Narrative Techniques used in the Novel Lord Jim

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Conrad's Technique Imparts Objectivity to the Novel

      Conrad is, perhaps, the novelist who had first invented an imaginary character to narrate the story. Marlow is the device who is not only introduced in Lord Jim but, as a narrator, he dwells in Heart of Darkness and Youth also. Conrad did not want to follow the traditional manner of telling the story in first person or to let the hero or heroine narrate his/her life in an autobiographical manner. Thus, he had successfully experimented with Marlow and made him narrate the story of the novel. In Lord Jim, Marlow narrates the story of Jim's Life to his group of friends sitting in a verandah outside the room of Malabar Hotel. At certain intervals, Marlow, through is comments, makes the reader conscious of the presence of the listeners. He does it with the purpose of not making his narration a soliloquy. Thus this technique of making someone narrate the story, gives an opportunity to the novelist to detach himself from the novel. Through this method, the novel escapes from the prejudices of the novelist.

Conrad's Violation of Following the Chronological Order in Story Telling.

      Conrad's Marlow does not follow the chronological sequence of the events or narrating them into the order as they occur. Marlow starts from the middle, jumps into the past, then starts narrating the future. Thus, he keeps on shifting from present to future and present to past. He moves suddenly forward or backward in time. Now a question arises, why Conrad has not maintained the chronological order in narration? He has done it deliberately and with a fixed purpose. He believes that life does not narrate incidents but makes an impression on our brains. The chronology is not important but association of thought must be there. Thus the linear pattern of cause-and-effect progress is not seen in Conrad's novels. In Lord Jim, Marlow, in advance, has narrated the suicide of Brierly, not after the end of the trial. Then we are transferred into the time when Marlow hears the first-hand account of the rescue of 'Patna' in Australia, from the French lieutenant. Now, he comes back to Jim but again, his narration is interrupted by the memory of Chester and guano island. Then, we are informed about Jim's plight after the court's verdict. We meet this kind of narration throughout the novel. Few critics say that this method of narration does not impress the average reader. It is appealing only to the scholars and intelligent readers. It is like a puzzle for the common reader but finds it rather difficult to comprehend. But if we consider the beliefs of Conracb that Life does not narrate but lays impression on the brain, we justify this method of Conrad.

Frequent Comments by Marlow

      Another noteworthy point is that the narration is frequently interrupted by Marlow. He stops at many points to brood and presents highly philosophical thoughts; or he pauses to analyze the character more psychologically and then he comments on them. These things occur very frequently in the novel. There is hardly any character or event which, is spared by Marlow to comment on. Sometimes, it displeases us because we wait for the next event or incident impatiently but Marlow gives his comments on what has happened already or what is going to happen, after a long time.

The Flaw in Conrad's Narrative Technique

      There are a few critics who have condemned Conrad's method of narration, widely speaking, on the following points: First, Marlow as a device to tell the story; secondly, Conrad's rejection of the chronological order in story-telling; thirdly, frequent interruptions in the narration. They say Conrad is a failure because of his enigmatic narration. The average reader feels himself bewildered and confused. He has to strain a lot to get the whole story in a unified form, but Conrad is justified in his narration when we consider him as a novelist of 'stream-of-consciousness technique'. He is not expected to correlate the events and incidents in the traditional pattern in which everything occurs in a sequence. Conrad's emphasis is on revealing the mind of the character, thus it is quite natural to shift suddenly in future or past or present because ideas in brain do not emerge in a sequence. We are placed in present, forced to think about future or past, simultaneously. But we should not call Conrad a failure over this point. As far as experiment with the device of Marlow is concerned, it is used to impart objectivity but the issue of frequent interruptions by Marlow is slightly objectionable. We would like to sum up with this view that these are the stamps of Conrad's originality as an artist. They are his distinguishing features that does not make him less noble. Nothing is that strong to shake his position in the history of English novel-writing.

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