Lord Jim

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Conrad introduces Jim as an able-bodied seaman with romantic ideas about his own courage. Those ideas change drastically, though, when a crisis strikes the Patna, a decaying steamer aboard which Jim serves as chief mate; the rest of the novel explores the complexity of Jim’s character as he struggles to form a new conception of himself.

The steamer strikes a submerged object one night at sea and begins to go down, carrying a load of passengers. The unscrupulous captain and his drunken crew abandon the vessel immediately, and though Jim remains behind for a long while, he eventually jumps from the ship and joins the others in the captain’s lifeboat. But the steamer does not sink; the passengers are rescued and Jim’s actions become the subject of a legal inquiry, while the rest of the crew slips away unpunished.

It is at this inquiry that Marlow first appears, and he goes on to narrate much of the remaining story. Marlow helps Jim in his attempt to come to terms with the meaning of his actions and restore his lost honor. Marlow eventually finds work for Jim in a remote trading settlement, where, among the natives, be becomes known as Lord Jim. Here at last he arrives at some understanding of himself, though the dramatic conclusion of the novel challenges the depth of that understanding.

Conrad adds interest to the tale and complicates his themes of lost honor and self-knowledge by introducing Marlow as a narrator. Marlow...

(The entire section is 578 words.)