Major Themes in the Novel Lord Jim

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      Conrad's subtlety in interweaving various themes into a single novel and laying artistic unity to that conspicuous characteristic of a novelist's art, is evident in Heart of Darkness. Here in Lord Jim there are mainly three apparent themes to deal with. They are: Theme of fidelity, Theme of guilt and atonement and Theme of isolation and quest for individual identity. These themes are the most striking features of the twentieth century novels.

Theme of Loneliness of the Human Soul

      The novel, Lord Jim, has introduced a new, vogue in the English fiction of the twentieth century. Lord Jim is a most considerable contribution to the quest of individual identity and isolation of human heart. Conrad has laid much emphasis on this theme because he himself had faced this problem of isolation, aloofness and desertion in his life. He had severely suffered the loss of individual identity. Thus, his own life is the cause behind why this theme of loneliness has become blatant in his novels.

      Right from his very childhood, he confronted isolation in his life. When he was just five years old, his parents were compelled to leave their country (Poland) by the government; and they moved to Russia. He had found himself alien amidst the Russian atmosphere. Conrad was a Pole by birth and his family was kept under close examination of the Russian government. Conrad's mother had died during this exile and his father could not live long and died a few years after they came back to Poland. Thus Conrad became an orphan and was left under the care of his maternal uncle. Though, Conrad could never be a victor over the sense of loneliness, yet he never let his patriotic feelings for Poland die. This exile and loss of parents had deeply influenced the mind of Conrad and he felt himself pre-occupied with the urgent need of some kinship or fellowship. This feeling did not cease to exist in his childhood but continued, as well, in the years of his maturity. The, two phases of his life - life at sea, and life as an author - got tremendously influenced by this sense of isolation he had been facing. His life, as a sailor, extended from 1857 to 1894 and his long voyages made him more isolated. A journey to Congo caused a great blow to his health and, in 1894, he had to leave his life of a sailor. He felt himself isolated in his career of being a novelist also because, for a long time, he could not achieve any recognition, name or fame. He lived in utter poverty until Chance came out and brought him immense popularity.

      Therefore, it should not surprise us when we see Conrad's vision of man in the shape of someone outcast, or a lonely sea-captain, or someone living in exile, feeling nostalgic or caught under the grind of some past incidents of his life, etc. In the novel Lord Jim, the central figure, Jim, is a kind of fugitive, shifting from one place to another, pursued by the sense of disgrace and humiliation because of one impulsive act of saving his own life and leaving the old ship, 'Patna', at its malevolent fate in the moment of disaster. But he was the last to desert 'Patna' and, unlike the rest of the officers, continuously haunted by the sense of guilt. This feeling of guilt and self-condemnation was further aggravated by the court's verdict. All the officers escaped from facing trials and absented themselves from the court but Jim, all alone, went to court, faced trials and moreover; disgrace, and humiliation in the public's eye.

      Right from the very beginning of his career, when Jim was appointed on 'Patna' as a Chief Mate, he did not show any interest in being intimate and informal to anybody. He was in the habit of harboring dreams of being a romantic hero, facing all the ordeal and mutinies of sea life. Thus, he distanced himself from the others and retreated into the cocoon that he had woven for himself. This tendency to insulate himself deepened as a result of his impulsive and fateful 'jump' and the subsequent verdict of the court, as a result of which the officers certificates were revoked. After that, Jim had to struggle a lot for the stability and rehabilitation. In this course, he kept on shifting from one place to another, leaving a job, catching hold of another, and all the time, he was helped by his well-wisher, Marlow. Ultimately Jim arrived at a very remote country, Patusan, and was able to overcome his sense of guilt and that stigma attached to his name. After crossing several hurdles, he established himself as a man greatly admired, loved and trusted by others. But the fact was, being an egoist and nourisher of heroic dreams, he continued to live as an isolated figure from within. His idea of heroism and individualism always kept him away from others and he Was unsuccessful in associating himself With anyone. Even to his beloved jewel and most intimate friend, Marlow, he remained an enigma. He appeared most isolated when he went to surrender himself in front of Doramin, against the advice of lamb Itam to escape and Jewel's suggestion to fight. Certainly; Jim was successful in striking a chord with the Patusanians and discovering his identity but, because of his mad aspiration of being a fearless, undaunted romantic hero, he went to face Doramin and was shot by him. This, is due to his idealism, romanticism and noble aspiration that he gains the reader's profound sympathy and wholehearted admiration.

Theme of Fidelity: Conrad's Idea of Fidelity

      Fidelity is the towering human virtue that begets other virtues. Much of Conrad's novels confirm it. Conrad had himself stated in the Preface to A Personal Record: "Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the temporal world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests notably amongst others, on the idea of Fidelity." Fidelity, for Conrad, was fidelity to one's duty and fidelity to man's ideal concept about himself, Jim, in the novel, Lord Jim, wanted to act according to his ideal principle of romantic hero that had deeply been etched in his mind. He wanted to be the same as his concept of romantic hero was; and, at the end of the novel, he proved himself a man of fidelity by confronting Doramin and being shot by him.

Fidelity and the Sea in Lord Jim

      Conrad had a great attraction for the sea because of various reasons. Firstly; he was a sailor; he spent a major part of his life at sea; secondly, sea is an elemental force which has been imposing strenuous burden upon a human being. From this novel, one feels that Conrad's idea was that sea-life is an exclusively isolated life for human beings from the usual environment and surrounding that he is used to. People, living in this world, are totally segregated when they spend their lives at sea. Here, the sea tests a human being's fidelity, as the condition of life on sea are very dangerous, terrible and strenuous. Conrad was of the opinion that sea places a man in various kinds of situations which are unparalleled, except during war. The fidelity and sea are deeply associated, rather inseparable, when we discuss the world of Conrad. Thus Conrad explained this philosophical idea through the voyages of his characters.

      Jim is a protagonist, perpetually nourishing a dream to be a romantic hero, performing extra-ordinary tasks in facing several ordeals of sea life. Thus his dream of romantic hero is extremely Occupied with the loyalty to his duty. He is overwhelmed with Conrad's idea of fidelity, that is, devotion towards or meticulous performance of one's duty. Though Jim's reaction, at the time of the collision of the 'Patna' was entirely unheroic, yet his concept of heroic performance is full of fidelity. When Jim was appointed as a chief mate of 'Patna', he was full of vigor, spirit and enthusiasm. When the officers of the ship indulged in drinking, he was quite happy and dreaming about the heroic deeds of a romantic man. Jim's mind was preoccupied with his imaginary achievements. He visualized himself as a hero at crucial moments, but instantaneously, his dreams were shattered. 'Patna' collided and all the white officers got involved in lowering the boat to escape. Jim almost became paralyzed. He opposed the other white officers' attempt to save their own life leaving eight hundred pilgrims to perish, but feeling utterly disappointed, he jumped into the life-boat to save his own life, very reluctantly. He jumped when the other three persons had already jumped and about to sail away. At this moment, we analyze the mind of Jim and observe that his act was most unheroic. His paramount duty was to remain with the pilgrims on the board, endeavor to save their life, instead of jumping like a coward. Thus he became a coward. He had definitely violated the code of conduct and transgressed the requirements of fidelity.

      After this moment, he came out as someone different from the rest of the officers, in the course of facing the trial and justifying his point of view. But due to the lack of evidence, court went against all the officers of 'Patna', who deserted her, and revoked their certificates. Jim now started suffering from a sense of disgrace and humiliation and was, perpetually, haunted by the sense of guilt and sin. He failed to settle in one place in order to re-establish himself, because of the stigma attached to his name. Later on, he succeeded in restoring himself with his heroic performances in a remote country, Patusan. He rehabilitated himself there and achieved a rank of admiration, love, respect and trust. Thus his dream of becoming a romantic hero seemed to be fulfilled.

      When Marlow was parting from Jim, after his stay at Patusan, Jim assured him that he would remain "faithful". What he meant to say, according to Marlow, was to remain faithful to his vision of himself as a romantic hero. But the reader, at that time, construes it as faithfulness to Jewel and Marlow. Jim remained faithful and loyal to the men of Patusan for three years. But, when Brown, the ruffian invader, arrived at Patusan, Jim persuaded the people and authority of the country to let him withdraw safely because first, he did not want to sacrifice the life of a single man of the Bugis community in the clash against Brown; and secondly, Brown had indicated moral turpitude of which Jim was guilty in his past. Jim adopted a lenient attitude towards Brown because Brown asked him whether he had never indulged in anything fishy, in his past and this made Jim recall his disgraceful act of jumping from 'Patna'.

      When Brown and his men shot Dain Waris dead, all the Bugis stood against Jim and all their faith, love and trust crumbled down. Jim's fidelity, at this crucial moment, was to be tested. In spite of Jewel's advice to fight against the, countrymen and Iamb Itam's suggestion to escape, Jim decided to remain faithful to his dream and not indulge, again, in any act of cowardice. He confronted Doramin in an unflinching manner but Doramin shot him dead and avenged Dain Waris's death. Jim's death, certainly, establishes him as a hero because he did have the chance to save his life by joining hands with Rajah Allang's party in order to fight against furious men of Bugis but that would have been definitely unheroic. Thus, he passed the test of "fidelity" and embraced death like a martyr. There is a minor character, Brierly; who was one of the judges in the inquiry set against the 'Patna' officers; he probably had committed suicide at the realization of something abysmal in his past. Though the reason for his suicide has remained in the dark, yet we presume that it must have awakened in him, some breach of duty in his past. In other words, recognition of fidelity leads him to commit suicide. He did his best to discourage Jim from attending the trial but all was in vain and Jim attended the court in order to justify himself. Iamb Itam is also a symbol of fidelity who, all the time, remained faithful to Jim.

Theme of Guilt and Atonement

      Theme of guilt is introduced in the very beginning of the novel, and with atonement, it deals into the last page. Jim, the hero, was living in a world romantic illusions, seeing himself capable of heroic adventures and achievements, but when his heroic action was really required, he betrayed it; he felt paralyzed when 'Patna' collided. She was carrying eight hundred pilgrims from Bombay to Arab. After a good deal of hesitation, Jim had finally deserted the ship in order to save himself. Thus, he not only betrayed his idea of fidelity and solidarity, but also those eight hundred pilgrims who reposed their full confidence in him. Being excessively sensitive and romantic; the sense of guilt started chasing him perpetually. He took the first step towards moral rehabilitation when he, all alone, faced the inquiry. He was provided the opportunity to escape but his conscience did not allow him to indulge, once more, in any act of cowardice. He stoically underwent the whole trial, endured the disgrace and humiliation. This made him someone different from the rest of the officers who also had deserted the 'Patna' but did not face the trial.

      A terrible spiritual agony followed him when his certificates were revoked by the court. Now, he wanted to bury his past and begin on a clean slate. He kept on running from one place to another and ultimately, got settled in Patusan by the help of Marlow's German friend, Stein. Fortune turned into his favor and he achieved the trust, respect and love of Patusan people. They believe that Jim possessed supernatural powers. Jim said to Marlow: "If you ask them who is brave - who is true - who is just - who is it they would trust with their lives? - they would say Taun Jim." But Jim failed to obliterate his past, and Brown, the ruffian, who had taken refuge in Patusan, reawakened that unknowingly, during his conversation with Jim. Jim could have escaped the rage, caused by the death of Dain Waris, of the people of the Bugis community.

      To sum up, these three themes-Theme of isolation, Theme of fidelity and Theme of guilt and atonement are so artistically and subtly blended together that any effort to separate them from one another seems spoiling the charm and magnetic effect of the novel - Lord Jim.

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