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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

War and Peace in South America

In the second section of Conrad's Nostromo we get more deeply involved in the politics and civil wars in the SA country of Costaguana - as we learn about the tyrannical ruler Guzman who treated the defeated army with barbaric cruelty - he's the precursor of despots like Amin and Husssein - and one of the few surviving captive leaders is now a key advisor to Gould and his silver-mining empire. Guzman, however, is history - and even the current leaders recognize that he did bring an era of peace and prosperity (so we wonder how tyrannical he really was - was he as barbaric as the accounts hold, or was that the perspective of those whose power he stripped?). The present leader, Ribiera, is uninspiring and feckless, but he lets the capitalists, particularly Gould and his mines, continue to rake in the money and export the nation's wealth to the U.S., so he's "popular," at least with the central figures in the novel - and perhaps w/ Conrad as well? But now there's yet another insurrection, as two brothers, the Generals Montero, are leading a peasant revolt, and much of the first part of section 2, The Isabels, involves marshaling troops and sending them off to war, with trumpets playing fanfares. If it weren't so pathetic - we know that no good end will come for these men - it would be comic, the wealthy industrialists sending them off to war then retreating to tea and ices on their estates, while other young men - a newly introduced character, a French-influenced young journalist, for ex. - flirt with the beautiful daughter of one of the industrial leaders (the formerly imprisoned adviser to Gould) and trade witticisms with Senora Gould: It's like War and Peace in miniature, on a tropical seacoast. The question to pursue is: where does Conrad stand in relation to the moral and political behavior of these characters? And where do we stand? And let's not lose sight of the title character, the guy who serves his master diligently and makes things happen, things for which the "upper" classes will not dirty their dainty hands.

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