Theme of Fidelity in the Novel Lord Jim

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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 saturated his mind. He wanted to be the same as his concept of a romantic hero was; and, at the end of the novel, he went to embrace death due to his concept of fidelity only. He surrendered himself in front of Doramin who shot him dead.

Fidelity and Sea

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

Lord Jim: A Romantic Hero

      Jim is a protagonist perpetually nourishing dreams of romance, heroism, facing the ordeals of sea-life, saving the sailors from several mutinies of sea and tropical attacks. Thus he is extremely occupied with loyalty to his duty. He is overwhelmed with Conrad's idea of fidelity, that is a meticulous performance of one's duty. Though Jim's reaction, at the moment of 'Patna's collision, was entirely unheroic, his concept of heroic performance was full of fidelity.

Jim's Act of Cowardice

      When Jim was appointed as the chief-mate of 'Patna', he was full of vigor, spirit and enthusiasm. When the officers of 'Patna' were indulging in drinking and quarrel, Jim was quite happy and was dreaming about the heroic deeds of a romantic hero. Jim's mind was preoccupied with his imaginary achievements. He visualized himself as the hero at crucial moments but instantaneously, his dreams were shattered. 'Patna' collided and all the white officers of the ship got involved in lowering the life boat in order to escape. Jim felt himself stunned and paralyzed. He was much concerned about saving 'Patna' but, feeling utterly disappointed, he finally jumped, very reluctantly, into the life boat to save himself. Thus he missed the opportunity to prove himself a romantic hero. His paramount duty was to remain, with the pilgrims, on board the ship and endeavor to save their life instead of saving only himself. Thus he had violated the code of conduct and transgressed the requirement of fidelity. But the moment he had abandoned 'Patna', his conscience started pricking him.

Jim's Plight During the Trial

      Now, an inquiry was held because 'Patna' was fortunately rescued by a French lieutenant. Only Jim went to face the trial with the purpose of justifying his act, and thus, he came out as someone different from the rest of the officers of Tatna'. But Jim could not succeed in presenting enough evidence in the court, thus, judges had decided to revoke the certificates of 'Patna' officers after considering their act as a serious breach of duty. From this moment onwards, Jim's plight was much aggravated because he was not only facing the sense of guilt, disgrace and humiliation but also found himself worthless. Marlow became very intimate to Jim and procured some jobs for his livelihood, but Jim could not stick to one place because of the fear of the disclosure of stigma that compelled him to seek anonymity. Later on, he succeeded in restoring himself with his heroic performance in a remote country, Patusan. He rehabilitated himself there, and achieved a rank of love, respect and trust. Thus, his dream of being a romantic hero seemed to be fulfilled.

Jim Assures Marlow to Remain Faithful

      When Marlow was parting from Jim, after his stay at Patusan, Jim assured him to remain "faithful". What he meant to say; according to Marlow, Was to remain faithful to his vision of romantic hero. But the reader, at that time, thinks him to remain faithful to Jewel and Marlow. Jim remained faithful, loyal to the men of Patusan. When an invader, Brown, arrived at Patusan with his men, Jim was not in town, but when he came back, he had a talk with Brown in which Brown had casually mentioned something fishy in Jim's past life. Something 'fishy' reminded Jim of his misconduct and he persuaded the people and authority of the country to let him withdraw safely because he presumed that Brown would be a blow to his glorious place at Patusan and secondly, he did not want to sacrifice the life of a single man of the Bugis Community.

Jim's Death: An Idea of Fidelity

      But Brown was instigated by Corneluis and tempted to be the ruler of Patusan. They made an attack on Dain Waris and the members of Bugis community. In this battle, Dain Waris, the son of Doramin, was shot dead. All the Patusanians turned against Jim. Their faith, love and trust crumbled down. Jim's fidelity, at this crucial moment, was to be tested. Inspite of Jewel's advice to fight and Tamb Itam's suggestion to escape, Jim had decided to remain faithful to his dream and not committing any more acts of cowardice. He faced Doramin in an unflinching manner but Doramin shot him dead and thus took the revenge against the murder of Dain Waris. Jim's death certainly confirms him a hero because he did have the chance to save his life by joining Rajah Allang's party in order to fight against the Bugis Community but that would have been definitely unheroic. Thus, he had nobly passed the test of "fidelity" through his heroic surrender.

      There are Jewel and Tamb Itam who project Conrad's idea of fidelity. They were much devoted and faithful to Jim. Though, at the end, Jewel had accused Jim a lot for leaving her but if we read, deeply, the departing scene of Jim and Jewel, we feel their pure and innocent love for each other. Jewel failed to understand Jim's mind thus she accused him a lot. There are tlie characters like Briefly and Bob Stanton to whom idea of fidelity could be associated. Bob Stanton sacrificed his life to save a lady and Brierly had committed suicide perhaps because of the recognition of something fishy in his past.

      To conclude, we find fidelity behind so many important events and incidents of the novel Lord Jim. It is the most appealing idea of the novel, that touches us very deeply and hovers upon our mind even after finishing the novel.

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