Essay: Catherine Belsey's Theory of Ideology and Its Relevance to Joseph Conrad's Novel Nostromo

Catherine Belsey was a philosopher who brought critics in literature. Structuralism is her greatest concept of discussion as it was faced by many challenges. It was used to combine culture, language and society (Belsey 3). She compared the relationship between human beings and language, scholars and their reading materials, politics in people’s culture and writing. In her critical practice, she argued that theories matter a lot because they open people’s minds to the perception of literature and culture. This was basically done to link the social history, politics and literature “by showing that in essence things are as they have always been. . . . The function of scholarship . . . is finally to reinstate the continuity of felt life . . . . No history: no politics.”

Belsey’s literature does not criticize culture but it is a combination of a variety of cultures. In her definition of culture and meaning, she wanted to explain the concept of narrative structure. She advocated changing the traditional ways of criticizing literature and she thus came up with different styles of work (Belsey 7). There are a variety of terms which she criticized including; modernism, empiricism, postmodernism, rationalism, and idealism which did not qualify to the standards of art and modern literature.

In her theory of common sense, she observed literature as just a natural way to the understanding and analysis of literary works. Literature should not be misleading and interfering with the natural way of people’s understanding. The ideological construction of common sense basically depends on the social status of an individual (Belsey 10). In her argument she investigated that common sense to some extent does contradict itself.

The major problem with a theory is that individuals have a perception that something can exist practically without the theory itself (Belsey 12). Common sense is not just in the minds of conscious individuals but it’s in the minds of how an individual has experienced the world. Common sense does contradict itself and thus it is driven by the desire to be open-minded and informed.
Joseph Conrad’s novel Nostromo is a novel set in the imaginary country of costaguana whereby there is a native costaguanero (senior Gould) who owns a silver-mining concession in Sulaco. He has experienced political instability and corruption in the country due to tyrannical and dictatorial nature of leadership (Conrad 98). Due to wars, he entrusts his mine to Nostromo so that it is not destructed. Nostromo left his country to America. He is respected by people and he is called” a man of the people” At the end of the novel Nostromo uses his power and fame to hide the silver while the people think that it’s all lost at the sea. This silver is hidden in the shoreline of an island. He is known to be a betrayer whereby he, later on, betrays himself. Nostromo is later killed by his fiancée’s father (old viola) being accused of trespass while attempting to trace the treasure.

On examining the character of Nostromo in the novel, he is seen to be very sensitive to other people’s feelings. This is shown by the fact that he betrays himself in order to gain the fame of being a hero. He misused the concept of taking theories he had and using common sense to make his decision rather than dealing with reality (Conrad 154).

When considering the difference between meaning and power, we get to understand the various forms of controls and the resistance to control. The major issue in the study is to incorporate literature to the culture and empower it to contribute to political and historical information in order to give value to it. The story deploys a cynical test of humor (Conrad 197).

The novel emphasizes on issues to do with the lawlessness, endless journey in civil strife and crime. The author demonstrates the cynical nature of the leading government authorities. This creates many images in the thoughts of the reader on the future of such a pessimistic nation. Tension is created between the foreigners in the country and the local resident since the degree of the political instability is increasing ‘a diminishing company of nearly naked skeletons, loaded with irons, covered with dirt, with vermin, with raw wounds, all men of positions, of education, of wealth, who had learned to fight amongst themselves for scraps of rotten beef…’ (Conrad 267).

In conclusion, although Nostromo was incorruptible, the issue of pride, misuse of power and common sense and letting your pleasures and superstition to guide one’s principles led to the doom of Nostromo. This shows that his faith led his visions and his self-consciousness led to his doom.


Works Cited
Belsey, Catherine. Critical Practice. New York: Routledge, 2002, 1-34.
Conrad, Joseph. Nostromo: A tale of the seaboard. New York: Plain Label Books, 1957, 78-493.

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