upon his flank. If all the other provinces show only half as much patriotism as we Occidentals—" (II.5.86)

    Avellanos offers these thoughts as the Goulds, members of the Provincial Assembly, and other visitors (some of them European) talk about the war, just a little bit after Barrios's troops headed out. There seems to be some irony here in talking about the "patriotism" of "we Occidentals" in this particular group…

  • War/Peace

    In all these households she could hear stories of political outrage; friends, relatives, ruined, imprisoned, killed in the battles of senseless civil wars, barbarously executed in ferocious proscriptions, as though the government of the country had been a struggle of lust between bands of absurd devils let loose upon the land with sabres and uniforms and grandiloquent phrases. And on all the lips she found a weary desire for peace, the dread of officialdom with its nightmarish parody of administration without law, without security, and without justice. (I.7.5)

    The "she" here is Mrs. Gould. This is one of many references to the country's long history of wars and infighting, which, in Mrs. Gould's view, the country is tired of.

    The club, dating from the days of the proclamation of Costaguana's independence, boasted many names of liberators amongst its first founders. Suppressed arbitrarily innumerable times by various Governments, with memories of proscriptions and of at least one wholesale massacre of its members, sadly assembled for a banquet by the order of a zealous military commandante (their bodies were afterwards stripped naked and flung into the plaza out of the windows by the lowest scum of the populace), it was again flourishing, at that period, peacefully. (I.8.4)

    Here, we get a gruesome glimpse at a previous chapter in Sulaco's history in which members of the Aristocratic Club were invited to lunch and then tossed out the window after the meal. The sheer number of these violent stories in this novel is pretty impressive.

    The string of padlocked carts lengthened, the size of the escort grew bigger as the years went on. Every three months an increasing stream of treasure swept through the streets of Sulaco on its way to the strong room in the O.S.N. Co.'s building by the harbour, there to await shipment for the North. Increasing in volume, and of immense value also; for, as Charles Gould told his wife once with some exultation, there had never been seen anything in the world to approach the vein of the Gould Concession. For them both, each passing of the escort under the balconies of the Casa Gould was like another victory gained in the conquest of peace for Sulaco. (I.8.43)

    As already mentioned elsewhere, Charles claimed to see the San Tomé mine not just as an opportunity for financial gain, but also a means of ensuring lasting peace for his country.

    For his part he did not wish to revive old political doctrines. They were perishable. They died. But the doctrine of political rectitude was immortal. The second Sulaco regiment, to whom he was presenting this flag, was going to show its valour in a contest for order, peace, progress; for the establishment of national self-respect without which—he declared with energy—"we are a reproach and a byword amongst the powers of the world." (II.1.4)

    Don José seems to view the upcoming tussle with the Monterists as a kind of "war to end all wars" that will, he hopes, help reestablish some "self-respect."

    "Yet this monster, imbrued in the blood of his countrymen, must not be held unreservedly to the execration of future years. It appears to be true that he, too, loved his country. He had given it twelve years of peace; and, absolute master of lives and fortunes as he was, he died poor. His worst fault, perhaps, was not his ferocity, but his ignorance." The man who could write thus of a cruel persecutor (the passage occurs in his "History of Misrule") felt at the foreshadowing of success an almost boundless affection for his two helpers, for these two young people from over the sea. (II.1.15)

    It may seem odd, but apparently Bento, the evil dictator, was good at keeping the peace (before he went insane and started torturing his people). By contrast, war breaks out immediately when Ribiera, who is reported to be a fairly swell guy with very non-evil inclinations, comes to power. What gives?

    Less than six months after the President-Dictator's visit, Sulaco learned with stupefaction of the military revolt in the name of national honour. The Minister of War, in a barrack-square allocution to the officers of the artillery regiment he had been inspecting, had declared the national honour sold to foreigners. (II.2.3)

    Okay, perhaps it was taking on the nickname of "President-Dictator" that rubbed certain people the wrong way? Or maybe it's just as Montero said, and they didn't like how in bed he was with foreign interests.

    In any case, less than six months into his rule, Ribiera's supposed Minister of War started up a war against him. Maybe Montero thought that fell within his "Minister of War" duties?

    "We Occidentals," said Martin Decoud, using the usual term the provincials of Sulaco applied to themselves, "have been always distinct and separated. As long as we hold Cayta nothing can reach us. In all our troubles no army has marched over those mountains. A revolution in the central provinces isolates us at once. Look how complete it is now! The news of Barrios' movement will be cabled to the United States, and only in that way will it reach Sta. Marta by the cable from the other seaboard. We have the greatest riches, the greatest fertility, the purest blood in our great families, the most laborious population. The Occidental Province should stand alone. The early Federalism was not bad for us. Then came this union which Don Henrique Gould resisted. It opened the road to tyranny; and, ever since, the rest of Costaguana hangs like a millstone round our necks. The Occidental territory is large enough to make any man's country. Look at the mountains! Nature itself seems to cry to us, 'Separate!''

    […]

    She shook her head. No, she was not startled, but the idea shocked her early convictions. Her patriotism was larger. She had never considered that possibility. (II.5.66)

    Martin is making the case for splitting off in order to resolve the Monterist conflict. In his view, as long as they can hold the other port town of Cayta, they've got it in the bag.

    His opinion was that war should be declared at once against France, England, Germany, and the United States, who, by introducing railways, mining enterprises, colonization, and under such other shallow pretences, aimed at robbing poor people of their lands, and with the help of these Goths and paralytics, the aristocrats would convert them into toiling and miserable slaves. And the léperos, flinging about the corners of their dirty white mantas, yelled their approbation. General Montero, Gamacho howled with conviction, was the only man equal to the patriotic task. They assented to that, too. (III.5.19)

    Here, Gamacho is whipping the pro-Monterist crowd into a frenzy by suggesting that they should declare war against three big foreign powers who have their hands in Costaguana.

    And in the superintendent's private room the privileged passenger by the Ceres, or Juno, or Pallas, stunned and as it were annihilated mentally by a sudden surfeit of sights, sounds, names, facts, and complicated information imperfectly apprehended, would listen like a tired child to a fairy tale; would hear a voice, familiar and surprising in its pompousness, tell him, as if from another world, how there was 'in this very harbour' an international naval demonstration, which put an end to the Costaguana-Sulaco War. How the United States cruiser, Powhattan, was the first to salute the Occidental flag—white, with a wreath of green laurel in the middle encircling a yellow amarilla flower. Would hear how General Montero, in less than a month after proclaiming himself Emperor of Costaguana, was shot dead (during a solemn and public distribution of orders and crosses) by a young artillery officer, the brother of his then mistress. (III.10.35)

    We get some intel on how the Costaguana-Sulaco war ended via the tales with which Captain Mitchell liked to regale his visitors.

    "Will there be never any peace? Will there be no rest?" Mrs. Gould whispered. "I thought that we——" "No!" interrupted the doctor. "There is no peace and no rest in the development of material interests. They have their law, and their justice. But it is founded on expediency, and is inhuman; it is without rectitude, without the continuity and the force that can be found only in a moral principle. Mrs. Gould, the time approaches when all that the Gould Concession stands for shall weigh as heavily upon the people as the barbarism, cruelty, and misrule of a few years back." (III.11.45-46)

    In this exchange, the doctor calls out the elephant in the room, noting that a love of "material interests" and expediency is not the same thing as acting out of morals and principles—which means conflict will be on the horizon again soon enough, in his view. He suggests that the Goulds' days of holding power with the mine are numbered.

  • Primitivism

    Mrs. Gould knew the history of the San Tomé mine. Worked in the early days mostly by means of lashes on the backs of slaves, its yield had been paid for in its own weight of human bones. Whole tribes of Indians had perished in the exploitation; and then the mine was abandoned, since with this primitive method it had ceased to make a profitable return, no matter how many corpses were thrown into its maw. Then it became forgotten. (I.6.17)

    In this passage, we get the pre-history of the San Tomé mine that Charles inherited. Apparently many slaves working the mine under a "primitive method" died in the effort, and the mine wasn't profitable. We're not sure which is the bigger tragedy, in the Goulds' minds—the non-productivity or the lost lives.

    Don José Avellanos, clanking his chains amongst the others, seemed only to exist in order to prove how much hunger, pain, degradation, and cruel torture a human body can stand without parting with the last spark of life. Sometimes interrogatories, backed by some primitive method of torture, were administered to them by a commission of officers hastily assembled in a hut of sticks and branches, and made pitiless by the fear for their own lives. A lucky one or two of that spectral company of prisoners would perhaps be led tottering behind a bush to be shot by a file of soldiers. (II.1.5)

    Again, primitivism is associated with cruelty to other human beings—in this case, Guzmán Bento's.

    The silence about me is ominous. There is above the middle part of this house a sort of first floor, with narrow openings like loopholes for windows, probably used in old times for the better defence against the savages, when the persistent barbarism of our native continent did not wear the black coats of politicians, but went about yelling, half-naked, with bows and arrows in its hands. (II.7.16)

    This is Decoud writing to his sister. He notes that people he would have viewed as "savages" in earlier days have become part of the political elites of "our native continent." By using "our" here, it's almost like he's not setting himself apart from this savagery.

    I know the intentions of Montero's brother, Pedrito, the guerrillero, whom I exposed in Paris, some years ago, in a cafe frequented by South American students, where he tried to pass himself off for a Secretary of Legation. He used to come in and talk for hours, twisting his felt hat in his hairy paws, and his ambition seemed to become a sort of Duc de Morny to a sort of Napoleon. (II.7.43)

    In his description of Montero, Decoud identifies Montero as primitive and animal-like. Apparently Montero tried to pass himself off as European, and Decoud was not having that.

    The only guiding motive of his life was to get money for the satisfaction of his expensive tastes, which he indulged recklessly, having no self-control. He imagined himself a master of intrigue, but his corruption was as simple as an animal instinct. At times, in solitude, he had his moments of ferocity, and also on such occasions as, for instance, when alone in a room with Anzani trying to get a loan. (II.8.42)

    Sotillo is described as animalistic, reckless, and ferocious—that is, your basic stereotype of the savage that we've seen throughout the book.

    "A feeling, sir," he explained, "perfectly comprehensible in a man properly grateful for the many kindnesses received from the best families of merchants and other native gentlemen of independent means, who, barely saved by us from the excesses of the mob, seemed, to my mind's eye, destined to become the prey in person and fortune of the native soldiery, which, as is well known, behave with regrettable barbarity to the inhabitants during their civil commotions." (III.2.5)

    Here, Captain Mitchell describes the "barbarity" to which he almost fell victim during the Monterist uprising and its aftermath.

    The priest's inquisitorial instincts suffered but little from the want of classical apparatus of the Inquisition. At no time of the world's history have men been at a loss how to inflict mental and bodily anguish upon their fellow-creatures. This aptitude came to them in the growing complexity of their passions and the early refinement of their ingenuity. But it may safely be said that primeval man did not go to the trouble of inventing tortures. He was indolent and pure of heart. He brained his neighbour ferociously with a stone axe from necessity and without malice. The stupidest mind may invent a rankling phrase or brand the innocent with a cruel aspersion. (III.4.25)

    Primitivism actually emerges as preferable here to being more advanced, when it comes to inventing torture devices. Kind of makes you wonder who's more primitive—the "primeval man" or his modern, torture-happy equivalent?

    The popular lore of all nations testifies that duplicity and cunning, together with bodily strength, were looked upon, even more than courage, as heroic virtues by primitive mankind. To overcome your adversary was the great affair of life. Courage was taken for granted. But the use of intelligence awakened wonder and respect. (III.5.2)

    The narrator is musing about mankind's "progress" from simply valuing strength to being impressed by intelligence. We put "progress" in quotes, however, because in the next paragraph, we hear that things have circled back around: intelligence no longer gets respect, which you can tell because people are willing to follow dudes like Montero.

    He had been one of the first immigrants into this valley; his sons and sons-in-law worked within the mountain which seemed with its treasures to pour down the thundering ore shoots of the upper mesa, the gifts of well-being, security, and justice upon the toilers. He listened to the news from the town with curiosity and indifference, as if concerning another world than his own. And it was true that they appeared to him so. In a very few years the sense of belonging to a powerful organization had been developed in these harassed, half-wild Indians. They were proud of, and attached to, the mine. It had secured their confidence and belief. They invested it with a protecting and invincible virtue as though it were a fetish made by their own hands, for they were ignorant, and in other respects did not differ appreciably from the rest of mankind which puts infinite trust in its own creations. It never entered the alcalde's head that the mine could fail in its protection and force. (III.6.8)

    The narrator's portrayal of the local alcalde (and the other locals, too) is not super positive; he/they seems pretty disinterested in matters that directly affect them. This portrayal of the indigenous population as simple is, of course, incredibly problematic and overly simple itself. That's racism in a nutshell, though: problematic and dumb.

    Invested with the red hat after a short visit to Rome, where he had been invited by the Propaganda, Father Corbelán, missionary to the wild Indians, conspirator, friend and patron of Hernández the robber, advanced with big, slow strides, gaunt and leaning forward, with his powerful hands clasped behind his back. (III.11.30)

    As we discussed elsewhere (see "Race"), Father Corbelán has the reputation of preferring "wild Indians" to politicians. Also, he was known to be friends with the notorious outlaw Hernández, a different kind of "savage." Here, however, it seems like the outlaw is becoming part of the establishment.