Symbolism in Lord Jim

As Yuxin has mentioned, the subtitle for Lord Jim is “A Romance” and i think in many ways, we see this romantic quality in Jim’s vivid imagination. Marlow describes Jim as a dreamer (much like Ishmael from Moby Dick) who is constantly obsessed with his heroic ambitions. And this quality makes him unsuitable to be a sailor. Marlow speaks for Western rationality as he believes that a sailor should be alert so that he can keep his ship afloat, to ride out the destructive elements of a storm.  Yet Stein has a very different view, a romanticised one, he believes that Jim should “in the destructive elements immerse” (164).

This conflicting perspectives could perhaps be used to think about the West and the East. The muslims on board the Patna could be seen as adopting Stein’s romanticised view as they are seeking to “follow their dream” (in Stein’s terms) by going for mecca. They could also be seen as synonymous with water and immersion for they “streamed aboard over the gangways…flowed down the yawning hatchways, filled the inner recesses of the ship-like water filling a cistern” (17).  Thus, the East seems to embody this sort of romantic image where one is immersing into the deep dangerous sea of the unknown as described by Stein.

The West however, conforms to Marlow’s idea of rising above the tumultous sea and this is seen in the image of the lighthouse. A lighthouse stands for the guiding light, a firm structure of stability in the everchanging sea. And this symbol is in line with the vision of the empire. Did they not come to the colonies to be a guiding light? to bring civilization to the savages? And another interesting symbol is the clock that Jim leaves behind before arriving in Patusan. The clock seems to represent Western notions of time and continuity. Perhaps the act of losing the clock could mean that Jim is leaving his past behind? And yet this clock imagery haunts him while he was struggling in the mud. He could only think about mending the clock. Perhaps this shows that Marlow cannot evade his past and he is perhaps missing Western civilization i.e. England, a place he can never return to.

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