Conrad's most popular work, Lord Jim, is the tale of a young man who has fallen from grace and who is unable to come to terms with it. The novel is divided into two distinct parts. In the first part Jim commits a cardinal error as a result of which he is subjected to lifelong humiliation. In the second part, Jim tries to leave his past behind him and start afresh. He tries to mend his image of himself and make a new beginning-'I always thought that if a fellow could begin with a clean slate'. But whether he is able to do so, or whether some inherent fault of his character prevents him from achieving this, is something that is revealed to us at the end of the second part. The second part of the novel is the story of his struggle to redeem himself.
The story of Jim poses some serious questions on social conduct and morality. Brown states it distinctly: 'when it came to saving one's life in the dark, one didn't care who else went- three, thirty, three hundred people'. There are immense social repercussions for people who, entrusted with the lives of others, fail to live up to this trust. But to defy the germ of self survival requires extraordinary heroism. How many of us have this in us? Is Jim truly a hero then in believing that he could give his life for another human being? And should he be ostracized for failing to live up to this ideal?
The story of Lord Jim is given to us in the form of a narrative from Marlow, a seasoned sailor. Marlow acts as Jim's godfather in the novel, and provides an effective critic to Jim's conduct and character from time to time. Marlow arranges for Jim's access to the much desired 'clean slate'. He forewarns the reader in the beginning of the second part of the novel:'The time was coming when I should see him loved, trusted, admired, with a legend of strength and prowess forming round his name as though he had been the stuff of a hero.' Marlow also constantly aids the reader's understanding of Jim's nature.'He had the gift of finding a special meaning in everything that happened to him.'
Small bits of the story are also given to us by other characters in the plot like Captain Brierly and Brown. These smaller stories inside Marlow's story seem to give the reader multiple perspectives into Jim's character.
This is one novel that does not lose its charm even on its n'th reading. We had it in our graduation course. In college, I had read it with wide-eyed intrigue a number of times. Now, after almost ten years when I read it again, it has not lost its charm one bit. In fact, I keep discovering new phrases pregnant with meaning which I seem to have missed out earlier. Truly- a masterpiece!
Book Reviewed By Ashmita Saha
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