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Joseph Conrad

Lord Jim

1. Contextualize the text from a historical and cultural point of view (10-15 lines).

The fragment is part of the novel Lord Jim, published in 1900 by Joseph Conrad, one of the best
known novelists in English literature, despite being born in Ukraine, learning English only in his
twenties and starting to write no sooner than his forties.
From the literary point of view, it belongs to the literary movement known as Modernism. Even
thought Queen Victorias reign ended a year after the publication of this novel, in 1901, it is
included by literary criticism in the Edwardian period, the name of which is derived from King
Edward VII, who followed to the British throne. Conrad wrote at the very moment when Victorian
Age was disappearing and the modern era was emerging. Victorian moral codes still influenced the
plots of novels, but such principles were no longer absolute. Due to the fact that psychology was
beginning to be accepted as a fundamental human science, the inner life of the individuals became
as important as the external world.
Although Victorias empire was still at its zenith, increased demands for independence from the
colonies were putting a pressure on Britain. Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness are two of the most
representative narratives dealing with colonialism as the first breaches began to appear in the
defences of the empire. The excerpt depicts in detail the often tense and emotional relationship
between the white colonists and the indigenous population. The feelings of guilt and remorse that
makes Jim take Dain Waris death upon his own head may be regarded as a general sense of guilt
felt by British society over the injustice brought upon the populations of the colonies.
Like all great classic literature, Lord Jim embodies the era in which it was written, while
maintaining a timeless, human element. Its debatable racism and colonialism may belong to the
past, but the depiction of some universal psychological aspects such as guilt of love is as relevant
nowadays as it was when the novel was first serialised over one hundred years ago.

2. Identify and comment upon the point(s) of view adopted by the author (15-20 lines).

Literary critics generally agree that the narrative technique of Lord Jim can be rather confusing
and difficult to pin down. It is the story of a man called Marlow, who struggles to understand and
tell the life story of a man named Jim, using a multitude of sources he pieces together, like a puzzle.
He also filters the information and interprets it for the reader.
Most of the novel is written using a third person limited point of view, a method of storytelling in
which the narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of one or a few characters, while other
characters are presented only externally. It grants the writer more freedom than the first person, but
less knowledge than third person omniscient. While using a third person point of view, limited or
omniscient, the writer frequently uses the personal pronouns he, she and they in various
cases: when he came up into the light..., then he looked to the left etc.
Yet, as Marlow tells Jims story, other voices creep into the mix as the characters he meets share
what they know of Jim. It is as if the narrator is channelling a story with multiple voices into one
narrative stream. Lord Jim has many stories woven together and someone needs to tell them to the
reader. This tough task falls to Marlow, who is also the narrative voice in Heart of Darkness. In
order to create suspense, he often withholds information, offers the reader narrative blocks from a
variety of sources, of different degrees of reliability and jumps from one moment in time to another.
Time is broken up as the central character struggles with moral issues and the narrator tries to
reproduce the natural flow of memories reproduced by human mind.
All in all, the experimental nature of Conrads narrative, with the discontinuous narrative line,
the use of multiple narrators and the emphasis on the form and the way in which the story is written,
make Conrad a precursor of such literary towering figures as Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. Lord
Jim is not only the story of a promising white young man who goes at sea, but also a novel about
storytelling.

3. Identify the theme(s) and the symbol(s) you find in the text (15-20 lines).

The central theme of the fragment is romantic heroism, which connects the main male characters
in the story and makes Marlow identify Jim as one of us as soon as he first sees him during the
inquiry. It is also the element that sets the romantic tone in an otherwise totally modernist piece of
narrative and is strongly connected to the other themes in the novel and the fragment: guilt and
shame, trust, choices, men and masculinity, respect and reputation, principles.
As a child, Jim was influenced by light literature and, while he was training to be a seaman, he
used to imagine the heroic deeds he would perform. This romanticized view of himself continued to
influence him as an adult and eventually caused his death. When he had the opportunity to show his
value, he failed and left the leaking Patna, a misfortunate event that led to the loss of his officers
certificate. The sense of shame and guilt over the incident haunts him throughout his life, until he
decides to stand before a grieving Doramin unarmed.
Without his romantic view of what a hero should do, Jim would have either run away or
defended himself. But his excessive love for the romantic makes him choose martyrdom in the
fragment. Ironically, while an act of heroism on the Patna would have saved the lives of the
pilgrims on board, Jims death in the end, when he finally acts courageously, does not help anybody
and is thus gratuitous. Marlow, who has made Jims story the very goal of his life, emphasises the
uselessness of his act when he states that he goes away from a living woman to celebrate his
pitiless wedding with a shadowy ideal of conduct.
Another relevant theme in the fragment is that of trust among men and it is symbolised by the
silver ring that passes from Stein to Jim, who uses it to gain Doramins trust and support, then from
Jim to Dain Waris, to Doramin when his son is killed because of Jims poor judgement, and
eventually rolls back towards Jims feet as a symbol of broken trust. The main characters make very
strong bonds that tie the story together. This belief in another is seen in Marlows friendship for Jim,
in Steins desire to support another fellow romantic in need and in Jim and Dain Waris
unconditioned friendship. However, when trust is broken, as Doramin views the stage of his
relationship with Jim, the effect is lethal.
The fragment and the novel are full of thematic elements which revolve around the heros
struggle to cope with guilt, shame, remorse and regret which shape not only his life but also the life
of whoever gets close to him. For much of the novel, Jim tries to overcome his guilt and move on
with his life and, at the end, the reader is left to decide if he has succeeded.