Joseph Conrad, “Lord Jim”


Originally published as a serial in Blackwood’s between 1899 and 1900, the first half of Lord Jim lingers over the title character’s abandonment of a ship in distress along with the rest of the crew (he is first mate of the Patna). The passengers are saved separately and report the crimes of the crew, but Jim takes all the brunt of the punishment. He is stripped of his command certificate and plagued by guilt over missing his chance to be a hero. The trial is where Marlow meets Jim. At first he considers his character unsound, but reiterates to us that “he is one of us.” Marlow finds Jim a job, but Jim keeps moving further east to escape opprobrium. Finally, Marlow’s friend Stein finds him a place on the remote island of Patusan. There, Jim earns the title ‘Tuan’ (lord), protecting locals from Sharif Ali, a bandit, and a corrupt local chief. He also falls in love with the mixed-race Jewel and is ‘almost happy.’ When the marauder “Gentleman Brown” arrives, Jim stages a response. In the battle, Dain Waris, the son of the local leader, is killed. Jim allows his father to shoot him as retribution for the loss of his son as he sends “right and left at all those faces a proud and unflinching glance,” finally becoming a hero.

Marlow narrates most of the story to us, though the ending is revealed in a letter written to Marlow by Stein. Like Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim’s center is a psychological portrait in slow motion, more than a true adventure novel. It turns around waiting, and is bookended by Jim’s two acts of jumping – out of the ship and in front of a bullet. In the novel’s last section, Marlow says, ” And that’s the end. He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten, unforgiven, and excessively romantic… He is gone, inscrutable at heart, and the poor girl is leading a sort of soundless, inert life in Stein’s house.” Stein himself is waving at the butterflies, waiting to die.


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