Study Guide

Nostromo Foreignness and the "Other"

By Joseph Conrad

Foreignness and the "Other"

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.

Questions About Foreignness and the "Other"

  1. What do you make of the way Conrad presents the indigenous ("Indian") population of Costaguana? How does that presentation compare to how "true Costaguaneros" like Gould and Decoud are portrayed?
  2. Prior to the events of the book, Costaguana had been colonized (and presumably named) by the Spanish. Yet, the Spanish population of Costaguana is treated as indigenous, whereas the latest influx of Europeans is described as foreign. What do you make of that? Is that inconsistent or is that just how the Colonialist cookie crumbles?
  3. The indigenous population of Costaguana is portrayed as somehow more foreign or strange than the European conquerors. Do you find this problematic/offensive, or is it just a powerful way for Conrad to portray the way these Europeans see the indigenous population?

Chew on This

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.