My annotations of Nostromo begin with a look at its title. Why is the novel called Nostromo? At first glance, the character of Nostromo is merely one of many who undergo a trial of idealism and integrity during the course of the story. Nostromo the character emerges slowly: barely visible in Part One, he comes to dominate Part Three; and on those grounds the novel might well be titled Charles Gould, for whom the reverse is true.
The answer is the special role that Nostromo plays allegorically -- for this is an allegorical novel in which each main character, in addition to being a portrait of individual psychology, also represents an abstract idea. For example, Charles Gould represents materialism, Emily Gould altruism; I will explain others as they occur. Hints to Nostromo's allegorical role can be found in his name (an English corruption of the Italian nostro uomo, which translates to "our man"), his occupation (cargador, or cargo-bearer) and his status as a common laborer who can be ordered to do anything by anyone: a "universal factotum." Nostromo is the People. He represents the mass of common mankind who are the subjects and victims of the great ideals of history, but who alone support those ideals through their labor. The story of Nostromo the character is an allegory for the social development of the laboring class. In the Author's Note one can hear Conrad spelling out the allegory almost in so many words.
The title of the novel, therefore, is allegorical shorthand for The People,
("our Man," one might say), and indeed within its pages Conrad will
address the human condition as a whole, with a vision that encompasses history,
politics, war and love.