Lord Jim: Character Analysis in the Novel Lord Jim

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Jim a Protagonist and a Unique Personality

      The novel, Lord Jim is preeminently a study and delineation of the psyche of its central figure and hero Lord Jim or Taun Jim as the Malays called him. The focus of attention is primarily on Jim around whom the whole story revolves. Jim is the leading figure of the novel; he is omnipresent in the entire world of Lord Jim.

      The novel opens with the account of Jim's enchanting and fascinating personality. As narrated in the novel, "he was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from under stare which made you think of a charging bull. His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it. It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at anybody else. He was spotlessly neat, apparelled in immaculate white from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports, where he got his living as ship chandler's water-clerk, he was very popular". Marlow, at the first sight of Jim in the court, fell in love with his "Blue boyish eyes looking straight into mine... his artless smile, and youthful seriousness." His appearance bears the impression of his self-control and self-confidence.

Jim's Romantic Imagination

      Jim is a man of romantic temperament. In his own fancy, he estimates himself, "always as an example of devotion to duty, and as unflinching as a hero in a book." He joined English Mercantile Marine as inspired by a "light holiday reading" of adventurous stories and this formed his fancy for sea life. He always dreams about himself as a romantic hero "saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line... He confronted savages on tropical shores, quelled mutinies on the high seas, and, in a small boat upon the ocean, kept up the hearts of despairing men." He was wrapt in heroic fantasies when, during the training period, a small emergency had arisen. Later on, Stein, a German merchant and friend of Marlow, remarked him as: "I understand very well. He is romantic... A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air... he drowns... No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertion of your hands and feet in the water make the deep sea keep you up."

      What Stein meant to say was that it was essential for Jim to transform his dream into reality. His life was useless, to him because yet he could not fulfill his dream. Therefore, Stein suggested him to go to Patusan, face the dangers and make his dream come true. At first, Jim found the sea life monotonous, "the prosaic severity of the daily task that gives bread - but whose only reward is in the perfect love of the work." He was feeling like that because yet he was not "tested by those events of the sea that show in the light of day the inner worth of man, the edge of his temper and the fiber of his stuff."

      It was Jim's imagination that caused his tragedy. On the one hand, it (imagination) enlarged the danger and terror, and on the other, made Jim see himself as a hero, much superior to anybody around him. During his training, when an emergency had arisen and he failed, rather missed the opportunity to enliven his dream, he convinced himself with the fancy that "When all men flinched, then he felt sure he alone would know how to deal with the superior menace of wind and seas." Jim had "Great ability in the abstract," but when he confronted danger as being the chief-mate of "Patna", carrying eight hundred pilgrims from Bombay to Arab, he was paralyzed with fear. When 'Patna' collided, he felt utterly disappointed at not getting anything to save the ship, and consequently, he jumped into a lifeboat to save his own life, leaving all the pilgrims to their fate. Later on, he was perpetually haunted by a sense of guilt, disgrace and humiliation.

Jim's Excessive Sensibility

      It is true that Jim took everything to his heart. He was extremely sensitive and this caused great trouble for him. He was perpetually haunted by the sense of guilt after leaving 'Patna' and eight hundred pilgrims to perish when the ship collided. He found nothing to save the ship, thus, at the eleventh hour, he jumped into the lowered life boat in order to save his own life but this life became a hell for him to live because of the intense mental turmoil and conflict. Though his act was practically that of discretion, yet, he took it as a guilt and made his own life very miserable. The death of Dain Waris touched Jim deeply. He held himself responsible for his death and felt that he owed much to the men of Bugis community He was so sensitive that he resolved to pay for it, by laying his own life and subsequently, he surrendered himself in front of Doramin, who shot him dead.

Jim, an Egoist

      Jim was an egoist, selfish and self-centered like all the romantic idealists and dreamers. His painful exclamation after the 'Patna’s' collision, "Oh! What a chance missed! My God what a chance missed!" was not only due to the loss of his honor but also because of his missing a chance of self-glorification. "Even his boyhood musings had much to do with his own glorification. And even his resolution to drown out the past by some splendid feat had, apart from his bitter pangs of conscience, an underlying, if unknown, urge, which was to stand at last triumphant upon a pinnacle." He did not care for the duty he owed his successive employers or the gratitude to Marlow; he deserted everybody and shifted to another place without informing where he was going. He detached himself from his parents, friends and also his beloved, Jewel, to fulfill his obligation towards the dream.

Jim's Virtues and Noble Characteristics

      Jim's one dereliction of duty must not keep our eyes closed to his essential nobilities like innate courage, fortitude and fearlessness. Ample example of his fortitude, courage and valor is given in the novel. He tried his best to save 'Patna' till the last moment; he felt resentment at the misunderstanding that Marlow called him a cur, and later on, gave a blow to Danish who had insulted him. He faced all the dangers, valiantly, to reach Doramin. With the "untroubled bearing" he talked to Brown, the ruffian, who, afterward, admitted that Jim "couldn't be scared". Brown said that, all the time, Jim was aimed at, by a pistol, but he appeared unconcerned and too peaceful. At the end, he faced Doramin unflinchingly and met a heroic death. "His career, judged impartially, was, for the most part, bold, even upto foolhardiness."

Jim's Achievements at Patusan

      Jim, through his immense energy, fairness, loyalty, good-heartedness achieved the admiration, love and trust of everybody in Patusan. He succeeded in placing the two old cannons on the top of the hill and made an attack on the head-quarters of Sherif Ali - the chief of a party in Patusan. There were three parties in Patusan; they were very hostile to one another that often caused violence in Patusan. Jim emerged out as a strong Undaunted and dominating figure in Patusan; he achieved the rank almost worthy of worship; people believed him to possess supernatural power; they reposed their whole faith in Jim calling him Taun Jim.

Jim: A Tragic Hero or a Romantic Fool (Jim's Death)

      When Brown had betrayed Jim and made an attack on Dain Waris and his men from the narrow channel, Dain Waris was shot dead in this course. The people of Patusan turned against Jim and attributed to him all the responsibility of Dain Waris's death. At this moment, when Tamb Itam suggested Jim to escape and Jewel told him to fight, Jim resolved to face Doramin who was sure to kill him. He did not want to be a coward or an escapist, thus he decided to live his dream of a hero. In other words, he decided to stick to fidelity and he faced Doramin who shot him dead as a revenge against his son, Dain Waris's death.

      David Daiches has regarded Jim's death as "an act of purely romantic histrionics". He betrayed his people and then made amends by going to his certain and useless death.

Jim: A Mysterious Figure

      Jim remains an enigma and "inscrutable at heart" though the novelist has laid bare his soul in the novel. It seems that the novelist has instinctively endowed Jim with the introspective nature of an intellectual Pole, thus charging his character with 'infiite shades of meaning'. Jim's problem is not a personal problem but a universal one. As Tony Taner has remarked: "What Conrad was intent on doing was to probe, to the very core, the mingled good and bad, weakness and strength, which can struggle for mastery in any human soul. Conrad, being a great psychologist, understood the problem; being a great novelist, he clothed it in the semblance of humanity; being a great artist, he made it moving and impressive. Jim is one of the greatest studies of conduct in our literature."

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