Lord Jim is authored by Joseph Conrad, a British-Polish writer. He is among the most eminent novelists in English Literature. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdychiv, Ukraine, in 1857, he wrote his novels with the pen name “Joseph Conrad.” One of his writing characteristics was realism with an anti-heroic character (Stape, 2014, p. 70).
Lord Jim is the heroic adventure story of the new imperialism era (Boehmer, 2005). The title character Jim craves to be a hero and lead a thrilling life. The sea captain Marlow narrates the story. Jim carries the burden of disgrace throughout his life due to his youthful decision of abandoning his ship while it was in a critical condition. After a series of incidents and two grave mistakes, his redemption and self-discovery end with his death. The novel’s message is that realisation and repentance of sin are the ideal steps to physically and spiritually deliverance (Zong-wei, 2017). However, in the case of Jim, the realisation is too late to repent and achieve spiritual deliverance.
The present essay argues that though Conrad tries to make the readers sympathise with the protagonist, he does not deserve readers’ sympathy due to his grave mistakes in life. The story intends to show how Jim’s character goes parallel to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and their eventual fall from Eden Garden because of the sins they committed.
Jim’s Grave Mistakes
Before examining Jim’s two mistakes in his adulthood, it is necessary to take a snippet review of his wrong decision of choosing the sailor’s career. Jim’s childhood dream was to be a hero or a saviour and it can be achieved through the thrilling profession of the sailor. However, In the youth, he should have identified his limitations and weaknesses that cannot make him a responsible sailor. Pampering childhood dreams without introspection was his mistake. The foundation of choosing career path itself was based on irrational ideas and wrong self-perceptions. He cannot prove himself as a responsible and worthy sailor as he dreamed of being. During the crisis phase, he fails to show his courage and follows his natural impulse of jumping and escaping himself from the danger instead of saving the life of the passengers on the ship. According to the critics, his action was a natural impulse and the original sin of human nature (derived from the first man, i.e. Adam). It was natural, reasonable and inevitable (Zhang, 2012). Jim is a person with strong morality and conscience; therefore, he suffers from a dilemma and mental crisis (Li, 2006). However, such confusion and mental instability lead him to take an unprofessional action has caused a massive human loss. His moral dilemma starts when he jumps from the ship Patna when he wants to save others. He himself cannot understand why he jumps down at the disaster. Jim also follows their path, jumps, and saves his life when the passengers need his help. Such an act shows his unworthiness to be the sailor. Destiny has given him a chance to prove himself, but he shows his limitations. Such action damaged his reputation as a credible sailor and reliable individual. The other crew members escape from the enquiry and later consequences of their irresponsible and shameful behaviour. Though Jim showed courage to face the trial, it cannot bring back the life of the passengers. After the trial, Conrad says he carries the burden of his shameless act.
Initial Success in gaining sympathy
Jim’s life offered several chances to him to prove himself and attain sympathy from the readers. He shows inconsistency in every job after the shipwreck by leaving them abruptly. It shows his unstable mind. He also shows that he is not the person one can rely on. After leaving some jobs, he gains a job in a remote place called Patusan for a trading job. He accepts the proposal as life has given him one more chance to prove his courage and erase the stigma of being a coward. In Patusan, Jim becomes the hero in the minds of the natives, who respect and perceive him as their hero and leader. Thus, he proves himself, and everything is going smoothly. Jim succeeded in overcoming his guilt and shame by serving and protecting the people of Patusan and winning their confidence. However, he does not succeed in sustaining the readers’ sympathy due to the second mistake.
The second mistake is even more grave than the first one. In the first mistake, Jim selfishly escapes himself and lets others die. In the second mistake, he shows his poor decision-making capacity, which leads to the deaths of Patusan villagers. He again falls morally due to his wrong decision while dealing with sly Brown, who makes Jim trust in him, attacks Patusan and kills his friend Dain Waris and many townspeople. Jim is the sole responsible person for this mayhem as he trusts a wrong and undeserved person. His mistake is his failure to understand the evil veiled by slyness. He is like Adam, who could not understand Satan’s evil intention.
The novel can be interpreted through the Biblical story of the fall of Adam. Jim’s fall was more tragic than Adam’s. Both Jim and Adam are responsible (and not their destiny) for their falls. Hence, they seldom receive any sympathy from the people. By eating the fruit of knowledge and disobeying God, Adam and Eve had to live a mortal life and endure sufferings in their lives. According to the Bible, their paradise loss was the loss of the entire human race. Jim’s first psychological and moral fall occurs when he jumps from the wrecked ship and escapes himself. His second fall is even worse, which throws him into the abyss. He tries to come out of the moral and psychological burden during the first fall, But the second time when he commits a mistake, he cannot accept his moral fall. This time, he strongly feels that death is the only way of atonement and redemption from his grave mistake. Unfortunately, he never learns from previous experiences and fails to gain readers’ sympathy.
Based on the discussion, it can be concluded that Jim’s two severe mistakes prove him undeserved for the readers’ sympathy. He commits the same mistake the first man (Adam) had committed. Adam has been blamed for his mistake because the entire human race had to suffer for his mistake. Jim has committed mistakes two times and is responsible for taking away the lives of several innocent people. His first mistake was escaping from the ship leaving the people to die. His second mistake was trusting in the wrong and undeserved person and becomes responsible for the deaths of several innocent Patusan people. His eventual death makes readers sad; however, Jim remains unworthy of their sympathy despite Conrad’s efforts to establish him as a man with strong morality.
Boehmer, E. (2005). Colonial and postcolonial literature: migrant metaphors. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
LI, W. P. (2006). Moral revelation and didacticism: The characterisation in Joseph Conrad’s jungle fiction. Journal of Zhejiang Normal University (Social Science), 31(3), 46.
Stape, J. (2014). The new Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zhang, B. (2012). From depravity to rebirth: An archetypal interpretation of moral theme in Lord Jim (Master thesis, Jilin University).
Zong-Wei, S. (2017). An analysis of Lord Jim from the perspective of salvation motifs. US-China Foreign Language, 15(5), 330-335. DOI:10.17265/1539-8080/2017.05.006.