Fear and Failure in Lord Jim
The romantic view of a seamanship is that the crew keeps with the ship through all types of weather and troubles. Yet in 1880, an event happened that shook this romantic belief throughout the world. The abandonment of the steamship Jeddah, along with its approximately one thousand Moslem pilgrims, caused civilians everywhere to question the truth of this ideal. As a budding modernist writer, Conrad attempted to develop the real character of A.P. Williams, the first mate of the Jeddah, into the fictional character of Lord Jim, with hopes of shedding light on the inner conflict of a failed hero and what it means to be human.
Norman Sherry’s research on Lord Jim and the factual account of the Jeddah shows several similarities between the character of Jim and that of AP Williams. Sherry states that, “Everything I have been able to discover about him… suggests that he was Conrad’s inspiration for the whole first part of the novel… Williams’ background is, in fact, identical with that of Lord Jim” (Sherry 336). Both were raised by a parson and “it seems likely that [Williams] went to a training ship for officers of the mercantile marine, as did Lord Jim”(337). Conrad’s use of AP Williams’ background for the character of Jim was no coincidence, and would not have been overlooked at the time of publication. By using practically the same character and account of the ship’s desertion, Conrad creates a world in which he can offer a critique on the Jeddah’s fallible crew. In doing so, he is sure to offer Jim salvation by pleading his case as a man who failed to act because of fear – a natural human emotion.
At the time of the incident with the Jeddah, the press did not view this scandal as a natural fight or flight response. While Conrad believes that Jim’s actions were motivated by fear, the media were convinced that the desertion of the Jeddah shattered the sailor’s code of ethics. Initially, before the Jeddah turned up with its survivors, The Globe, published in London, reported the loss with these headlines: “DREADFUL DISASTER AT SEA. LOSS OF NEARLY 1,000 LIVES” (The Globe). After the Jeddah arrived safely at Aden, The Times, also located in London, printed “There was something very unpleasant in the facts thus stated; for, to the honour of sailors, nothing is more rare than that, in a disaster at sea, the captain and the principal officers of the vessel should be the chief or the sole survivors” (London Times). Obviously, the desertion of the Jeddah was a shock to other sailors and civilians throughout Europe. Measures clearly were not taken to save the pilgrims on board, which was appalling, and the incident went under investigation.
Nearly twenty years later, Conrad brought to the forefront this controversial story in Lord Jim to depict an individual acting through fear. Typical of a modernist writer, Conrad cared more about the moral struggle within one man than about the cultural values that sailors are measured against. Author Gustav Morf writes, “Lord Jim is more than a novel, it is a confession. As a confession of a man tortured by doubts and nightmarish fears it must be understood, if it is to be understood at all” (Morf). The character of Jim is in a lifelong battle with his conscience; his guilt accompanies him wherever he goes. Conrad portrays Jim as a failed hero, who had the chance to save the pilgrims on the fictional S.S. Patna, but fled instead. Jim is restless after the abandonment not only because he failed himself, but also because he is ashamed of what other people will think about his cowardice. Captain Brierly condemns Jim for his actions when he states, “Frankly, I don’t care a snap for all the pilgrims that ever came out of Asia, but a decent man would not have behaved like this to a full cargo of old rags in bales” (Conrad 42). Though this statement exhibits racist qualities that imply that the Moslems were less than human to Brierly, it does reinforce the idea that abandoning ship is wrong no matter how a seaman feels towards the cargo.
In regards to the pilgrims, the official statement from the master of the Jeddah, Captain Joseph Clark, goes as follows, “The pilgrims armed themselves with knives and clubs…I was informed of their deliberate intention to murder my wife… I got one of my officers to put her in one of the boats. Immediately after this, when starting to lower the boat, a general rush was made by the pilgrims and I was pushed into the boat during which I received several serious blows” (Sherry 310). Clark’s statement sharply contrasts with the fictional Patna account. In Conrad’s tale, Jim allowed the pilgrims to sleep peacefully; he made “no noise for fear of creating a panic” (Conrad 18). Conrad’s choice to depict the Moslems as calm and quiet proves that there was probably not a threat of violence on the Jeddah, and that the desertion was for another reason. Through Lord Jim, it appears that Conrad believes the men abandoned the ship because they were afraid to drown.
Even at the time of the trial, the popular opinion was that the crew abandoned ship due to the fear of drowning, not because of an attack. G.R. Goodfellow, the judge trying the crew of the Jeddah, provides an accurate account of why the crew was motivated through fear to desert the ship. The court ruled that the fastenings of the boilers in the Jeddah were defective, which is why they gave way and caused a leak in the bottom of the ship. The court believed that, due to the restless seas and constant rocking of the ship, the water that leaked inside appeared to be more than it was. Both the chief engineer and the captain were negligent in giving the boilers adequate attention; they instead prepared the boats. Thus, a lot of blame for the incident is placed on them. “With [the captain’s] act in ordering the boats he led the passengers to believe that the ship would probably flounder…” (Sherry 323). Up to the time when Clark got in the boat “it is evident that no violence or even a show of force had been made by the pilgrims to anyone on board” (323) until the pilgrims realized that they were being stranded. The pilgrims witnessed the crew deserting, broke into a frenzy, and tried to swarm the other boats. The pilgrims reacted as they did because the only people who could aid them in this situation were leaving them.
Much like Captain Clark of the Jeddah, Jim has trouble admitting that he deserted the ship when he thought it was sinking, because he cannot justify his actions through violence of the pilgrims. Jim’s inner turmoil is apparent when he describes these Moslems, who were so calm they seemed lifeless, “He stood… surveying the silent company of the dead. They were dead! Nothing could save them” (Conrad 53). His desperation shows a young man conflicted as to what his action should be. He wanted to be a hero, but the impossibility of the situation seemed as if it would prevent any noble action from taking place. This is when the natural fight or flight response took place. He subconsciously knew that in a battle between himself and the sea, the sea would win, so he took the anti-heroic, “every man for himself” action. Jim could not act as a hero because his human nature took over, and he reacted how any average citizen would have responded. Conrad is careful not to condemn him for that, but shows Jim’s internal response to what happened. He cannot help feeling ashamed and believing that he is a failure, which is what gives him unrest throughout the novel. His dreams of being a hero were outweighed by the desire for his own life, which is a remarkably human response.
Though Jim responded the way many would, he still had to face a public trial for his actions. Much as in the factual Jeddah account, in Conrad’s novel the captain and part of the crew were found to be incompetent. The captain yet again deserts his situation (Conrad 29) when he leaves his crew before the trial, and is never heard from again. The other two crew members were hospitalized, the second engineer for his broken arm, and the other crew member for his alcoholism. The latter also appeared to have hallucinations, rendering his testimony useless. The only crew member who was brave enough to face trial was Jim. In the novel, the Patna was found not fit for voyage on the sea. The court then canceled the certificate of the master, Jim, and most likely the other engineers, due to “abandoning in the moment of danger the lives and property confided to their charge” (Conrad 97). Jim’s real punishment came from how he viewed himself. He condemned himself to a life of vagrancy and isolation.
Conrad may be slow to offer Jim salvation, but it comes in the end. Jim becomes a leader of the islanders of Patusan, and he wins the heart of a beautiful woman. The natives look to him for guidance and respect him in a way that he has never felt before. Of his demise, critic Gustav Morf notes, “A man who, like Jim, has suffered so much, and who has paid his debt with his death, is no longer guilty. His death adds much to the poignancy of his fate, it makes him a hero” (Morf). His death at the end proves him to be a tragic hero, but finally a hero nonetheless. The novel’s end depicts Jim as much more at ease with his past failures, and he finally finds rest. In many ways this seems to be Conrad’s way of saying that it is not society that condemns a person. Instead, it is the inner struggle that one faces that causes suffering from one’s actions. Conrad casts Jim in a way that offers Jim peace from his torment, even if his life on the island ends prematurely. Jim has finally fulfilled his lifelong desire to be a hero, though his heroic acts do not come on the sea, as he had once dreamed. His validity as a hero comes from his everyday interactions with the natives of Patusan. This turn of the narrative again proves Conrad’s point: Jim wasn’t a monster for deserting the Jeddah, he was simply acting as a human. Jim was flawed and deep, a human being who was offered redemption when he stopped living in fear. Works Cited “The Abandonment of the Jeddah.” London Times [London] 14 Aug. 1880. “DREADFUL DISASTER AT SEA. LOSS OF NEARLY 1,000 LIVES.” The Globe [London] 10 Aug. 1880. Sherry, Norman. Conrad’s Eastern World. Cambridge University Press,1966. Conrad, Joseph. Lord Jim. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1968. Morf, Gustav. The Polish Heritage of Joseph Conrad. New York, NY: Haskell House, 1965.
Romanticism and Idealism in Conrad’s Lord Jim
In modern parlance, the word âromanticâ? is often and understandably used with a positive connotation. A romantic individual is most often recalled with fondness, if also with pity. The faults of such a person might be limited to mere naivete: âHe was a hopeless romantic; he just wasnât meant for this cruel world.â? However, it must be remembered that the romantic mind, as opposed to the idealistic mind, is almost always clouded to varying degrees with egocentricity. Though, like the idealist, the romantic is a dreamer, one who often strays from pragmatism; the romantic is also characterized by a devout self-interest. That distinction, between idealism and romanticism, must be remembered when reading Joseph Conradâs Lord Jim. Jim, the principle character, is indisputably romantic. He is a dreamer; he is out of touch with reality; and he is completely self-interested. But an idealist, Jim is not. If this distinction is kept in mind, it should be apparent to the reader that Jim is, indeed, a tragic figure but he is not a tragic hero.Jimâs character is most clearly developed in the first four chapters where an omniscient narrator describes his nature through his thoughts and actions. It is imperative to understand that after the fourth chapter, all the information the reader receives about Jim is filtered through at least two sources: Jim tells the story to Marlow who tells it, indirectly to the reader. Marlow seems trustworthy, but he, himself, admits that he doesnât fully understand Jim. âMy eyes were too dazzled by the glitter of the sea below him to see him clearly; I am fated never to see him clearly.â? (p. 146) Though he might not understand Jim, Marlow certainly admires him. His account, therefore, is more sympathetic to the title character than is the detached recounting of the omniscient narrator. It is for this reason, that the most faithful description of Jimâs true character comes at the beginning of the novel.Though the word romantic is not immediately used to depict him, it is quite evident that he is a dreamer. But more than that, he is self-absorbed and the narrator describes his looking down from the foretop, â…with the contempt of a man destined to shine in the midst of dangers.â? (p. 9) Jimâs boyhood reveries have more to do with his own glorification than with good deeds. He wants more to be a hero than to be heroic. In his dreams, âHe saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricaneâ¦ He confronted savages on tropical shores, quelled mutinies on the high seasâ¦as unflinching as a hero in a book.â? (p. 9) However, when Jim is confronted with the opportunity to realize his dreams, he balks. Hesitating from fear of a storm, Jim misses his first chance to be lauded as a hero, having to listen instead while another boy bragged of his efforts in âa pitiful display of vanity.â? (p. 10)Self-indulgent dreams and brief spells of cowardice can certainly be forgiven a young boy in training to be, but not yet, a seaman. Unfortunately, this is not an obnoxious adolescent trait that Jim eventually grows out of. Initially, he finds time on the Patna to dream. âAt such times his thoughts would be full of valorous deeds: he loved these dreams and the success of his imaginary achievements.â? (p. 17) On board his first ship as an officer, Jim is put temporarily out of commission by a fallen beam. The narrator reveals Jimâs sentiments to be secretly glad that he did not have to work on deck with the other men. It is apparent, then, that Jim wants only to be a hero, he is not interested in the mundane tasks of the sailor and would just as soon lie lethargically in his cabin as to undertake his duties as a seaman.This injury also leads indirectly to Jimâs decision to sail with the Patna. During his recovery, Jim is exposed to the benefits of working on native, rather than English, ships. On these vessels, one benefits from âshort passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white.â? (p. 13) The promotion of this type of work is voiced by a crowd of men who âshuddered at the thought of hard work, and led precariously easy lives.â? (p. 13) That Jim would choose to associate himself with this type of men rather than those âwith the temper of buccaneers and the eyes of dreamersâ¦[whose] death was the only event of their fantastic existence that seemed to have a reasonable certainty of achievement,â? (p. 12) says something of his character. The men of the latter breed are the romantics in the sense of the word described in this paperâs opening lines. As such, Jim cannot relate to them, as he is a romantic in the self-serving sense, still a dreamer but also lazy and in love with the idea of heroism, not with the sea.It is on the Patna, of course, that Jimâs life is changed forever. It is true that he does not consciously decide to abandon the imperiled ship, leaving 800 passengers to drown. However, were he an idealist, that jump would have been an impossibility. Initially Jim acts responsibly, but his true state is revealed first when he strikes a pilgrim who begs him for water and of course, when he, in a near unconscious state, abandons ship. That Jim jumps from the Patna may be his most damning sin, but more troublesome is his reaction to what he has done. Jimâs feelings of horror that the ship had not yet sunk, coupled with the relief felt when its light is no longer visible show that he had little concern for the 800 lives he thought to be lost. He is at first horrified that rather than being glorified he will be vilified for deserting the vessel. These feelings are shortly eclipsed by a sense of relief that the 800 potential accusers are dead. He even considers swimming back to the wreck to make sure that the noyade was successful.Had Jim stayed aboard the Patna it is likely he would have been welcomed as a hero after the ship was rescued. However, at the time, he has no idea that the ship might stay afloat. He remarks later to Marlow, who has taken over the narration of the story that he felt sure the bulkhead would have burst after he examined it. He then emits the lament, âAh! what a chance missed! My God! what a chance missed!â? (p. 53) It is perhaps one of the most important lines in the book in evaluating Jimâs character. He bemoans the fact that he had abandoned ship because the ship did not go down. The guilt that Jim feels, then, is less towards the pilgrims who he left for dead, but to himself, for failing once again to be a hero. One wonders whether Jim would have considered the Patna a missed opportunity had it sank as expected. This is the difference between that incident and the missed chance during his training days. In his dreams, Jim imagined saving lives and fighting savages, but he never imagined himself dying. If he had remained on the sinking ship and drowned, he would have been regarded posthumously as a brave and noble man but he would not live to see himself glorified. It is evident, then, that Jimâs âidealâ? was not heroism but âherodomâ?.If the incident with the Patna is Jimâs downfall, then his time on the island of Patusan is his renaissance. It is there that Jim finally begins to atone for his sin. Following Steinâs advice, âin the destructive element immerse,â? Jim starts over on the remote island where no one could possibly know of his history. He vows to bring peace to the island and comes as close as any man could to achieving that end. He shows his bravery and his strong leadership capability. Not least, in his marriage to Jewel, he shows that he is human even if the natives regard him as divine. Despite this, though, Jim is truly alone on the island. His self-fostered and native-indulged sense of racial superiority alienates him from those who revere him. More importantly, he cannot escape the truths of his past. Though no one on the island has ever heard of the Patna, Jim is reminded of his horrible secret during his conversation with the despicable Gentleman Brown. Brown senses a weakness in Jim when the latter cannot quickly respond as to what brought him to Patusan. He hints at a shared sense of guilt with Jim, and manages to secure a safe departure from the island, when based on his character, he should probably have been killed. Of course, Jimâs decision to allow Brown to leave Patusan results in Jimâs own death. And so, the romanticâs past, in the end, catches up with him and contributes to his untimely, yet honorable demise.Though Jim gains some degree of respect at the end of the novel, it must not be mistaken that he continues to be self interested through the final pages. Throughout the book, Jim shows no sign of consideration for any others, leaving employers with little notice when his secret catches up to him and cutting off communication with his father who would be devastated to hear of Jimâs shame. In the end, he hasnât changed. Though his wife begs him otherwise, Jim goes willingly to his own death, âtearing himself from the arms of a jealous love at the sign, at the call of his exalted egoism. He goes away from a living woman to celebrate his pitiless wedding with a shadowy ideal of conduct.â? (p. 246) That, incidentally, is the only coupling of Jimâs name with the word ideal, a fact that is not entirely superfluous. The word âromanticâ? is used 19 times in the novel, the word idealist, just once, and never in reference to Jim. Jimâs death is romantic; he went before a grieving man, keeping his word that he would give up his own life if the manâs son died because of Jimâs bad judgment. But what ideal was served? No one was serviced by Jimâs death except Jim himself. He had redeemed himself, if only in his dying eyes and he dies with a âproud and unflinching glanceâ? on his face. (p. 246) In the end, the reader can rest assured that Jim was not a bad man. He was everyman, âone of usâ?. The reader should, though, be weary of calling Jim a tragic hero or an idealist.
The Sea as Mirror in The Shadow Line and Lord Jim
D’autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir de mon dsespoir-C. BaudelaireThose acquainted with the works of Joseph Conrad know well enough that the author had a grand affinity for the sea. Certainly, this should be expected from a man who had spent his formative years on various vessels, traversing the eastern waters in the capacity of mate and captain. During these years, Conrad formed a relationship with the sea, based on equal parts, fear, reverence, and love, which would transcend his writing and shape his characters.Conrad, of course, learned much from the sea, and we, in turn, learn much about it from him. Based on the collective themes of his sea novels, it would seem that Conrad, were he to impart just one facet of his nautical knowledge on his reader, would want him to appreciate the long and sacrosanct tradition of command, to understand the cult of the seaman. In these works, Conrad paints a collective picture of the true seaman: stoic, strong, and equanimous in the face of peril. As Captain Giles of The Shadow-Line, an exemplar of the code, put it, “a man should stand up to his bad luck, to his mistakes, to his conscience, and all that sort of thing” (The Shadow-Line, 131). The true seaman, though, is also afflicted by a profound solitude. He alone is responsible for the safe passage of his vessel; “Such is the loneliness of command” (Typhoon, 40). The seaman has one friend and one adversary, the sea, and it is only through the sea, the ‘mirror of his despair’ that he may find himself and recognize the honor and burden of command.Two of Conrad’s maritime novels, The Shadow-Line and Lord Jim, introduce us to two characters who adhere variably to the code of the seaman. The narrator of The Shadow-Line begins his first command as a headstrong and immature novice but through the self-reflection demanded by trying times, comes to appreciate his role as captain and embrace the proud tradition of command. The titular protagonist of Lord Jim, in stark contrast to the aforementioned young captain, is unable to stand up to his mistakes, as Captain Giles most earnestly prescribes. Jim does not use the sea as a mirror for his own self-reflection, but rather as a vehicle for his own promotion. As such, he cannot take a place in the pantheon of the seaman. A study of MacWhirr is an appropriate addendum to any evaluation of the narrator of The Shadow-Line and Jim as, contrary to the others, he is established immediately as a true seaman. We have, then, three, remarkably different characters who deal with their mistakes to varying degrees; The Shadow-Line’s young captain matures markedly through his ordeal, and, more subtly, Captain Mac Whirr acknowledges a fatefully wrong decision, while Jim runs away from a reflection he does not want to face.Conrad alludes, in The Shadow-Line, to the mirror of the sea. It is in this mirror that the narrator of the story is able to discover his own shortcomings and recognize the magnitude of his position as captain. The narrator begins his tale having abandoned a position as first mate on a comfortable steamer in an action that “had the character of divorce–almost of desertion” (The Shadow-Line, 4). His resignation, his desertion, comes as a result of his realization that his youth is waning aboard a ship on which he describes his time as a “dreary, prosaic waste of days” out of which “there was no truth to be got” (The Shadow-Line, 7). The ‘truth’ that the narrator seeks can be found only within himself and only through self-reflection. He is fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity for such reflection aboard an ill-fated vessel, his first command.The young captain embarks on his journey with the same cockiness that led him to abandon his previous ship. Without yet proving himself, he believes he is some sort of superior individual, already an esteemed member of the fellowship of the sea. In his immaturity, he does not understand the futility of accosting and threatening the Steward and is incredulous when the esteemed Captain Giles tries to comfort the shaken man. Walking with Giles to the port where he will embark to meet his ship, the new captain deliberately quickens his pace in an effort to ‘out-walk’ the elder man, a vain attempt at dominance that befits the irreverent and self interested nature of the narrator at the story’s beginning.It is this cockiness that discolors the narrator’s character as he sets out on his first command. The young captain is overly assured of himself: “One is a seaman or one is not,” he remarks, “And I had no doubt of being one” (The Shadow-Line, 44). Here the captain assumes a title that he has not yet earned through necessary reflection or tribulation. That he has ‘no doubt’ of being a seaman does not by any means imply that he is one. Indeed, the self-confidence that the narrator feels regarding his post and his place in the cult of command has not to do with any viable experience but merely with the sheer thrill of his appointment:A sudden passion of anxious impatience rushed through my veins and gave me such a sense of the intensity of existence as I have never felt before or since. I discovered how much of a seaman I was, in heart, in mind, and, as it were, physically – a man exclusively of sea and ships; the sea the only world that counted, and the ships the test of manliness, of temperament, of courage and fidelity – and love (The Shadow-Line, 40).This from a man who had, just days earlier, deserted his ship and the sea, itself.The captain certainly reconciles with the sea expeditiously. What is more, he comes to trust it with such a naively high regard that, knowing what lay in store, one cannot help but feel sorry for him. Hoping to escape the disease and heat ridden Asian shore with all possible alacrity, the narrator identifies the sea as the “only remedy for all [his] troubles” (71). On the surface, this supposition could not be further from the truth. The sea and her paucity of winds provide no assistance to this captain who had scoffed at steam and embraced the mast. Though the sea does not provoke the outbreak of fever aboard the vessel, she nonetheless intensifies it. After the narrator discovers that the prescribed antidote for the fever, quinine has been emptied of its vials by the ship’s nefarious late captain, the voyage becomes a race with death, and the sea does little to expedite the living.The Captain’s discovery that the antidote is not available to the ships crew is the seminal moment in the story. It is at this moment when he first realizes the magnitude and solitude of his position as captain. He, alone, is responsible for the health of all his men and he, alone, will be blamed for the mishandling of that responsibility. The guilt he feels for not having checked the medicine’s supply before departure is merely reinforced by the sea’s stubbornness. The lack of wind makes the passage painfully slow and emotionally trying for the narrator. The sea, though not responsible for the outbreak of the fever, is entirely unforgiving. She isolates the narrator in his capacity as captain and forces him to take responsibility for everything that has happened on the journey thus far and everything that must be done to get the ship out of her present situation. In isolating the narrator with his guilt, the sea acts as the ‘mirror of his despair.’ He is forced to reflect upon his situation and face the reality that he must confront his own dilemmas, mistakes, and bad luck.I became aware of what I had left already behind me – my youth. And that was indeed poor comfort. Youth is a fine thing, a mighty power – as long as one does not think of it. I felt I was becoming self-conscious (The Shadow-Line, 55).Having to bear the burden of command alone, the captain is forced to mature through reflection on his condition and consciousness of what he needs to do to improve it. And, after several days and nights on deck without sleep and with only the constant companionship of the ailing cook, Ransome, himself a consummate seaman, the captain manages to guide the ship to shore losing no men and earning an entire new sense of dignity and pride. Having crossed his own shadow-line, the captain has finally proved himself worthy of joining the ranks of the fellowship of the sea.In many ways, the narrator of The Shadow-Line and Jim are quite similar. Both are vain and headstrong, both have at one time or another positions as first mate, and both are faced with devastatingly trying situations. Unlike the former, though, Jim is unable to reach the conscious state of self-reflection necessary to overcome his trials and take his place among the great seamen who came before him.Considering the length and depth of Lord Jim, its protagonist, Jim, is not a very complicated character. Indeed, one need not look far beyond the first four chapters for the most solid explanation of who Jim is. It is in these preliminary chapters that an omniscient narrator tells the story of Jim, a young dreamer who, at an early age, leaves his father’s ‘abode of piety and peace’ to pursue a life at sea. Jim’s greatest character flaw is revealed during his time on the ‘training ship for officers of the mercantile marine’ where he worked “with the contempt of a man destined to shine in the midst of dangers” (Lord Jim, 9). It is a flaw that will plague his character throughout the entire book. Jim is a dreamer in the negative sense of the word. His fancies are romantically self-serving, not idealistic. His dreams, wherein he “saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane – always an example of devotion to duty, and as unflinching as a hero in a book,” are the dreams of an egoist, not an idealist (Lord Jim, 9). Jim’s only veritable ideal is his own promotion in the eyes of himself and others. The disparity between this ideal and that of the true seaman ensures that Jim will remain outside the great maritime tradition, ‘one of us’ but not one of them.Throughout the course of the novel, Jim proves, through his actions, to be unworthy of the title of seaman. His daydreams, though focused on his own promotion, are none-the-less harmless but his actions, in some cases quite harmful, reveal the most about his true character. If actions speak louder than words, they certainly sound out high above thoughts and from the beginning there is a troubling inconsistency between Jim’s reveries and his deeds. The young Jim is awakened from his dreams of quelling mutinies and confronting savages by a call for help. Here, he has the chance to realize his dreams and yet he balks. Hesitating from fear of a storm, Jim misses his first chance to be a hero. He is untrue to himself, but more importantly, he is untrue to the code of conduct of the seaman.This hesitation to act heroically, though, is far from Jim’s most damning sin. Rather, that sin comes from his near unconscious decision to abandon the damaged Patna, a vessel whose appeal to Jim rested largely on the fact that he would have the benefits of “short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white” (Lord Jim, 13). Upon learning that the ship has been punctured and that the seas are pouring into it at an alarming rate, Jim panics. His lack of the sort of equanimity demanded of a seaman is shown when he strikes a pilgrim who, unaware of the fate of the ship, begs him for water. This panic, of course, is eclipsed by a more immediate desire for survival which causes him to leap overboard in a desperate and fateful attempt to save his own life. Though the decision to jump is not entirely a conscious one for Jim, it is a choice that no true seaman would ever make. Paramount among the tenets of the seaman’s code is that no officer shall ever, under any circumstances, abandon ship. Jim not only abandoned the ship; he left 800 innocent and unsuspecting pilgrims for dead.The act of abandoning ship, alone, is enough to bar Jim from the ranks of the true seaman. However, even more troublesome than the desertion is Jim’s reaction to it afterwards. While the other officers who jumped with him rationalize their course of action, Jim scowls, yet he, too engages in rationalization. He, too, makes excuses for his actions, blaming the others, even as he insists he does not. Explaining the circumstances to Marlow, Jim insists, “-they were too much for any man. It was their doing as plainly as if they had reached up with a boat-hook and pulled me over” (Lord Jim, 77). Of course, he is plagued by remorse, but Jim’s guilt is not towards the pilgrims but towards himself. He is ashamed of his act not because it was immoral or contrary to the code but because he had once again failed to be a hero. It is for this reason that Jim so desperately wants the ship to finally sink. He is initially filled with horror that the ship has not yet submerged. “I was saying to myself, ‘Sink – curse you! Sink!’ – It terrified me to see it still there,” (Lord Jim, 63,70). When he finally feels sure that the boat has, indeed, gone down, he is overcome by a sense of relief that his 800 possible accusers are dead. In the end, knowing that the ship had not, in fact gone down, the most telling remark Jim makes regarding the ordeal is his lament, “Ah! what a chance missed! My God! what a chance missed!” (Lord Jim, 53).Indeed, Jim did miss his chance, not at self-promotion, but at self-reflection. He, like the narrator of The Shadow-Line, is confronted with a grave situation. Unlike, the narrator, Jim is unable to use the sea to reflect upon his situation and act according to the code of command he is meant to embody. Jim’s flights of fancy hold very little water if they are not backed by definite action. Here Jim is faced with one last chance to prove himself worthy of his own dreams. He fails. One is tempted to maintain that another man, perhaps the young captain of the Shadow-Line, most definitely Singleton of The Nigger of the Narcissus or Typhoon’s Captain Mac Whirr, would have recognized the waters below him as his companion and adversary and, within these waters, would have recognized himself as a seaman and stayed with his ship and her cargo. These men are worthy of the great dynastic tradition of seamanship; Jim is not.Furthermore, Jim fails entirely to adhere to Captain Giles’ definition of maturity. At no time does he “stand up to his bad luck, to his mistakes, to his conscience-” (The Shadow-Line, 132). Yes, he stands trial and is condemned by the magistrate, but after that point, Jim makes a habit of constantly running away from his past. “When the fact broke through the incognito he would leave suddenly the seaport where he happened to be at the time and go to another ‘generally farther east,'” (Lord Jim, 8). He continues to run from his past until he cannot even bear the civilized world any longer and begins his time on the island of Patusan where he comes to be known as Tuan Jim. It is here, in his isolation, where Jim is allowed some time for self-reflection, albeit not through the sea. And here, on the island, Jim regains some degree of dignity. However, his death, though ostensibly honorable, is merely another instance of his record of self-serving actions. Ignoring the pleas of his wife, Jim leads himself to execution, “tearing himself from the arms of a jealous love at the sign, at the call of his exalted egoism. He goes away from a living woman to celebrate his pitiless wedding with a shadowy ideal of conduct,” (Lord Jim, 246). The reader ought not be mistaken; this ‘shadowy ideal of conduct’ refers not to the code of the seaman but rather Jim’s blurred realization of it.The ideal code of conduct, which, to Conrad, is perfectly clear, holds that a seaman should espouse the virtues of hard work, patience, and equanimity. Moreover, this grand tradition demands that its disciples accept responsibility for their actions and stand up to their shortcomings without making excuses. In Jim and the narrator of The Shadow-Line we see two similar personalities who react differently to adverse scenarios. The narrator, through the glass of the sea, is able to reflect upon himself and his condition and, through such reflection and subsequent action, earns his place alongside the esteemed seamen who have gone before him. Jim, on the contrary, does not avail of his chance at self-reflection. His last chance to be a hero is also his last chance to prove himself worthy of the fellowship of the sea and on both fronts he falls short.It seems evident in the examination of these two works, that real seaman are made and not born. The captain of The Shadow-Line begins his command as a nave but self-assured young man. It is as a result of the tribulations he faces at sea and the necessity for self-reflection found there that the captain crosses his shadow-line. Neither was Jim born a seaman by any means. The difference between him and the young captain lies in Jim’s inability to engage in self-reflection during his dilemma at sea. The example of Captain MacWhirr, of Typhoon, does well to illustrate this assertion as well. MacWhirr is the consummate seaman, stoic in his carriage and heroic in his courage. By no means an egoist, his concern lies solely with getting his vessel from one port to another with the greatest possible expedition and care. It would seem that MacWhirr, of all people, was born a seaman. However, even he is not complete. His lack of experience with severe weather prompts him to ignore the directions of a nautical book and take a fierce hurricane head on. This is a grave error, and one that MacWhirr pays for in injury, fatigue, and damage to the ship and its cargo. MacWhirr is proof, then, that the process of self-reflection and improvement is not a finite one. The sea portrayed in Typhoon is a sort of howling mirror, constantly reminding MacWhirr of his mistake and forcing him to reconcile with himself and his trade. This he does, in his act of supreme fairness at the story’s end. Conrad uses MacWhirr to show the reader that there is no one lesson to be learned from the sea but that with every voyage a seaman must be open to the reflection offered by that maritime mirror, the sea.
Suicide By Romanticism
Despite the popular conception that Joseph Conrad’s novel, Lord Jim, is merely a fanciful tale about sea-faring adventurers, this carefully crafted novel reaches far beyond its oceanic setting. Conrad’s tale is a bittersweet portrayal of the romantic idealist, which dives into the complex and oftentimes mysterious nature of the human psyche. Lord Jim tells the story of Jim, a youthful sailor who irreparably dishonors himself by abandoning his sinking ship during a crisis at sea, leaving hundreds of innocent pilgrims vulnerable to death. His cowardly act strips him of his dignity in society and he is forced to seek refuge and isolation in the tropics to avoid the anguish of his crime. Jim is given the opportunity to regain his respect when he becomes the leader and protector of a remote territory named Patusan. The novel is deeply concerned with the psychological issues surrounding Jim’s abandonment and how they affect his subsequent actions. The story is narrated in third-person by a spectator named Marlow, whose account of Jim’s story presents a certain degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. Because the story is not told through the eyes of the protagonist himself, there is much room for manipulation and speculation on behalf of the distant observer and narrator, Marlow. The ambiguous nature of the novel has prompted many critics to formulate their own interpretations of Conrad’s original objectives.Each of the critics explores his own unique aspect of the novel, examining virtually all angles of interpersonal relationships between characters, as well as the more profound issues of the human experience. The majority of critics sustain that the novel’s true drama lies within Conrad’s recurring question, “how to live?” How does one behave in the dark when alone with oneself, without guidance and without direction? While some believe that to navigate through life as an idealized romantic is suicide (Fraser, Glassman 38, Kilvert 140), others feel that the romantic, imaginative spirit is a necessary ingredient in living a rich and meaningful life (Tanner 113). There is also a dominant belief that there exists a monumental separation between the inner world, in which the principal characters live, and the outer world, which holds the rest of humanity (Tanner 110, Fraser 116, Glassman 36). Most importantly, however, is the position that principal characters, Marlow and Jim, are unable to fulfill the requirements of their imaginations (Kilvert 139, Rollyson 712, Glassman 34).In retrospect, the essence of the novel is ultimately describable in terms of man’s ability to live up to his ideal conceptions of himself. Conrad is making the statement that although it is easy to concoct heroic images and aspirations for oneself, it is far more difficult to live up to these seemingly unrealistic goals. Conrad puts much emphasis on Jim’s youthfulness, suggesting that in youth, it is easy to imagine a prospective future that fulfills all of one’s dreams and aspirations. For many individuals, romanticism gradually turns to pragmatism with maturity and the individual abandons his need to fantasize about imaginary achievements. The novel suggests that romanticism, although necessary for an enchanted life, interferes with mankind’s ability to behave rationally, as evidenced by the character of Jim. Jim was tragically flawed in that he was unable to live up to his romanticized conception of himself. He was tried and tested by the opposing forces of both nature and mankind, but in times of extreme danger, his ideals disintegrate and he is reduced to a state of paralyzed cowardice. Conrad’s perception of the idealist is certainly pessimistic and reveals a distinct degree of existentialism. Jim’s idealistic conquest is one in which he is perpetually “penetrating deeper into the impossible world of romantic achievements” yet he is “overwhelm[ed] by a sense of helplessness” (Conrad 62-63).Critic Peter Glassman sustains that principle characters, Marlow and Jim are unable to meet the requirements of their imaginations. Resisting the limitations of the human condition is a mistake. The sensible man, he says, should be able to submit to the inevitability of dissatisfaction and commit his energy to simple survival rather than dwelling on imagination and romanticism. He believes that the main question in the novel is “how to live”. Glassman responds to Conrad’s prevailing question by saying that in order to live, man must organize himself to oppose the forces, which threaten human peace, solidarity, and dignity. Glassman’s interpretation is understandably valid because Jim’s tragic flaw was that he was never able to succumb to the limitations of mankind. He could never let go of his crushing guilt and refused to comprehend that humans are fallible. His eventual death is evidence of the fact that his condition prevented him from being able to “simply survive”.Jim’s hopeless romantic spirit is captured within the very first pages of the novel,”He loved [his] dreams and the success of his imaginary achievements. They were the best parts of his life, its secret truth, its hidden reality. They had a gorgeous virility, the charm of vagueness, they passed before him with a heroic tread; they carried his soul away with them and made it drunk with the divine philtre of an unbounded confidence in itself. There was nothing he could not face” (Conrad; 14).This passage reveals the magnitude of Jim’s vast imagination and the extent to which he allows his imagination to triumph over his reason. Jim is a victim of illusion, consumed by his fantasies, and living his life dreaming of things he can never be. He is conditioned by society’s shadowy ideal of conduct and derives his romantic imagery from his reading of popular literature, which illuminates archetypal heroes who are both valiant and stalwart. Jim believes that he embodies these naturally heroic qualities but fails to understand that he must transcend the workings of his inner mind and express himself actively with integrity and fearlessness in order to be truly heroic. Unfortunately Jim engages in a battle with the cruelly unromantic outside world that refuses to sympathize with the naïve dreamer. Jim’s inability to actively challenge the oppressive outside world, causes him to withdraw inwardly and forces him to cultivate his outlandish aspirations within the confines of his own mind, behind a sort of iron curtain.Jim thrives on his isolation, detaching himself from the dangerous outside world and living safely within his imagination. “Though it is a violent and adventurous world… it is an interior world… the real drama is what happens inside [Jim]” (Fraser 116). This separation between the interior and exterior worlds, is what makes it impossible for him to actively express himself. Inside, his mind is swimming with images of heroic, ship-bound conquests; in his mind, he truly believes that he is living a fantastic and adventurous existence.”He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line; or as lonely as a castaway, barefooted and half naked, walking on uncovered reefs in search of shellfish to stave off starvation” (Conrad 3).His predicament is that despite all of his fantastic aspirations, Jim is never quite able to escape the confines of his own mind. When given the opportunity to tackle his greatest feats, he slips into a dream-like state, plagued by fear and entirely helpless. In the midst of crisis when the Panta was sinking,”His confounded imagination had evoked for him all the horrors of panic, the trampling rush, the pitiful screams, boats swamped…he wanted to die without the added terrors, quietly, in a sort of peaceful trance…” (Conrad; 66).Jim’s cowardice does not spring from his fear of death but rather from his fear of emergency. His visions of trauma leave him with an extreme weariness of emotion and desire for peace. He, like so many of us, lacks the willpower to “fight a losing battle to the last” (Conrad 66) and his very desire to continue living ceases.Jim’s battle between moral idealism and amoral pragmatism illustrates the “qualitative extremes of humanity: man as butterfly, man as beetle” (Tanner 108). Critic Tony Tanner presents a new insight on the role of symbols in the novel. He suggests that there is a possible correlation between Jim and the image of the butterfly, “a creature of beauty, a creature with wings, which can carry it above the mere dead level of the earth which beetles rudely hug” (Tanner 109). The metaphorical significance of Jim as a butterfly translates to his being a “creature of light threatened by the forces of darkness; he is the creature of purity who stands above the dirty crowd” (Tanner 109). Throughout the novel, Jim is portrayed with a mystical quality that makes him superior to the rest of humanity. He is often pictured on elevated ground, while “dark faces stare up at him from below” (Tanner 109). Tanner interprets the beetles as being comparative to the dark side of humanity, “ugly-earthbound creatures, devoid of dignity and aspiration, intent merely on self-preservation at all costs: but gifted with a hard shell, which serves them well in their intent to live” (Tanner 110). Jim’s continual flight, Tanner suggests, is an attempt to escape the beetles of mankind, and Jim’s drama springs from the beetles who are continually crossing his path.The analogy linking Jim to a creature of fragility, beauty, and light, gives a new depth to his character. Even though Jim abandoned his sinking ship along with the rest of the crew, his motives were undeniably different than those of his shipmates. Critic Peter Glassman goes so far as to say that “behavior does not dictate moral identity” (Glassman 40), implying that people tend to act impulsively without questioning whether their actions are morally right or wrong. Jim is set apart from the rest of his crew because his imagination conquered the power of his rational consciousness during the emergency and there was “not the thickness of a sheet of paper between the right and wrong of this affair” (Conrad 98). His shipmates, or the “beetles of humanity” were devoid of dignity and were merely concerned with their own self-preservation, morality was of no importance.The sequence of events described on the ship is intentionally vague and misleading. The moment that Jim jumps off of the ship is neglected in Jim’s recount of the episode, suggesting that his abandonment subconsciously occurred while he was submerged in his dream-like trance. The omission of crucial moments of decision making in the narrative, highlights the uncertain nature of the motive. Conrad puts much effort into illustrating the climactic events that lead up to the suspenseful crisis but purposefully avoids the explanations to describe the actual pinnacle of the event. Words are so definite and conclusive that for Conrad to thoroughly describe the event would mean eliminating any imaginative interpretation on behalf of the reader. Conrad strives to remain obscure in his portrayal of Jim and his inexplicable actions, rather allowing Marlow to struggle to decipher the meaning of Jim’s mysterious actions.Jim’s mysterious actions and behavior in times of intense pressure gives light to Conrad’s unique insight into the human subconscious. Conrad’s portrayal of Jim is indicative of human nature. When mankind is faced with a life-threatening situation, it becomes an issue of morality verses the instinct to survive. What separates the strong from the weak, is the ability to overcome fear and react morally and rationally in times of distress as well as the ability to fight until the battle is over. Conrad is interested in exploring the repercussions of “abandoning a sinner to his own devices” (Conrad; 73), and challenging mankind to navigate in the dark, when there is no light to guide the way. Under the circumstances Jim demonstrates a lack of resolution and courage that renders him weak and incapable of living up to his idealistic, heroic conceptions of himself. For the rest of the novel, he struggles to recover his lost respect that and recreate his tainted image. While some critics believe that his efforts to make heroic tales come to life are ultimately successful, Jim is never truly able to escape the repercussions of his failure. His eventual suicide is a ridiculous effort to satisfy his romantic ideals.There is no single instance in the novel, in which Jim is truly aware of his inadequacy, or his inability to fulfill his imaginary achievements. Contrary to some beliefs that Jim’s story is one of self-loathing and reconciliation, Jim never actually loses his self-respect, nor is he convinced that his abandonment was immoral. Jim is undeniably convinced of his own self-worth, never losing sight of his preconceived, heroic self-image. Jim’s anguish springs not from his true need for self-reconciliation, but for his need to be rid of his tainted image and public disgrace.Jim’s greatest attempt to redeem himself is in his conquest of the indigenous island of Patusan where “his physical isolation is complete” (Rollyson 711). He is the only white man for hundreds of miles and the knowledge that his dark secret is safely behind him, Rollyson believes, enables him to concentrate his efforts on bringing order and security to the troubled land of Patusan. Contrary to Rollyson’s speculation, Jim is very aware of his dark secret and during his rule, he never loses sight of the reason he initially came to Patusan. Jim has not yet abandoned his need to live up to his romantic conceptions of himself, and he relentlessly strives to establish his superiority. On Patusan, Jim is initially able to regain his self-esteem and actualize his romantic fantasies for a time. However, at the slightest sign of distress, “Jim’s idyllic but precarious world comes crashing down” (Rollyson 712). Jim’s brief days of glory and success instilled within him, an exalted egoism that proved fatal when his past was uncovered.”Conrad’s heroes are not the archetypal hero, his heroes are united by a sense of common isolation and loneliness” (Fraser 116). According to Fraser’s translation of Conrad’s heroes, Jim’s confidant, Marlow, is equally as heroic as Jim is. Marlow is yet another portrayal of a man who, like Jim, failed to live up to his idealistic expectations of himself. While the novel does not focus centrally on Marlow’s life story, the reader becomes aware of the significance of Marlow’s entanglement with Jim. Marlow subtly evaluates Jim’s character, the code of honor that rejects him, that drives him to desperate lengths and makes it impossible for him to regain his honor. “Though Jim’s story is an interior one, we are never at any moment inside’ him… we see him through the eyes of his skeptical protector, Marlow” (Fraser 116).Although Marlow does not initially view Jim as being a noble man, he begins to develop a fascination with Jim’s struggle to express himself actively. Fraser believes that Marlow’s intent is not to free Jim of his self-deception or change his character, but rather to “steer” him in the right direction, shape him anew, and help him to be wholly redeemed. Fraser may be justified in his thinking, however, the more significant explanation for Marlow’s involvement with Jim comes from Marlow’s recognition that he is like Jim.Marlow “recognizes in [Jim] aspects of [his] own nature” (Kilvert 140). Throughout his account of Jim’s story, Marlow continually makes references to how Jim is “one of us”, revealing his belief that Jim reflects the nature of mankind. Furthermore, according to Critic Glassman, Marlow is able to recognize his own follies through Jim. As marlow becomes closer to Jim, he manages to look at himself more closely. He understands that because he has risked nothing and understood nothing in his lifetime, he achieved nothing. Ultimately, Marlow discovers that he has cheated himself out of his life experience and he uses Jim as an instrument of recovery. Marlow believes that if he can physically attach himself to Jim, he can seize Jim’s admirable qualities and make them his own. By organizing, interpreting, and recording Jim’s experience, he can associate himself with it. Marlow searches for meaning in Jim’s actions and finds significance, believing that he was a part of Jim’s victory in Patusan. It is in his association with Jim that Marlow becomes aware of his own meaning. Jim brings to life Marlow’s own dreams of illusory romanticism that were perhaps lost in his youth, and it is for that reason that Marlow takes it upon himself to provide the perfect habitat for Jim to succeed; Patusan.Patusan, it seemed, was an enchanted paradise that gave Jim every opportunity to make up for his shady past. Jim’s initial successes were indeed honorable, however, his true test comes when his dark secret is unveiled and Jim is forced to make a decision between the welfare of Patusan or the protection of his reputation. Jim compromises the safety and well being of Patusan in order to protect his image, in another desperate attempt to live up to his romantic conception of himself. Jim allowed Patusan to be threatened and recognized his failure. He accepts his responsibility and allows himself to be killed by the chief of Patusan to compensate for his neglect. Jim’s death can be viewed from many different angles. While some critics believe that in his death, Jim is finally able to live up to his platonic ideals and his spirit was finally able to transcend the ruins of his existence, (Tanner 113; Glassman 49) the reality is actually quite different. Jim’s death is an abrupt end to his romantic conquest. It is the final climax when reality violently collides with romance. “Is this a noble act reversing his jump from the Panta? Or is his martyrdom a ridiculous gesture of satisfying his romantic ideals?” (Kilvert 140). Kilvert suggests that there is no concrete right or wrong answer, though it logically seems that Jim’s conquest for heroism never ceased, and his death was just a last attempt to prove his valiancy.Jim’s lifelong struggle is captured in Conrad’s metaphor that ties all of the fragmented pieces of Jim’s story together. He says,”A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavor to do, he drowns… the way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep, sea keep you up” (Conrad 161).Conrad is making the statement that romantics who try to escape the destructive qualities of life will drown. In order to conquer the oppressive forces you must adapt to the circumstances and learn to live in them. The practical world in which Jim lives is comparatively the destructive element in society. Since Jim refuses to submit to the practical world and face his reality, he will inevitably drown. Lord Jim is primarily developed around these abstractions. Jim is habitually fighting against an invincible force and it is for that reason that he will always be defeated. He will never be able to reach the “surface”, meaning that his dreams will never become reality. Jim is far too concerned with reaching the surface than attempting to survive in the present. Unless he is able to submit to reality, in the contest for survival, Jim will always lose.
Ecofeminist approach to lord Jim
Beholding the flowers swaying with the breeze like a ballet dancer swinging her lithe body, watching the rain watering a dry land like a mother suckling her thirsty infant capture one of the interminable reasons for the immortal bond between femininity and nature. Earth is the mother of nature; from its womb, plants and animals come forth. Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet sheds light on the maternity of the earth:
The earth, that’s nature’s mother, is her tomb.
What is her burying, grave that is her womb.
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find Many for many virtues excellent. (2.3.9-13)
The feminine voices of the earth are created in harmony with their masculine ones ,with neither the roar of the thunder nor the calmness of the lightning can outstrip one another, yet under the sky of capitalist patriarchy, the feminine voices are voiceless, silent, mute either those of women or nature. The white European man has placed himself at the top of the Chain of Being (directly after God), giving himself the right to exploit all other creatures. He is the master of the earth; in his possession lay the earth and all beings thereon. Thus, it is the same mindset that persecutes women corrupts the environment; that is, both of women and nature serve as a means to a profitable end. The construction of the European man’s culture has detached itself from nature, imagining that the more closely associated with nature the more primitive and inferior other peoples and creatures are. Susan Griffin states in her book, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her,
He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger. He sets himself apart from woman and nature. ( 29)
Man’s perception of Nature, in the annals of Western humanism, has been diverse, complex, and overall, disparaging. In the cultural province of the European man, Nature has been devoiced as a comatose “other,” suppressed as a defenseless woman, and confronted as a bestial adversary. Separation from nature is primarily built on Cartesian dualism, which has controlled Western society’s way of thinking for centuries. Cartesian dualism is based on René Descartes’s theory of the division between mind and matter. Ever since Descartes introduced his mechanistic worldview, humans in Western society have regarded their minds as superior to their bodies and have therefore equated their identities more closely with their minds. The more humans identified themselves with their rational thinking, the further they estranged themselves from their bodies and their environment:
the way in which women and nature have been conceptualized historically in the Western intellectual tradition has resulted in devaluing whatever is associated with women, emotion, animals, nature, and the body, while simultaneously elevating in value those things associated with men, reason, humans, culture, and the mind. One task of ecofeminists has been to expose these dualisms and the ways in which feminizing nature and naturalizing or animalizing women has served as justification for the domination of women, animals, and the earth. (Gaard 5)
The lens through which human relationships to one another and to the earth are examined gives rise to one of the predominant contemporary critical theories: ecofeminism. Ecofeminism gives voice not only to women and nature but to all kinds of marginalized, oppressed, voiceless beings suffering under the umbrella of the logocentric thought:
Ecofeminism’s basic premise is that the ideology which authorizes oppressions such as those based on race, class, gender, sexuality, physical abilities, and species is the same ideology which sanctions the oppression of nature. Ecofeminism calls for an end to all oppressions, arguing that no attempt to liberate women (or any other oppressed group) will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature.( Gaard 1)
An ecofeminist approach to Joseph Conrad’s lord Jim accentuates the interrelation between nature and femininity and presents a new perspective in deconstructing the binary oppositional orthodoxy.
Conrad portrays the intangible affiliation created between femininity and nature, an affinity which one can see in the horizon of the sea at sun set when the sky’s jewel melts into the sea, when the sun’s gold dissolves into twilight, forming a splendor scene all in which components are welded together without a bond. The main female character in the novel is wreathed in natural images. Jewel is introduced to the reader as a bird coming out of its nest, “ . . . like a bird out of the recess of a nest” (Conrad 278). It seems that there are special traits connecting jewel with a bird; her tenderness, beauty, affection, existence inundate Jim, like a tide rushing to hug its shore, like a bird folding him in its wings. Marlow frequently alludes to her unfolding arms, “her tenderness hovered over him like a flutter of wings” ( 283), and in another quotation, he says: “She made me believe her, but there is no word that on my lips could render the effect . . . of the soft passionate tones . . . and the appealing movement of the white arms extended swiftly two wide sleeves uprose in the dark like unfolding wings” ( 308). Further, the starlight with its faintness and remoteness is in the background, looming jewel’s frailty and loneliness:
She fell at his feet–she told me so–there by the river, in the discreet light of stars which showed nothing except great masses of silent shadows, indefinite open spaces, and trembling faintly upon the broad stream made it appear as wide as the sea. He had lifted her up. He lifted her up, and then she would struggle no more. Of course not. Strong arms, a tender voice, a stalwart shoulder to rest her poor lonely little head upon. The need–the infinite need–of all this for the aching heart, for the bewildered mind . . . The starlight was good enough for that story, a light so faint and remote that it cannot resolve shadows into shapes, and show the other shore of a stream .(312)
Nature and femininity are in dialogue with one another, creating a symphony of homogenous tones. The benign maternity emerges explicitly here, “Jim on the bridge was penetrated by the great certitude of unbounded safety and peace that could be read on the silent aspect of nature like the certitude of fostering love upon the placid tenderness of a mother’s face” ( 17).
One of the most important issues consuming ecofeminists is the dualistic thought concerning not only gender binary but also all forms of binary oppositions some of which find their anchor hardly shaken in the novel. Conrad has a different approach in deconstructing the dualistic conception. He accuses in a sense some of the oppressed groups of thinking in dualism. They mistrust themselves, waiting for the European man to come and rescue them ,“ . . . like an eastern bride waiting to be uncovered by the hand of the master” ( 244). Supposing that the European colonizer thinks of himself as the centre of the universe, some of the marginalised societies contribute to their own marginalization and degradation by being passive. Dain Waris is revered by his people for having European traits which they think as superior to theirs. The unconscious of Patusan’s people is systemized to admire the European character, “Of Dain Waris, his own people said with pride that he knew how to fight like a white man. This was true; he had that sort of courage–the courage in the open, I may say–but he had also a European mind” ( 261,262). This proves how far the malayas depreciate themselves. They consider themselves as inferior beings with less worth and less dignity. Doramin’s scene where he is sitting passively in his chair, and Jim is down there taking up the responsibility of defeating sheriff Aly on his own manifests that yielding soul which reinforces the tiered dualistic mindset:
Doramin, waiting immovably in his chair on the hillside, with the smoke of the guns spreading slowly above his big head, received the news with a deep grunt. When informed that his son was safe and leading the pursuit, he, without another sound, made a mighty effort to rise; his attendants hurried to his help, and, held up reverently, he shuffled with great dignity into a bit of shade, where he laid himself down to sleep, covered entirely with a piece of white sheeting. ( 271)
The white sheeting here affectively symbolizes the vulnerability of the oppressed who is awaiting for his white lord’s protection, like a sheet protecting his body from coldness. . Ironically, despite the malayas’ fear of the European man’s colonization, simultaneously, they want him to rescue them from their own retrograde life:
Now and again “some fussy ass” deputed from the council-room would come out running to him, and in honeyed tones would administer amazing interrogatories: “Were the Dutch coming to take the country? Would the white man like to go back down the river? What was the object of coming to such a miserable country? The Rajah wanted to know whether the white man could repair a watch?” They did actually bring out to him a nickel clock of New England make, and out of sheer unbearable boredom he busied himself in trying to get the alarum to work. ( 252)
Marlow throws light on the misery of some persecuted groups suffering from dualistic ideologies, and in this sense, he attempts to voice the voiceless. Marlow dives deep into an uncharted sea to see their unseen oppression and hear their unheard screams. Patusan suffers from the binary oppositional strategy of Sheriff Ali and the tyrannical capitalism of the Rajah, afflicting nature let alone the people. Patusan is presented as a tortured land socially and naturally:
The stream of civilisation, as if divided on a headland a hundred miles north of Patusan, branches east and south-east, leaving its plains and valleys, its old trees and its old mankind, neglected and isolated, such as an insignificant and crumbling islet between the two branches of a mighty, devouring stream. You find the name of the country pretty often in collections of old voyages. ( 226)
Nature in patusan is gloomy, echoing the political and social chaos taking place:
The coast of Patusan . . . is straight and sombre, and faces a misty ocean. Red trails are seen like cataracts of rust streaming under the dark-green foliage of bushes and creepers clothing the low cliffs. Swampy plains open out at the mouth of rivers, with a view of jagged blue peaks beyond the vast forests. In the offing a chain of islands, dark, crumbling shapes, stand out in the everlasting sunlit haze like the remnants of a wall breached by the sea. ( 242)
Regarding the people in Patusan, they are apparently powerless, helpless and feeble. They are victim of a capitalist system imposed by the Rajah who seizes all of the fortunes in his possession. Accordingly, nature becomes a prey for that devastating shark. It becomes a vehicle for his predatory ends:
Villages were burnt, men were dragged into the Rajah’s stockade to be killed or tortured for the crime of trading with anybody else but himself. . . . Rajah Allang pretended to be the only trader in his country, and the penalty for the breach of the monopoly was death; but his idea of trading was indistinguishable from the commonest forms of robbery. ( 257)
Scholars like doctor Vandava Shiva and Karen Warren highlight one of the key factors contributing largely to the dualistic thought. They view capitalism as a dominant factor reinforcing the dualistic mindset in the sense that capitalism is based on hierarchal construction favouring some groups over the others (Plumwood 68). The world for the malayas, “ has been given into the hand of the high-born” ( 228). In addition, critics such as Raymond Williams, Joe Weston, and Martin Rylethe locate the root of social and ecological problems in capitalist societies where the fortune is monopolized in the hands of the ruling group ( Birckeland 269) . That is, a group of people is given access to and control over resources not given to the others. As a vast sea burying the pearls in its guts, while leaving the empty shells on its shore for passengers, as a ravenous whale swallowing all coming in its way, while leaving the leftovers for the tiny creatures, the rajah holds the island’s natural resources in his hand. \
Conrad spots light on some non-European groups which adopt this binary oppositional outlook and logocentric ideology ,“ The logocentric thought places, at the center of its understanding of the world, a concept that organizes and explains the world for people while remaining outside the world it organizes and explains” ( Tyson 84). Sheriff Ali and his people perceive themselves as the centre of the universe. The description of his place above one of the two twin hills is very significant:
He hung over the town of Patusan like a hawk over a poultry-yard, but he devastated the open country. Whole villages, deserted, rotted on their blackened posts over the banks of clear streams, dropping piecemeal into the water the grass of their walls, the leaves of their roofs, with a curious effect of natural decay as if they had been a form of vegetation stricken by a blight at its very root. ( 257)
Perceiving themselves as a superior race legitimizes subjugating people and nature under their thumb. Nature and people in Patusan pay the price for oppositional valued dualisms. Sheriff Ali’s people think of themselves as the deputies of God who are responsible for purging and salving the world from infidels. They are the sons of God; therefore, they are above people and criticism. They have the right to exploit and capitalize on debilitated women and powerless people. Acting as Patusan’s Poseiden, they rush the land with floods :
Sherif Ali’s last raid had swept the outskirts of the settlement, and some women belonging to the town had been carried off to the stockade. Sherif Ali’s emissaries had been seen in the market-place the day before . . . One of them stood forward in the shade of a tree, and, leaning on the long barrel of a rifle, exhorted the people to prayer and repentance, advising them to kill all the strangers in their midst, some of whom, he said, were infidels and others even worse–children of Satan in the guise of Moslems. It was reported that several of the Rajah’s people amongst the listeners had loudly expressed their approbation. The terror amongst the common people was intense. ( 295)
In this respect, Conrad spots light on other forms of dualisms which represent one of the prior enemies to ecofeminism.
Ecofeminism is a theory encompassing all beings subduing to an oppressive, unfair system. Humans are part of nature; we are from nature, and to nature we will return. Thus, women and nature are connected. They have mutual characters. Conrad depicts female and nature as ebb and flow. Further, Conrad displays victims to binary oppositional thinking and attempts to show different forms of logocentric thought.
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