Lord Jim

In Lord Jim, the authority of Marlow as the narrator of Jim’s story is constantly being undermined or destabilized. Rather than really controlling the judgments that readers should cast on Jim, Marlow makes it clear that even his own intimate, first-hand contact with Jim, fails to allow him to come closer to the truth of what the man really is. As he declares, “I wanted to know –and to this day I don’t know, I can only guess.” Just as Heart of Darkness, in which the framed narrative underlies how the limitations of observations and Marlow’s own omission of details may deter readers from obtaining the true account, Lord Jim also reveals such complications, and to a much larger degree. Truth is rendered so elusive that judgments become very difficult at time. Marlow is so often in doubt of his own judgments, “I don’t pretend I understood him. The views he let me have of himself were like those glimpses through the shifting rents in a thick fog –bits of vivid and vanishing detail…upon the whole he was misleading.”
Marlow’s encounters with other characters sometimes provide a platform for readers to assess the different viewpoints and how they may contribute to painting a ‘big picture’ for clearer understanding of Jim’s character. However, this can contribute to the moral ambiguity as well. For instance, how is Jim to be judged for his actions for the incident of Patna? The French Lieutenant earnestly admits, “Man is born a coward…” Therefore, rather than enforcing a universal standard or reading, it seems that Conrad prefers to let readers be confronted by the shortcomings of human ideals, actions and inerpretations and judge for themselves.

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