Jim: The man chasing his ideals

After reading Lord Jim, the title of the novel becomes a site of questioning for me. I had picked up a book and had expected it to be about the adventures about an respectable man who has impacted on the world. But it became a story about a young man struggling to make sense of himself, in a world that he tries to fit into as he has a very idealised view of the world. But the question is – is the idealised world view that Jim has essentially wrong?

I think we can examine this by looking at Stein’s diagnosis of Jim as a romantic. Even though this seems to oversimplify Jim’s situation, his additional observation that eventually became a postulation of a paradox , that Jim is “very bad … very good too” (158) greatly influenced how I went on to see Jim. Just like the very notion of good and bad, Jim’s ideals are needed, for example, his belief in his inherent superiority as a white man gave him the confidence to take charge in Patusan. However, at the same time, his ideals lock him within Patusan, subjecting him to continually reassert his whiteness. We eventually saw him resorting to wearing imperial uniforms. In other words, in his pursuit of the ideal, he might sink deeper and deeper in his own selfish desires and eventually lose himself and sacrifice others for himself (as we come to see when he decides to set Brown free).

Ultimately, I think Conrad is not trying to give us an answer to what ideals are correct and wrong, but he tries to illuminate the possibilities in the real world by taking an equivocal position –  just like the title of the book. Whether we see Jim as Lord Jim or the multi-faceted white man, it’s really up to us and dependent on our values to decide.