Political struggles are front and center in Nostromo: A Tale of The Seaboard; all the other themes somehow come back to or relate to this big ol' topic. Political life in Costaguana is incredibly complicated and messy—so if you're looking for a clear set of good guys and bad guys, you're going to be out of luck. Well, that's not entirely true—the really bad bad guys are easy enough to identify. That said, it's never entirely clear who the "good guys" are… maybe you can take a look and let us know if you find any?
Political life in Costaguana, which basically has no good guys, symbolizes the fact that politics is an inherently dirty business—can't get around it.
Charles Gould's supposed distance from his country's politics is not just disingenuous—it's dangerous. Trying to erase your political influence is one of the most evil, shady things you can do.
Money is king in Sulaco. Well, technically, Charles Gould is the one known as "El Rey [king] de Sulaco"—but he gets that title because he is crazy wealthy, so we think the principle stands. Money is viewed as the key to getting things done, which is why people go so crazy protecting the Goulds' silver supply when the Monterists are about to attack the town.
That all said, money has a huge downside in Nostromo: A Tale of The Seaboard. For example, that whole Monterist uprising thing happens because Charles used his money/influence to help Ribiera come to power. Also, there's the fact that extreme wealth seems to make people (e.g., the gringos of local lore, Charles, and Nostromo) a little nutty.
Can't deny it: extreme wealth just turns people bad. It can never be a force for good because it clouds the minds of those who possess it.
Despite initially seeming totally opposite in terms of their morals and motivations, Nostromo, Pedrito, and Gould are all ultimately portrayed as equally stupid and greedy.
In this Nostromo: A Tale of The Seaboard, there are a ton of different types of foreigners running around. First, you have the foreign laborers like Nostromo, the men of the railway and dudes like Giorgio, who keeps the hotel. And then you have Charles and Decoud, who were born in Costaguana but a) spent a lot of time abroad and b) are of European extraction.
Then there's the indigenous population. Ah, you think: Cool! Locals! Nope, not in this book. The narrative treats the local indigenous population like they are the outsiders. With all these topsy-turvy perspectives on what it means to be native or foreign, it's no wonder Costaguana has mad political problems.
Nostromo portrays the indigenous population of Costaguana as mute and foreign to highlight the crummy attitude that several characters hold toward these individuals.
By making the indigenous population of Costaguana seem mute and foreign, Nostromo falls into the same trap as Heart of Darkness. Symbolism is all well and good, but you can't just turn indigenous peoples into a voiceless "other" for your own artistic purposes. Well, you can, just not without being super problematic… and not without ticking off Chinua Achebe.
Religion never really takes center stage in the Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, but it's always hanging out there in the background. There are three primary forms of religion in the novel: Catholicism, Protestantism, and silver. Okay, we're (mostly) kidding about that last one.
Of course, it's worth noting that Catholicism and Protestantism were imports to Costaguana, and (as you'll see in the quotes) they become the means by which certain political games play out. Hey, we told you politics touched everything in this novel.
Even though they are both "imports," Catholicism is portrayed as more "Costaguanero" than Protestantism.
By keeping religion in the background, Nostromo suggests that wealth is really the "God" that governs modern life.
We could spend a lot of time debating where true power lies in Costaguana's universe. At first, it seems like wealth is the key to getting anything you want done in that country… but then, on second thought, it doesn't appear to be enough to ensure political stability for more than five minutes. Oh, and political power seems to be, er, fleeting at best.
You could make an argument that Nostromo actually has quite a lot of power, compared to other characters in Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, since everyone seems to need him and listen to him. However, there's still the fact that people treat him just as a tool to get what they want, rather than his own person. Bottom line: it's hard to keep hold of power when everyone around you is vying for it.
Power is great while you have it, but it's impossible to hold onto forever—so, you'd be better off preoccupying yourself with stuff that can actually do some good.
Wealth is definitely the most powerful force in the novel—just the mere prospect of getting it drives people out of their minds.
Like Heart of Darkness, Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard presents the indigenous peoples as "mute," "suffering," and basically lacking in individuality/agency, which is pretty problematic. However, you could argue this presentation is just a symbolic move on Conrad's part—the narrative mirrors the way in which the "forces of progress" push indigenous peoples into the background while Europeans, Americans, and European-Costaguaneros make Costaguana their economic playground.
The novel's presentation of particular races as somehow inferior is not self-conscious. The "savagery" of indigenous peoples is used in the book to mirror/highlight the savagery of supposedly more "civilized" peoples… which is pretty offensive.
The supposed "savagery" of indigenous peoples is self-conscious, presented but then debunked when compared to the behavior of the non-indigenous inhabitants. In other words, the Europeans/European-Costaguaneros end up looking like the "savages," not the indigenous population.
Patriotism seems to be a confused and confusing business in Costaguana. Main characters such as Charles, Antonia, and Martin are native to Costaguana and claim to feel like "Costaguaneros"… however, these same characters are of European extraction and seem to dig Europe/its customs quite a bit.
Characters like Martin and Charles kind of avoid displays of patriotism. Martin even denies being patriotic at all, saying his commitment to protecting the nation is all about his love for Antonia. In short, the presentation of patriotism is a bit muddled—it's never quite clear whether Nostromo: A Tale of The Seaboard is presenting it as a good thing or a bad thing, or just an irrational or inconsistent feeling that people have trouble justifying.
Patriotism is portrayed as an entirely useless sentiment that only gets the characters into trouble by causing them to act irrationally. It's basically love with a voter registration card.
The novel's portrayal of patriotism is muddled because the whole concept has gotten complicated in a Costaguana that's been in the throes of European and now American imperialism.
It seems that if you sneeze in Costaguana, you end up in a war with someone. Okay, okay, we exaggerate… but not by much. A lot of conflicts went down before Nostromo: A Tale of The Seaport even starts, and their legacy continues to have an impact on the characters. Then, of course, there's the war at the heart of the novel's plot, which happens when General Montero's people decide to take out the regime of Don Vincente Ribiera. Even when all that is cleared up at the end, we have a sense that peace won't last for too long.
Martin's secessionist ideas are more of the same old, same old. He's trying to preserve a Costaguana ruled by rich people with "the purest blood" (II.5.66), which is basically what they had before—and what got the Monterists so riled up.
Conrad implies that peace is currently impossible in Costaguana—at least, for the foreseeable future.
Joseph Conrad frequently associates primitivism with certain groups (see "Race" and "Foreignness" for more on that), but it's just a big topic generally. When you first see someone or something described in Nostromo: A Tale of The Seaboard as savage or "primeval," you probably think of that as an insult—and hey, rightly so.
However, it's important to note that Conrad is pretty suspicious of notions of "progress," so there are moments where it seems like he's presenting savagery as preferable to more "developed" or advanced people—politicians, for example. So, calling someone a savage might actually be a compliment? Sure…
The novel makes repeated references to savagery and primitivism to emphasize those qualities in the politics of the time.
The novel makes repeated references to savagery and primitivism to provide a comforting counterpoint (a.k.a. a "worst case scenario") to the political strife of the ruling classes/politicians.