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An Existential Interpretation of Nostromo

Author: ZuoJiaXin
Tutor: WangLiZuo
School: Harbin Normal University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: existentialism absurdity alienation free choice responsibility
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2011
Downloads: 45
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Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) is one of the greatest British novelists and is generally considered as one of the forerunners of modernist fiction. Conrad is a writer ahead of his times both in his artistic techniques and his ideas. Conrad prefers to use innovative narrative techniques such us shift of time and space and shift of point of view in his novels to achieve both his artistic effect and thematic goal. At the turning point of the nineteenth century and twentieth century, Joseph Conrad with his deep insight into the nature of the world and human beings and his deep concern about the condition of human existence, captures the dramatic changes in society, prophesies and reveals many existential problems ignored by most people of his times. The study of Conrad and his works can not only help us to understand the human history of Conrad’s times but also help us to think about our own existence.Nostromo (1904) is widely regarded by western critics as the best of Conrad’s works and one of the greatest English novels in the twentieth century. Nostromo represents Conrad’s crowning achievement in his artistic creation for its significant events, grand-scaled scenes, numerous characters, profound ideology and original construction. Another important reason contributing to Nostromo’s greatness is its exploration of the condition of human existence. In this novel, Conrad reveals the absurdity of the world, the alienation of human existence and probes into the way towards authentic existence. These existential problems Conrad concerns about are also the focus of existentialists. However, these existential elements reflected in the novel have not been systematically and fully revealed by previous studies. This thesis tries to analyze this novel from the perspective of existentialism. Such a study provides a further interpretation of the novel and reflects Conrad’s deep understanding of human existence and his exploration of authentic existence of human beings.This thesis consists of six parts.The introduction is a survey of the life experiences, works, artistic techniques and achievements of Joseph Conrad and of Nostromo and literary reviews at home and abroad on it. This part also introduces the aim, the academic significance and the practical meaning of this thesis. Chapter One firstly gives a brief introduction to existentialism including its birth, representatives and their thoughts and secondly introduces main principles of existentialism including absurdity, alienation, existence precedes essence and free choice and responsibility and finally discusses the existential elements in Conrad’s works.Chapter Two analyzes the absurdity of the world in Nostromo. The absurdity of the world is reflected by the following four aspects:the indifference and hostility of nature, the chaos and irrationality of society, the absurd behaviors of human beings and the absurd death.Chapter Three deals with the alienation of existence in Nostromo. This chapter includes two parts. The first part discusses the self-alienation of some major characters. The second part analyzes the alienation among people, including the alienation between parents and children and the alienation between couples.Chapter Four employs the existential concept free choice and responsibility to discuss the different pursuits of authentic existence of major characters in this world full of absurdity and alienation and then points out the significance of their different pursuits.The last part is the conclusion of the thesis. It gives a general summary of the existential elements reflected in Nostromo and points out that although human beings live in the world full of absurdity and alienation, Conrad believes the possibility for man to achieve the authentic existence. In fact, through the analysis of this novel from the perspective of existentialism, we can find out that Conrad points out to his readers a right road towards authentic existence, that is, through self-discovery and free choices with responsibility for self and others, one can finally achieve his authentic existence. Nostromo encourages generations of readers to think about their own existence and to pursue their authentic existence.

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