Symbolic Elements of the Novel Lord Jim

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Lord Jim: A Symbolic Novel

      The twentieth century novelists have been deliberately employing the device of symbolistic technique in their works. Conrad is regarded as an antecedent of the twentieth-century novelists. In the novel, Lord Jim, Conrad has used the symbolic technique very artistically. Not only the characters but events and images also become symbolic. The long descriptive passages of the novel, in which images are elaborated, are not only scenic but full of symbolic significance also.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Opening of the Third Chapter

      The opening of the third chapter deals with the 'Patna' just before its collision. Here, three points are important-first the peaceful, serene and calm night and the obvious safety of the ship; secondly, the pre-notion of keeping a smooth and easy journey throughout; and thirdly, Jim's feeling of security and his habit of harboring romantic dreams. This certitude, evident from the images, such as "safe universe", "unwrinkled shimmer", "circular stillness of water and sky" are interrupted by danger in its midst. Suddenly there is a "violent slam of a furnace door, exploded brutally" with men having "their breasts full of fierce anger." The "shadow of the coming event" takes us closer, with greater certainty, to the inevitable and imminent destruction. We can treat the description as mere description but the language of the passage is symbolically significant. Everything - the ship and all the universe - seem a part of utter tranquility but this peace is not really all inclusive. The black sore of the funnel, the grinding of wheel chains, the fragmentary light from the binnacle are all discordant. The sporadic glimpses of the steersman's black fingers, letting go and catching hold of the revolving spokes represent the wheel of fortune.

The Symbolic Suggestion of Light and Darkness in Stein's House

      The symbolic use of light and darkness dramatically heightens the effect of the psychological discussion of Jim's condition. The circle of the lamp-light is Jim's situation which Stein and Marlow are trying to illumine. Stein moves between light and shadow but Marlow is in the light. The darkness of these shadows seems to project the presence of all the dark unconscious forces which Stein understands and also his own memories from which he receives wisdom and insight. But when he comes into the light, an expression of exaltation could be seen on his face as if he were enlightened by the right solution. Thus, rest of the scene is presented in the flitting gleams of candles.

      We meet another imagery of light and darkness at the opening of chapter 36. Here, Conrad is the "Privileged listener" who receives a letter from Marlow, dealing with the story of Jim's life, till his death. He goes to his window and looks out as though from the lantern of a lighthouse. He sees the endless waves of roofs and ridges, the mutter of sounds and church spires looks like the bacons on a maze of shoals without a channel, etc.

      Then he draws curtain on shutting out all the pangs of time ridden experiences. He is alone with his memories in the "sheltered pool" of the artificial lamp-light - the light of imaginative vision. In the light, he swiftly reads the letter and then, sets out to examine this new imaginative province.

      Jim himself is a symbolic figure who represents Conrad's life long loneliness and isolation. Jim's sense of guilt is the confession of Conrad's own guilt. 'Patna' is symbolic of Poland. As Conrad had deserted Poland, likewise Jim leaves 'Patna'. Brown is the symbol of evil who brings death to Jim.

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