By Joseph Conrad, Robert D. Kaplan (introduction)
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Faced with that, Decoud becomes both devious and heroic, and thus finds his moral salvation through action that, because it is not “merely rational,” helps, in an ironic way, to save a whole population from ruin. Assisting Decoud and Dr. Monygham—I am gravely simplifying a complex plot—are two bandit groups that are no better than the ones that would reduce Sulaco to thuggery. But one of the lessons of Nostromo is that in such situations one has to mix with evil in order to deflect it. Among the novel’s best moments is when Decoud patiently explains to Mrs.
Quite literally, therefore, Conrad was able to see his narratives as the place in which the motivated, the occasional, the methodical and the rational are brought together with the aleatory, the unpredictable, the inexplicable. On the one hand, there are conditions presented by which a story’s telling becomes necessary; on the other hand, the essential story itself seems opposite to the conditions of its telling. The interplay of one with the other—and Conrad’s attention to the persuasively realistic setting of the tale’s presentation enforces our attention to it—makes the narrative the unique thing it is.
Torture, Conrad explains, was like a “naturalization” procedure, since it allowed Dr. Monygham to understand life like a true Costaguanan. Indeed, he has become the psychological “slave of a ghost”: the ghost of the inquisitorial priest who abused him. (The author alludes to a bright future for torture in the twenty-first century, because as man’s passions grow more complex, helped by technological development, his ability to inflict pain on his fellow man will grow infinitely more refined—just look at the twentieth century!