April 13, 2023

#08-300: Lord Jim

"Lord Jim" and Jewel in a publicity still from the 1925 film version (Wikimedia)

Note: Conrad's anti-hero Jim is, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, a European who gets tangled up in local affairs, with tragic results.

Get Ready: What benefits--and what difficulties--might be experienced by a person living in a culture other than the one he was born in--a "foreign" culture?

Joseph Conrad was born of Polish parents and moved to England in his teens. After spending two decades as a sailing man, working his way up to captain in the merchant marine, he retired and spent the next twenty years writing novels and short stories, many of them based on his sailing experience. The high quality of his prose is all the more surprising when we realize that he wrote exclusively in English, not his first language; in fact, he did not speak English fluently until his twenties.

Lord Jim is one of his twenty-plus novels, and reflects a number of his usual themes.

The title character is a young British sailor who first goes to sea in a steamer that is transporting 800 pilgrims to a port on the Red Sea.

When the ship is damaged and begins to sink, the captain and two crewmen think only of escape; Jim wants to save the passengers, but, assuming they are doomed, abandons ship and jumps in the lifeboat with the other three.

It was a mistake. The ship's passengers were rescued by a passing French vessel, and in time Jim and the others are to be tried before a magistrate. But the others escape again, and Jim stands trial alone. He loses his reputation, as well as his certificate to sail.

He takes various menial jobs and lives with friends of friends. At last his friend and benefactor Stein finds him a job in a village on a remote island, far away from the shame of his actions.

Upon arrival he drives off a marauding bandit, Sherif Ali, and becomes revered by the natives, who call him in Malay "Tuan Jim," or "Lord Jim." He also falls in love with Jewel, a woman of mixed ancestry, who loves him back but fears that he will abandon her one day, as her European father had left her native mother.

In another altercation, with a pirate captain named "Gentleman" Brown, Jim falls for a ruse and grants Brown mercy. Jewel's no-good stepfather, Cornelius--whose place Jim had taken when he was given the job--double-crosses Jim, allowing the pirate captain to kill a number of men before escaping, including Jim's friend (and the son of Jim's ally, Doramin) Dain Waris.

In front of Chief Doramin and the whole village, Jim takes responsibility for the young man's death. Doramin executes Jim by shooting him in the chest with pistols that had been a gift to him from Stein.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. altercation
  2. benefactor
  3. certificate
  4. double-crosses
  5. magistrate
  6. marauding
  7. menial
  8. revered
  9. ruse
  10. stepfather

  1. unskilled; low-level
  2. a fight
  3. honored; respected
  4. betraying someone you're supposed to be helping
  5. a supporter; a patron
  6. mother's second husband
  7. a license
  8. a judge
  9. going around attacking and stealing from towns
  10. a trick

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 13, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. e; 3. g; 4. d; 5. h; 6. i; 7. a; 8. c; 9. j; 10. f