Marlow as the Narrator of the Story Lord Jim

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Conrad's Method of Detaching Himself

      In a number of Conrad's novels, we see Marlow, a device of Conrad, to distance himself from the reader. Marlow is an imaginary creation of Conrad's mind who is a man of outstanding wisdom. He (Marlow) possesses vast experience of human life and is very observant and exceptional in probing deep into the psychology of mankind. He is a good narrator who makes the reader ''see" events and characters through his effective and vital narration. Marlow is often called the mouthpiece of Joseph Conrad. Conrad, often guises himself behind his character and thus, beautifully imparts objectivity to his tale.

Marlow: A Narrator and Commentator

      Marlow is presented as both: narrator and commentator. We hardly encounter any important event or incident on which Marlow does not comment. As we see in Lord Jim, Jim's sense of guilt, spiritual agony, traumatic condition after court's verdict, his inability to stick to a job, his enthusiastic response over Stein's proposal to send him to Patusan, his achievements in Patusan, everything is masterly narrated and well commented by Marlow. Marlow does not spare even a character like Cornelius, the French lieutenant, Chester, Brierly, and so on from his comments. He calls Stein a 'Romantic'; and Jewel is judged by him as a mysterious girl. His comments on events and characters very much affect the mind of the reader and sometimes, he starts viewing and analyzing them according to the comments of Marlow.

Marlow's Comments upon Jim's Agony and Sufferings

      Marlow's ingenuity, lies in his comments and the style of narration. When he first sees Jim in the court, during the trial, he comments upon his magnetic personality and his virtues of being honest and courageous. According to Marlow, Jim is a man of integrity and he must be trusted with the charge of the ship. Marlow has, very clearly, commented on the mental agony of Jim that he was undergoing after the court's verdict. Marlow takes Jim to his room in Malabar Hotel and leaves him to meditate over everything. Marlow sits to write a letter but stealthily casts his eye upon the face of Jim so as to read his mind. He realizes at that moment that Jim has taken the decision of the court very much to heart. For Marlow, the trial was an empty formality that must not be taken so seriously. Marlow notices "sort of sublimated, idealized selfishness" in Jim. He feels deep sympathy for Jim and wants to help him during this crisis. When Marlow finds that Jim is not sticking to one job, he considers Jim a hopeless case and recalls the remark of Brierly that Jim should have been allowed to creep twenty feet underground and stay there. But he goes to consult his most trustworthy German friend, Stein, who proposes to send Jim to Patusan and work there for his trade.

Philosophical Comments by Marlow

      Marlow, apart from commenting on Jim, comments on the desultoriness of the inquiry which was held into the conduct of 'Patna' officers. He says that judges have taken more interest in "the superficial questions rather than the state of Jim's mind when he plunged into the lifeboat". Marlow's views on destiny, when Jim expresses his desire to start his life on a clean slate, is very profound. He says that nobody, at any stage of life, can start on a clean slate because of one's tendency to retrospection and anticipation. Man is forced to act according to the wishes of evil. Everything is decided and fixed by Destiny in advance and human being is there to dance like a puppet to the tune of Destiny. Marlow makes interesting comments on Jewel and her mother. He makes few shrewd remarks about love-stories in general before commenting over the love of jewel and Jim. For, example he calls love stories the stories of opportunity. At another point, he glorifies the heart by saying that it is vast enough to contain all the world.

      In Lord Jim, Conrad has used the device of an imaginary third person to narrate the story. He has not opted for the traditional method of narration. He could have adopted the method of telling the story in his own person; another method is the auto-biographical method of placing Jim to tell his own story using the pronoun 'I'. But critics say that neither of the two suits the purpose of Conrad because resorting to an autobiographical method could have been a reason for partiality or the possibility of the narration being colored by narrator's own bias or prejudices. Conrad does not think it reasonable to comment in his own person.

Marlow, the Camouflage of Conrad

      Thus Conrad had employed a device of making Marlow the narrator. This method makes him able to impart objectivity in the novel Lord Jim. Conrad's prime concern was to distance himself from the protagonist and also he loves to give his own comments on different stages of Jim's life. Thus, he has invented Marlow and used him as his own mouthpiece. In other words; Marlow is the mask donned by Conrad who has dramatized himself. "Conrad is the historian of fine consciences and Marlow is the connoisseur of the fine conscience, the evaluator as well as the reader."

      Marlow serves a number of other purposes also. In spite of giving his own reactions to Jim's behavior at several points, he introduces several other characters also whom Jim encounters. These characters also express their own view's about Jim. It is through Marlow that we come to know about the perspectives through which others judge Jim. For example, French lieutenant, Chester, Schomberg - they have their own parameters of judging Jim. Thus, we see Jim through various perspectives.

      Marlow is a realist. Perhaps it is caused by the ordeals of sea life but he also possessed a soft heart and feels great sympathy for Jim. Marlow is a practical philosopher, analytically examining the inner recesses of a character's mind. Thus his thought and ideas are very profound but not mysterious or utterly idealistic.

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