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ON CONRAD'S VIEW OF JIM
The crux of it all is that at the end we ask what precisely Conrad's intentions were- did he approve of Jim or did he not? And there is no answer to that question- none but the simple, all-sufficing one, that he strove "to make us see." We do see Jim as Conrad, a man of vision, saw him, and we are left with that spectacle to make what we can of it for ourselves.
Edward Crankshaw, Joseph Conrad: Some Aspects of the Art of the Novel, 1936
ON JIM'S DENIAL
In contrast with the captain of [Conrad's story] "The Secret Sharer," Jim repudiates the other-self that has been revealed to him; at no time does he consciously acknowledge that it was himself who jumped from the Patna- it was only his body that had jumped; and his career thenceforth is an attempt to prove before men that the gross fact of the jump belied his identity.
Dorothy Van Ghent, The English Novel: Form and Function, 1953
SYMPATHETIC IDENTIFICATION: MARLOW AND JIM, BRIERLY AND JIM, JIM AND BROWN
Dramatically as well as theoretically, Lord Jim is a story of sympathies, projections, empathies... and loyalties. The central relationship is that of Marlow and Jim. We can see why Jim needs Marlow, as an "ally, a helper, an accomplice." He cannot believe in himself unless he has found another to do so. And he needs a judge, witness, and advocate in the solitude of his battle with himself. All this is evident. But why does Marlow go so far out of his way, very far really, to help Jim? He speaks of the fellowship of the craft, of being his very young brother's keeper, of loyalty to "one of us," of mere curiosity, of a moral need to explore and test a standard of conduct. And we may say with much truth that this is a novel of a moving and enduring friendship between an older and a younger man. But Marlow... acknowledges a more intimate or more selfish alliance. He is loyal to Jim as one must be to another or potential self, to the criminally weak self that may still exist....
Marlow is not fatally paralyzed or immobilized by this young "double." But Big Brierly is.... Marlow sees, in retrospect, that "at bottom Poor Brierly must have been thinking of himself" when he wanted Jim to clear out. He had recognized in Jim an unsuspected potential self; he had looked into himself for the first time.... But the episode's chief function is to prepare us to understand (or at least accept) Jim's paralyzed identification with Gentleman Brown and suicidal refusal to fight him; and to prepare us, also, for the deliberateness of Jim's march up to Doramin.
Albert J. Guerard, Conrad the Novelist, 1958
ON TRUTH vs. FACTS
The horizons Jim dreamed of are unattainable, the heroic dreams he imagined to himself he cannot realize in action, life consecrated to an ideal of conduct cannot be lived, not only because of the ungovernable hostility of baser men but also because of the inexpugnable weaknesses in the ideal itself. But the feelings that lie at the root of all these aspirations and ideals- you cannot give the lie to those. Such would seem to be Marlow's point.
And it is because of the unflagging persistence of those feelings, their determination to operate at the highest attainable level, that both Marlow and Stein are inclined to speak of the "truth" of Jim's later life.
...The terrible unavoidable truth about Jim is that "he is not good enough"- the worst truth to Conrad is that "nobody, nobody is good enough." Jim cannot triumph over the ugly facts (a key word in the novel) though he spends his time trying to: he cannot "lay the ghost" of the ugly fact that he himself embodies and must carry with him wherever he goes.... But these facts are true- which is why truth is always referred to as "painful" or "sinister" in the later Conrad. Jim, despite the Platonic halo and the author's efforts to shore him up poetically, is not finally true. Or not true enough for the relentlessly penetrating eye of Conrad. The realists have no ideals- thus their lives are ugly. But the idealist has no grip on reality: he cannot live properly at all. Lord Jim is a prelude to profound pessimism.
Tony Tanner, "Butterflies and Beetles Conrad's Two Truths," 1963
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts