LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
Joseph Conrad is a key novelist in making the transition between literary realism and literary modernism. He is also influenced by ideas belonging to romanticism in building his characters and in his interest in exotic landscapes.
Realism in Conrad’s novels:
- The realism of human experience;
- Contemplation and depiction of reality;
- Anti-heroic characters (influence of romanticism);
- Vivid descriptions of exotic places (influence of romanticism);
- Characters inspired by real people he met;
Modernism in Conrad’s novels:
- Literary impressionism
- Considers that the writer’s task is “to make you see”;
- Uses a fictional narrator, who works as a sailor, as a literary framing device. In doing so, the author mediates stories of imperialist adventure into meditations about truth and falsehood.
- Focus on the narrative unreliability;
- Focus on the complicated relation between subjectivity and epistemology;
- Elements of supernaturalism;
- Experiments with narrative style and writing techniques (stream of consciousness).
LORD JIM (published 1900)
- Genre: adventure novel, psychological thriller
“Lord Jim” is an imperial adventure tale with modernist traits.
“Lord Jim” is a psychological thriller in which the narrator withholds information from the readers and builds suspense based on that information. The novel also presents the character’s inner turmoil.
- Late 19th century, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean British provinces;
Main themes: Language and reputation.
- Language: the novel is about storytelling, as it includes several stories told within other stories. The narrator, Marlow, is on a quest to find out the story of Lord Jim, which is only partially told from his experience. The other parts are told to Marlow by other characters. Marlow is an excellent listener who determines the readers to put every story he hears into the larger story of Jim. The resulting narrative is a puzzle of multi-layered stories of a complicated protagonist and the effect his life has on those around him.
- Reputation: Jim is a character who conducts his life according to the Victorian code of gentlemen sailors. When he disobeys this code and doesn’t act to save the passengers of the damaged ship, he is punished by losing his reputation as a good sailor and a trustworthy seaman. Throughout the novel, he attempts to rebuild his reputation, but can never really move on. In being unable to get over his mistakes, he determines his past mistakes to haunt him forever.
- Guilt and blame;
A young man named Jim is training to become a naval officer but loses his certificate when he deserts his ship during a crisis, leaving 800 pilgrims to what he thinks is certain death. With the help of Marlow, the narrator, Jim escapes his past and winds up in Patusan, a remote island in the Far East. Here, he earns the respect of the natives and becomes a god-like figure to them. When he is confronted by his past in the shape of a pirate, he sets off a series of events that end with the local chief’s son’s death, and Jim’s killing, as retribution from the native chief.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Jim – Lord Jim or Tuan Jim. He is the hero of the story, a young man who goes to sea and dreams of becoming a hero. He fails to act heroically when the ship he is aboard is damaged and abandons the ship (together with the rest of the crew) leaving people to die. He loses his officer’s certificate and is tormented by guilt, wandering from job to job in an attempt to escape his past. He becomes the manager of a remote trading post, where he falls in love with Jewel, a half-native girl. He defeats a local bandit and becomes a hero. When faced with his past he fails to kill a pirate, who, in turn, kills the chief’s son. As retribution, Jim allows the chief to shoot him.
- Marlow – the narrator of the story and a ship’s captain. He first encounters Jim at the inquiry where he loses his officer’s certificate. He feels a certain connection to Jim and helps him find jobs. Then, he pieces together Jim’s story, using various retellings. Marlow filters and interprets most of the narrative.
- Gentleman Brown – a white pirate who comes to Patusan hoping to steal provisions. He is portrayed as the bad guy in local stories. Proud and terrified of confinement, he is outnumbered by Dain Waris’ men and negotiates with Jim. Brown understands Jim’s dark past and uses it against him, as Jim allows the pirate to retreat in safety. As a consequence, Brown attacks and kills Dain Waris, leading to Jim’s death. In speaking to Marlow from his deathbed, he proves to be a man who lives a romantic life, but one with no morals or ideals. He owns up to his past and mistakes.
POINT OF VIEW
- 1st person; Marlow is the main narrator, but he is channelling a story with multiple voices. Conrad uses the same narrator in “Heart of Darkness” and “Chance”.
- There is also a 3rd person narrator, unnamed, who sometimes reminds the reader that Marlow, too, is a character
- Limited omniscient.
- As it is mainly Marlow’s narrative, the tone of the novel depends on his thoughts and emotions;
- Thoughtful tone: Marlow tries to understand Jim’s thoughts and actions;
- Emotional flareups caused by the annoyance at Jim’s vagueness;
- Sympathetic tone towards the character.
- Elliptical style: characters never express all they want to say, and the narrator leaves things out;
- A meandering narrative that jumps back and forth in time. The narrator wanders through different periods, events, and stories, and things escape a logical order. Almost every time the narrative jumps out of the time frame, the main conflict of the novel comes into focus: Jim’s decision to jump ship. The writing style mirrors the events in the novel and the character’s construction.