Sadly, I just couldn’t get into this seafarer’s tale. Too akin to the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia in Italy? Perhaps, and the eerie similarities between captain and crew abandoning ship were equally disheartening.
For the record, I initially approached Conrad with trepidation for I feared swashbuckling tales of ocean voyagers. My first go at Conrad was The Secret Agent which I really enjoyed followed by the even more delightful Nostromo. Since I enjoyed these lesser known works, I assumed Heart of Darkness would surpass my expectations, but it turned out to be the type of Conrad read I’d initially feared. My high hopes for Lord Jim, alas, were crushed.
A young man sets out to sea hoping to live like the characters from the many adventure books he has read. He is hardworking and early on becomes a chief mate. Seriously flawed communications among the crew of the Patna results in a hasty decision to abandon ship, which Jim initially rejects, but later joins.
The ship had been transporting Muslim pilgrims to Mecca and Jim believes it to be sinking. He incredulously repeats, “800 people and 7 boats!”. This realization is the final straw that leads Jim to join the other crew members. The crew are shocked to find the ship did not sink and they are now being investigated.
Jim is stripped of his officer’s certificate and is humiliated and angry. It is during his trial that he meets Marlow, who assists him with finding work. He departs shamefaced, vowing to live out his life in disgrace and anonymity.
The hapless Lord Jim has his destiny etched out for him as a young man. His unrealistic dreams lead him to berate himself when his major error in judgment causes him to lose his position at sea. Haunted by his early downfall, he changes jobs frequently and eventually sets out for an isolated island. His day of reckoning ends tragically and he finally realizes that owning up to mistakes rather than running from them was the decision that cost him all.
Marlow narrates Jim’s tale while he is still acquiring updates about him. He first eyes Jim during the Patna inquiry and is quite taken by him. Some of his stories are corroborated, while others are questionable. Marlow assists Jim with work and supplies and is instrumental in sending him to Patusan. His benevolence towards Jim resonated the acts of a lover, rather than a friend.
Brown, an infamous pirate arrives in Patusan searching for food after fleeing from trouble. Realizing he is outnumbered, he appeals to Jim for help in escaping safely which turns the locals against Jim and results in tragedy for a friend. Envisage Captain Barbossa…
I was no longer young enough to behold at every turn the magnificence that besets our insignificant footsteps in good and in evil. I smiled to think that, after all, it was yet he, of us two, who had the light. And I felt sad. A clean slate, did he say? As if the initial word of each our destiny were not graven in imperishable characters upon the face of a rock.
Perhaps I could convince Mr. Conrad to join me for some boating on a lake. It seems he’d be his best in water of some type and hopefully the unsalted version would suffice. I am certainly no mariner so would yield to his navigation and attempt to steer the conversation to his literary talents.
My rating for Lord Jim is a 6 out of 10.
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