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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


Optics in the Works of Joseph Conrad


This thesis explores optical physics in two novels by Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim and Nostromo. The first part of this thesis concerns the Patna incident in Lord Jim and explores how Conrad uses the physics of 19th century dioramas to outwardly express the psychology of the novel’s eponymous lead. The Patna’s masthead light, I suggest, follows Jim throughout the novel, manifesting in different forms and movements of light. The second part of this thesis explores the final chapter of Nostromo, “The Lighthouse,” and argues that Conrad offers readers two lighthouses in the chapter. The first “lighthouse,” the Custom House, confronts Nostromo with death through a transition from shadows to silhouettes, while the latter, Great Isabel lighthouse offers him immortality through light and materiality. Through my analysis, I hope to show how Conrad overcomes the restrictions of language to communicate through optics otherwise inscrutable truths of his characters.

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