"Lord Jim is a Seaman's Yarn in a New Perspective" Explain

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The Salient Features of a Traditional Seaman's Yarn

      A seaman's yarn is an adventurous story of a sailor or heroism of some sailors. It is an exotic story because it is related to far-off places and regions. A seaman's yarn is an eventful story of the thrilling and exciting experiences of a seaman. In it, much importance is given to the gales, typhoons, tempests, and hurricanes. Weather plays a pivotal role. In this kind of story, during storms, a seaman's physical power, of endurance is put to test. It also deals with the friendship, rivalry, cowardice, antagonism among the groups of the sailors.

Lord Jim is a Seaman's Yarn

      Lord Jim is, indeed, the story of a sailor, Jim. It is a seaman's yarn on several grounds. First, it is an exciting story. Lack of courage is the important theme of the novel, though it deals with both heroism and courage. The story is exotic because of the remote country, Patusan where Jim comes out as a hero and meets a heroic death. Thus, we see that Lord Jim is a seaman's yarn because it deals with the exciting story of a sailor's life. Danger, courage, heroism are given importance but, at several points, it differs from the traditional seaman's yarn.

Lord Jim: Seaman's Yarn With a Difference

      The point that distinguishes Lord Jim from a traditional seaman's yam is that, only one important incident takes place at sea. It is the collision of 'Patna' against a submerged wreck of a vessel. The white officers plunge into a lifeboat to save themselves without considering the eight hundred pilgrims who were sailing on the ship. After a great mental conflict and hesitation, ultimately, Jim also jumps into the lifeboat to save his own life. Rest of the story is the consequence of this incident. Towards the end of the novel, we do have another chapter related to sea life but it is not concerned with the hero, Jim, but an invader, Brown. Except these two, all the incidents and characters occur on shore. The main incident of Jim's life takes place on the shore. Moreover, there is no typhoon, antagonism or friendship among the sailors. These are subtly indicated in the few chapters but, as far as their importance in seaman's yarn is concerned, they are negligible.

Many Philosophical and Psychological Comments made by Marlow

      This is the next point that distinguishes a seaman's yarn from Lord Jim. The traditional seaman's yarn deals with only incidents and events. The narrator of seaman's yarn does not indulge in philosophical and moral reflections. His main concern is with the outward actions only, but in Lord Jim, Marlow does not restrict himself to these limitations. He delves deep into the mind of the character, effectively reveals him from inside and makes philosophical comments on them.

      Marlow comes out as a profound philosopher when he comments on the inquiry that takes much interest in the superficial questions like 'why and how' but does not consider the psychological state of Jim under which he escaped into the lifeboat. When he says that it is not the haunted soul but the hungry body that makes a man outcast, we are to see him as a great philosopher. His further philosophical comments are when he expresses his own view on destiny that everything is decided by destiny, in advance, and man is subjected to follow that. No one can start his life on a clean state. His remark on the heart is highly philosophical. He says that the human heart is vast enough to contain all the world, it can bear all the burden, but it does not know how to cast off the burden.

      Marlow is a psychologist also, one who penetrates deep into the mind of Jim and also that of the other characters. Marlow dissects the soul of Jim and analytically presents it in front of the reader. For example, after the court's verdict, Marlow: takes Jim along to the room of Malabar Hotel and then, very effectively, reveals what is going on in the mind of Jim. Later, in Patusan, he says that he has found Jim greatly pleased with his achievements, he has "mastered his fate" there. Marlow does not probe into the mind of Jim only but, on several occasions, he has psychologically commented on Jewel, Cornelius, Tamb Itam etc. Thus, this type of philosophical and psychological analysis is alien to the traditional seaman's yarn.

Several Vignettes in Lord Jim

      Aether distinguishing feature of Lord Jim is that it comprises of series of various persons who are not intimately concerned with the story, but are very elaborately drawn. In seaman's yarn, undoubtedly, we find so many characters but they are exposed and narrated in a cursory manner: In Lord Jim, these characters are drawn at some length. There is a whole chapter on the portrayal of Brierly, who was a sea captain, a highly respectable man who committed suicide after the trial of Jim; to the portrayal of Stein also, a whole chapter is devoted. Stein was a German trader who had a rare collection of beetles, and butterflies. "Gentleman" Brown, who covers a whole chapter, causes ruin to Jim. There, are vivid sketches of the French Lieutenant, Chester, Dain Waris, Rajah Allang. Thus Lord Jim contains a number of characters, both short and long ones.


      Thus Lord Jim, is a story which is profound, solid and deep in thought because of philosophical and psychological comments. It is not only a source of entertainment but also contains grave thoughts and contemplation. It stirs us to the very depth of our being. A seaman's yarn, depicting only the superficialities of mind, does not require great wisdom to comprehend; it is a light story. But Lord Jim is just contrary. It is full of the philosophical reflections and it demands full attention of the reader. Without full concentration, no one would be able to grasp the story because it is not a straight narrative like a seaman's yarn. The story of the novel, on several occasions, is interrupted by Marlow. To sum up, Lord Jim is a seaman's yarn but in a new perspective.

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