Guilt and the production of discourse

In Lord Jim, the character Jim seems unable to admit that he made a decision to jump at the very last minute and does not take responsibility for his actions despite appearing to confess his crime to the narrator by telling his supposedly true version of the events.  Each time he appears to admit to his mistake, he actually subtly tries to downplay the responsibility which he must take for his actions by qualifying it saying ” I had jumped… It seems,” ‘I knew nothing about it till I looked up”.  And with each reference to his guilt, it shifts subtly further and further away from his fault to the fault of others as he goes on to say he was “driven to do a thing like that” and later starts to blame others for the “abhorrent opportunity”, even going as far as to accuse them saying “It was their doing as plainly as if they had reached up with a boat hook and pulled (him) over.” 

This is may be juxtaposed with his insisting that he is different from the men who have planned to jump ship from the very onset and ” there was nothing in common between him and these men.” Unlike those men who “made up” a story that “was not a lie” but “wasn’t truth all the same,” he tells the truth of events and attempts to confess to the narrator in the hope of some form of absolution.  However we soon see that with each supposed honest admission of jumping, he goes further and further away from the truth, which shows him to be making up stories about himself like the other men.

It is interesting to see that the narrator initially appears to align himself with Jim by repeatedly mentioning that he is “one of us” while telling another person’s story. Much talk is generated by this event and everyone seemed to be unable to stop talking about it. It seems strange that the narrator feels the need to talk to others about this event and try and gather information about the event to piece it together when he isn’t the main character and there is no apparent relationship between him and Jim. Perhaps, I would suggest that the narrator is somewhat like the ancient mariner who feels compelled to tell a story due to guilt and Jim’s story is very much his as well because what happened was significant enough ” to affect mankind’s conception of itself”.

Thus, just like Jim, the narrator is compelled to tell the story in a way which tries to distance himself from the events by a form of sublimation- making it into yet another form of discourse. However, when he tells the story, what he actually reveals, like Jim,  by the way in which he shapes his version of the events is his guilt and complicity in the unspeakable crime.  It is significant that Jim never actually manages to articulate the exact moment of his transgression thus his confession, like the narrator’s exists in the gap between discourse and the truth.

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