Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim
Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim : Lord Jim is Conrad’s most widely appreciated and most characteristic novel.
Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim
It was published as a serial for Blackwood’s Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900, and published as a book in 1900. When it first appeared, it was warmly hailed by Edward Garnett, Galsworthy and Henry James but was also criticized in various contemporary Reviews and Magazines.
(i) The Publication and Sources of Lord Jim
“For the material of the book Conrad drew, as always, on fragments of personal experience. For instance, while sailing on the “Vidar” he met a Jim Lingard, a white trader who was called Lord Jim on account of his swaggering manner. Conrad himself had been injured on the High land-Forest in 1887 and, like Jim, after a period in hospital, he stayed in the East and took a berth out there. But two other sources are more important. In 1880, an old steamer, called the Jeddah, carrying about nine hundred pilgrims from the Dutch islands, left Singapore for Jeddah, the port of Mecca. During some bad weather, she was abandoned by her officers (except for one who was forced to stay behind) as part of a scheme to collect the insurance on the boat, which they presumed would founder.
It did not sink, and it was towed into Aden just when the captain was reporting the ship lost with all hands. Conrad was in the East at the time and must have heard about the whole episode. Significantly, he changed the motive for desertion, from unscrupulous financial greed to a very understandable fear because fear was for him, the most basic, the most eradicable of our feelings….but as long as he clings to life, he can not destroy fear; the fear, subtle, indestructible and terrible that pervades his being; that tinges his thoughts; that lurks in his heart; that watches on his lips the struggle of his breath.” (An Outpost of Progress)
Regarding adventures of Jim in Patusan, Conrad was considerably indebted to various books about Rajah James Brooke of Sarawak. Getting hopeless in England and India, Brooke reached Sarawak. He established peace and prosperity there and was made Rajah of Sarawak in 1841. But his end was not like that of Jim; he died in 1868 and his power was passed on to his nephew.
Thus this book, Lord Jim, owes a lot to Conrad’s own life and his personal experience.
(ii) Theme of Isolation and Individualism
Lord Jim is an astonishing example of a new vogue that is the treatment of human isolation and quest for individual identity; the most characteristic feature of the 20th century Novel. Human isolation seems to be an obsession for Conrad because he, himself, had faced the. problem of alienation, desertion and the loss of individual identity. His father was exiled, he became an orphan in his early boyhood, his career as a sailor made him more isolated; and being a novelist, he suffered from poverty and isolation for a long time because, until the printing of Change, he did not gain much popularity and recognition.
Thus, it does not surprise us when we see the hero of Lord Jim an isolated figure, a fugitive, shifting from one place to another, pursued by a sense of disgrace and humiliation on account of one impulsive act of jumping from Tatna’ to save his own life, leaving behind eight hundred pilgrims to their fate, when she collided. Jim faced the trial all alone and felt more humiliated and isolated when the court canceled the certificates of the Patna, officers. After going to great lengths in the quest for the right job, he arrived at Patusan, a remote country, by the help of Marlow’s, German friend, Stein.
Marlow was very sympathetic towards Jim and he assisted him a lot during his trying time. At Patusan, Jim succeeded to rehabilitate himself but when his career was at its pinnacle, he became the victim of the treachery of Brown, a ruffian, and was shot dead by Doramin, as a revenge against his son Dain Waris’s death. Jim took, upon himself, the onus of Dain Waris’s death and he heroically surrendered himself in front of Doramin and was killed by him. Thus, Jim remained in isolation throughout the novel except a short episode of his love with Jewel.
Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim
(iii) Theme of Fidelity
Fidelity, for Conrad, was fidelity to one’s duty. Moreover, fidelity meant the realization of man’s ideal concept about himself. Lord Jim, at the end of the novel, went to the extent of sacrificing his own life for fidelity. Jim was a romantic hero, nourishing the dream of performing heroic deeds at crucial moments, saving the ship and the pilgrims from the ordeals of sea life. Jim first failed to enliven his idea of fidelity at the moment of Pathd’s collision, but did not miss the opportunity he met towards the end of the novel.
When he became a victim to the treachery of Brown and Dain Waris Was shot dead; he did not try to save his life from the flurry of the men of Patusan, he did nothing to escape but heroically surrendered himself in front of Dotamin and confessed his fault. Though he was shot dead by Doramin, yet his death made him a man of fidelity. There are few other characters in the novel who are full of fidelity like lamb Itam, Brierly and Jewel. Tamb Itam remained faithful to Jim throughout the novel; Brierly committed suicide, perhaps, at the realization of some sin in his own life; and Jewel, being in love, once saved the life of Jim.
She was loving and caring but, at the end, she failed to understand Jim’s motives behind his refusal to defend himself against the fury of the men of Patusan; when Marlow met her, she burst out in anger and contempt against Jim.
(iv) Theme of Guilt and Atonement
The theme of guilt is introduced in the very beginning of the novel, and that of atonement continues up to the end. Jim, the hero, was living in romantic illusions, visualizing himself involved in heroic adventures and achievements, but when his heroism was really called for, he betrayed it; he felt himself paralyzed and deserted the ship ‘Patha’, with eight hundred pilgrims, to their destiny when it collided. Thus, he betrayed himself, his idea of fidelity and solidarity and also those eight hundred pilgrims who reposed their full confidence in him. Being excessively sensitive and conscious, he was perpetually haunted by a sense of guilt, disgrace and humiliation.
He took his first step towards moral rehabilitation when he faced the inquiry. He was provided the opportunity to escape but his conscience did not allow him to indulge, once again, in an act of cowardice. He stoically underwent the whole trial and suffered the disgrace and humiliation. Here, he made himself someone different from the rest of the officers who had deserted the ‘Patna’ at the moment of its disaster and did not face the trial.
A terrible spiritual agony had followed him when his certificates were canceled by the court. After some time, when he recuperated, he wished to bury his past and begin on a clean slate. He kept on running from one place to another and, ultimately, settled in Patusan by the help of Marlow’s friend, Stein. Fortune turned in his favor and he won the trust, respect and love of the men of Patusan. They Dega to believe that Jim possessed supernatural powers. Jim said to Maro: “If you ask them who is they would trust with their lives? – they would say, Tuan Jim.” But Jim failed to obliterate his past and Brown reawakened it reluctantly during his conversation with Jim. He have escaped from the rage and fury of the Bugis community, caused by the death of Dain Waris, but he sacrificed himself heroically to cope with his guilt.
(v) Element of Romance and Realism
Lord Jim is a wonderful and skillful blend of romance and realism. though reality is presented through the imaginative faculty of Conrad, yet, we meet no falsification or distortion of facts. The exotic setting of the novel, in a very remote, distant and alien country, excites the imagination of the hero, Jim. Conrad is well acquainted with the sea life, life in the tropics; and his personal knowledge contributed a lot to inject reality to the romantic setting. The sea, both in calm and storm, and the man living very close to earth, air, water and sky, exposed to the ravages of tempest, heat and cold, all are described in the novel with meticulous fidelity and truth.
Besides romantic-realistic setting, the hero of the novel is of a romantic temperament. He visualized himself as a hero performing great tasks and achieving unattainable targets. He is not only a romantic but extremely sensitive also. He failed to obliterate, from his mind, the stigma attached to his name, during the ‘Patna’ episode. He is presented as ‘one of us’, a creature of irrational impulses. Jim is not a purely imaginative figure but he met Conrad in reality also.
There are several sensational and thrilling incidents in the novel but they are not entirely devoid of reality. There is a semblance of probability. Thus their manipulation may be romantic but they lie within the compass off reality. For romanticism, Conrad has made extensive use of symbols, for example the butterflies and beetles of Stein are symbolical of man’s nobler and baser aspects; man’s vain struggle to preserve life against heavy odds is presented through the jungle of Patusan.
Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim
(vi) Element of Evil
In Lord Jim, evil finds its reflection, both in man and environment. At its simplest, we see evil as something inherent in the physical universe malevolent towards man. For example: “There are many shades in the dangers of avalanches and gales, and it is only now and then that there appears on the face of facts a sinister violence of intentions-that indefinable something which forces it upon the mind and the heart of a man, that this complication of accidents or these elemental furies are coming at him with a purpose of malice, with a strength beyond control, with an unbridled cruelty that means to tear out of him his hope and his fear, the pain of his fatigue and his longing for rest: which means to smash, to destroy to annihilate all he has seen, known, loved, enjoyed or hated.”
Evil is perceived in the wreck of ’Patna’, sudden storm, intrigues and counter-plots of the political life of Patusan and in the extremely oppressive tropical wilderness which shapes the background of the adventures of Jim.
Evil is reflected in several characters of the novel like Chester, Robinson, Cornelius and Brown. Even in the hero, Jim, evil is latent in the form of fear.
(vii) Autobiographical Note in Lord Jim
In Lord Jim, it is “autobiography raised to the level of the highest art.” The life and career of Jim is rooted in autobiography. This novel is the expression of Conrad’s own spiritual troubles and his confession. Through this novel, Conrad has tried to unburden his soul and ease his conscience. The setting of the novel is based upon Conrad’s personal knowledge of the sea and tropical wilderness. Jim is drawn after a certain Jim Lingard whom Conrad had actually met with.
The ‘Patusan’ episode of the novel is based on the adventures of James Brook who became the Rajah of Sarawak on account of his heroic achievements. The first part of the novel, that is, the desertion of ‘Patna’ and its pilgrims, is the result of Conrad’s knowledge of the desertion of “Jeddah” and its pilgrims by Tuan Jim (Jim Lingard).
Just like Jim, Conrad often dreamt of the adventures and romance of sea life, he wanted to escape from the crude realities of life into the sea life. Conrad also became an officer in the English mercantile marine without experiencing any mishap of sea-life. Jim, in the novel, becomes the chief-mate of ‘Patna’ without facing any hardships of sea-life but gradually, reality dawns upon him and he realizes that sea-life is both, barren and without adventure. Like Jim, Conrad also was hospitalized because of an accident (falling log of wood).
The desertion of ‘Patna’ by Jim symbolizes Conrad’s leaving of Poland. Jim’s jump into the ”everlasting black hole” is symbolic of Conrad’s ‘jump out of his racial associations.’ ‘Patna’s survival mirrors Poland’s success in getting freedom. Jim, haunted by the sense of guilt, is rooted in Conrad’s spiritual turmoil caused by his confession of getting involved in the treason.
Jim’s wanderings from one place to another; shows Conrad’s search for his identity through writing one tale after another. Jim, as the prominent figure of Patusan, is symbolic of Conrad’s emergence as a renowned and celebrated British writer,
(viii) Symbolism in Lord Jim
We can divide the symbols of the novel into two: Symbolic characters and symbolic events. Characters like Chester, Brown, Cornelius, Robinson are the symbols of evil, inherent in nature. In Jim, evil takes the shape of fear. On the other hand, Stein and Marlow symbolize the basic values of life, like idealism, insight, reflection, contemplation, helpfulness, sympathy, wisdom etc. Jim, the hero, here symbolizes tlie lofty idealist who is obsessed with a romantic dream of visualizing himself as a hero. The beetles and butterflies are symbolical of two kinds of men-noble and base.
Brown, Cornelius, Chester, the white officers of ‘Patna’ fall among the category of beetles and Jim is a butterfly; a man of pure conscience, innocent, soaring high by the wings of imagination. Other important symbols in the novel are light and shade. The calm, smooth and peaceful movement of ‘Patna’ in full sunlight and moonlight is symbolic of the unobstructed and clear light but soon, it is followed by rain, darkening of moon, confusion and blindness that compelled Jim to plunge into the life-boat.
Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim
Joseph Conrad’s use of the symbols of fog and mist is masterly. They reveal the psyche of Jim who is wandering to catch the light left in this darkened world. Jim is called a “tiny white speck”, that is symbolic of a kind of halo around him; some sort of consciousness and self-control in opposition to a dense, dark and gloomy jungle. He has remained impeccably white inspite of the darkness around him.
Again, Lord Jim is given a very remarkable symbol of ring; a token of friendship and confidence, but the critic, Eric J. Solibakke considers the symbol of ring in a wider religious significance. The ring is considerably more than an ornament for the finger. When Iamb Itam presented the ring to Dain Waris, a Christ figure, it acquires a symbolic meaning. When Doramin stands to shoot Jim, the ring falls down from Doramin’s lap and rolls to Jim’s feet. Thus this ring unites Jim and Dain Warjs and excludes Doramin. Jim and Dain are regarded as Christ figures and Doramin is cut off from the divine hierarchy when the ring falls down from his lap.
(ix) Conrad’s Art of Characterization
Lord Jim is an excellent example of the new vogue of the twentieth century novels, that is, the “stream-of-consciousness novels”. In this kind of novels, the novelist primarily concentrates on dissecting the soul and psyche of the character and revealing them in a most effective and impressive manner, through symbols, irony; paradoxes etc. In Lord Jim, the emphasis is laid on analyzing the mental recesses, motives and actions of the hero, Jim. Conrad has used various devices to probe into the psychology of Jim.
There is a direct comment of the novelist on Jim’s character. He puts him in multiple situations and makes him reveal himself through his own efforts. Conrad has applied the technique of “multiple point of view” to give a clear picture and estimation of the pivotal figure, Jim. There is a series of minor characters “to balance our sympathy and judgment regarding the main figure.”
The white officers who quit Tatna’, at the moment of her collision are used in contrast to Jim, in order to highlight him as a single ‘conscientious sinner’. Jim appears nobler and far better than other officers because of Jim’s contradiction to them, they are not bothered about the ‘Patna’s’ pilgrims and later on, do not attend the court. The French officer who rescues ‘Patna’ is unlike Jim, a hero in reality. Similarly Hob Stanton who had sacrificed himself to save a lady, also stands against Jim who, like an ineffectual angel, beats his “luminous wings in the void in vain.”
Brierly’s suicide proves this philosophical idea that no man can start his life on a clean state. Chester and Robinson are imaginative like Jim but unlike Jim, they are fearless men of action and their imagination is oriented towards a fixed purpose. Like Jim, Stein is also a romantic but Stein’s romanticism finds disciplined expression in scientific pursuits. His romanticism is inspirational not enervating like that of Jim. Brown’s arrival at Patusan suggests that Jim was deluding himself when he thought the past could be buried.
Thus Brown reminds Jim of his act of cowardice and the stigma attached to his name due to the ‘Patna’ episode. Marlow is next in importance to Jim. He is much sympathetic towards Jim and helps him a lot, in the course of his rehabilitation. He is “the reflecting and coloring medium” used by Conrad to reveal Jim’s mind. Hp conveys to the readers, Jim’s heart of darkness, by his interpretations comments on the unusual nature of Jim.
In case of Jewel, Conrad seems to believe in fact that “in each generation certain characters are the same, certain actions are repeated: there is always a woman whose life is sacrificed by her lover for the sake of someone else out there. Jewel’s mother is deceived in love by a white man, so it happened to Jewel. Thus, by comparison and contract with various characters, Jim is made a universal figure.
(x) Conrad’s Technique of Narration in Lord Jim
Joseph Conrad, being a novelist of ‘Stream of Consciousness’ technique knows it very well that human soul keeps on moving backward and forward, it jumps in both space and time; thus in order to render the psyche truthfully, the novelist cannot narrate it in a straightforward and logical manner. He is not expected to maintain the chronology during the narration. Therefore, the “technical devices of a movie as shifts, in perspective, fade in and fade out, close up, speed up, cut back, montage, angle or point of view are fully exploited to achieve psychological realism.”
In Lord Jim, Conrad has used a variety of devices to convey, truthfully, the inner life of Jim. Conrad himself, as an omniscient narrator, has narrated Jim’s early life and upbringing in the first four chapters. From the fifth chapter, Marlow takes charge of the narration and he conducts it orally. Here chronology is not adhered to; from time to time, “Jim’s self revelations to Marlow given in the first person, as if he were actually pouring out his heart at that very moment, and so the gain in realism is enormous.” Marlow is narrating the story of Jim’s life to his few friends in the room at Malabar Hotel. In the last few chapters, the story proceeds through the written words, not orally. A “privileged listener” receives a letter by Marlow regarding the ‘Jim – Brown’ episode and he reads it out for the advantage of the reader.
Critical Analysis of the Novel Lord Jim
Plot Construction of Lord Jim
The structure of the novel is well-organized and well-knit but there is no Aristotelian logical sequence of events. The novelist narrates the whole story in tortuous manner. The pedestal material on which the story proceeds, is very simple. Jim is given three crucial situations to prove his mettle and, being a man of excessive romantic temperament, he proves a failure. First, in the training school, a mishap occurred during which he was wrapt in reverie and thus missed the opportunity to perform heroic deeds. Jim’s ideal dream of a romantic hero slipped away when he faced the ‘Patna’s collision and indulged in an impulsive act of deserting ‘Patna’ and its pilgrims to their fate. His third wrong decision was letting Brown retreat harmlessly.
This decision brought death to him. Thus, we see that the material is not complicated it is easy to comprehend but its presentation is tortuous. It is not in the conventional manner that, “There was a sailor called Jim.” The events are not chronologically presented. Conrad has interposed Marlow, in between the reader and himself, to narrate the story. Marlow narrates the story of Jim, to his friends assembled at dinner in his room at Malabar Hotel. He, at once, plunges into the middle and begins from there with retrospection and anticipation. But this should not make us conclude that the plot of the novel is rambling, disorganized and deformed. There is emotion and thematic unity through logic and rationale do not form an integral part of the narration.
The novelist’s purpose is to reveal the soul of Jim, as David Daiches points out, “he has to explore the complex problems of guilt, pride, self-deception, and betrayal.” He further says that life ” is like a disordered panorama consisting of a number of impressions, which must be rendered and not narrated. This is exactly what Conrad has done, and the gain in psychological realism is enormous. A man is a mysterious, inscrutable being, and the truth about his soul cannot be stated with any clarity and finality.” From the above discussion, it is obvious that the plot is neither superfluous nor discursive.
Marlow is, undoubtedly, very garrulous, causing many digressions. Marlow, the narrator, introduces characters, events and incidents but Conrad, by dint of his artistic bent of mind, has connected these happenings to the basic theme of the book. They immediately divert our attention to the major character, Lord Jim. Thus we note so many comparisons and contrasts leading to the clear panorama of Lord Jim. All these incidents invoke our sympathy and judgment. We appreciate the anecdotes, examples and digressions.
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