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Lord Jim | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim | Quotes


He became chief mate of a fine ship, without ever having been tested by those events of the sea that show ... the inner worth of a man.

Narrator, Chapter 2

While in training to be an officer of the mercantile marine, Jim fails his first test of courage. He hesitates to act, missing his opportunity to live up to his noble, heroic self-image. No harm comes from it, and Jim rationalizes his actions, preserving his illusions. His early assignments as an officer present no similar challenges, allowing Jim to indulge his fantasies of greatness even further. This indulgence leaves him deluded and utterly unprepared for events aboard the Patna.


He was the kind of fellow you would, on the strength of his looks, leave in charge of the deck—figuratively and professionally speaking.

Marlow, Chapter 5

Marlow's first impression of Jim is based on outward appearances. Jim looks as if he comes "from the right place," that he is one "whose existence is based upon honest faith, and upon the instinct of courage." His youthful, "clean-limbed, clean-faced" appearance inspires trust. Marlow repeats this statement later, adding "but it wouldn't have been safe." He understands a weakness in Jim renders him unreliable despite his noble impulses and best intentions.


I don't pretend I understood him. The views he let me have of himself were like those glimpses through the shifting rents in a thick fog.

Marlow, Chapter 6

During the court hearing, Jim humbly withstands humiliation and accusations of cowardice for his misdeed as an officer. He does not fight back. However, he later makes clear to Marlow that, despite his guilt, this shaming will not be endured outside the courthouse. Marlow is confounded. It is as if the Jim who stands trial is mysteriously separate from the Jim who exists outside court.

Throughout their relationship, Jim's true nature remains similarly elusive to Marlow. He is with Jim from the court hearing through his retreat and triumph on Patusan. Still, Marlow's impression of Jim is never clear and hard-edged, but always shifting and often veiled. "I am fated," he says, "to never see him clearly." There are times when he can see him only through the eyes of others. There are also times when, in his memory, Jim barely seems to have existed at all.


He was there before me, believing that age and wisdom can find a remedy against the pain of truth.

Marlow, Chapter 11

Jim has been relating to Marlow the events in the lifeboat following his leap from the Patna. He desperately needs to "make a clean breast" of things and for Marlow—an elder man, experienced at sea—to believe and understand him. Marlow does. His heart goes out to Jim because he knows what it means to be drawn to a life at sea by grand dreams of adventure. He also knows "in no other kind of life is the illusion more wide of the reality," and that disenchantment is swift. Age and wisdom cannot alter the truth, and Marlow has nothing to offer Jim to ease the pain of his disillusionment.


I had jumped—hadn't I? ... That's what I had to live down. The story didn't matter.

Jim, Chapter 12

Jim explains to Marlow why he decided to go on living and to face the inquiry and its aftermath. To commit suicide would have solved nothing. The "proper thing was to face it out" and wait for another chance to prove himself.

In this statement, Jim reveals an obsession with his failure to live up to his romantic notions of heroism. It overshadows the actual consequences of his actions. Whether the Patna did or did not sink, or whether the passengers did or did not die, is eclipsed by the fact that, in a moment of fear, he betrayed a personal code of moral standards and shattered his self-illusions.


This affair ... had an extraordinary power of defying the shortness of memories. ... It seemed to live ... in the minds of men, on the tips of their tongues.

Marlow, Chapter 12

After more than three years, Marlow meets a French lieutenant in Sydney, Australia, who remembers the Patna incident well. He was one of two officers from a French gunboat sent aboard the abandoned ship to help guide her safely to the port of Aden. In relaying the lieutenant's contributions to the story, Marlow notes how persistently the Patna story remains fresh in people's memories. As Marlow's narrative reveals, these stories doggedly follow Jim from place to place. It seems the world will neither forget nor forgive Jim's failure.


Man is born a coward.

French lieutenant, Chapter 13

The French lieutenant is speaking to Marlow, telling what he knows of the Patna incident. Hearing Jim's side of the story, he says with some sympathy, "There is a point—for the best of us— ... when you let go everything. ... And you have got to live with that truth." He goes on to explain "man is born a coward," but this weakness is kept in check by habit, necessity, or "the example of others who are no better than yourself." Jim, he says, has none of these influences at the moment of his jump. Nevertheless, a man can live knowing his courage is weak. It is the loss of honor that may make Jim's life impossible.


He had loved too well to imagine himself a glorious racehorse, and now he was condemned to toil without honor like a costermonger's donkey.

Marlow, Chapter 13

More than three years have elapsed since Jim's court hearing, but the story of the Patna still follows him, driving him from port to port. His latest job is water clerk—or a clerk from a shipowner's office—for a firm in Samarang. On a business trip to the port, Marlow notes Jim's job lacks any hint of glamour or excitement. Though Jim does his job well, Marlow believes his "adventurous fancy" is "suffering all the pangs of starvation." Jim plods through each day like a street merchant's donkey, tormented by his dreams of something finer and more fitting of his heroic nature.


Strictly speaking, the question is not how to get cured, but how to live.

Marlow, Chapter 20

Marlow is restating Stein's remedy for Jim's troubles. Stein has correctly diagnosed the root of Jim's problems: he is a romantic whose self-image is so idealized it can never align with reality. Stein recognizes that danger for Jim lies in finding he cannot make his dreams come true. Salvation, however, does not come from ridding himself of his old illusions but in learning how to live with them. Stein believes Jim must immerse himself in this potentially "destructive element" and "follow the dream, and again follow the dream."


He left his earthly failings behind him ... and there was a totally new set of conditions for his imaginative faculty to work upon.

Marlow, Chapter 21

For three years, Marlow has witnessed Jim repeat a pattern of discovery-and-flight. He has found work for Jim only to have him flee before the looming shadow of his past. Marlow turns to Stein in desperation. Based on a keen assessment of Jim's nature, Stein sets Jim down in remote Patusan—a place fit for romantic adventure. Jim is far from the world that has judged him, cut off from reminders of his shame. On Patusan, he has the clean slate for which he has looked and a place to prove his worth and live out his noble dreams.


My heart was freed from that dull resentment which had existed side by side with interest in his fate.

Marlow, Chapter 23

Marlow is bidding Jim goodbye before Jim sails off for Patusan. Marlow's statement sums up his recurring ambivalence toward Jim. While wanting to help him, Marlow nevertheless is frequently angry that, by failing so badly, this fine but fallible young man has snuffed out the last flicker of his own (Marlow's) youthful illusions and robbed everyday life "of the last spark of its glamour." Initially glad Jim at last will be off his hands, Marlow unexpectedly finds watching him go difficult.


He was imprisoned within the very freedom of his power.

Marlow, Chapter 29

Marlow describes Jim's situation on Patusan. He is now "Tuan," or "Lord," Jim, and his word is law. He has brought peace and order to the island, found a wife, and settled into a new life. However, he is guarded and jealously loved by the people, especially his wife, Jewel. Her affection is vigilant, and she hovers around him "like a flutter of wings." Though Jim has been granted authority over Patusan, its people are determined to never let him slip back into the outside world from which he came. In this way, he is a prisoner in the paradise he has created.


You take a different view of your actions when you come to understand ... that your existence is necessary ... to another person.

Jim, Chapter 32

Jim describes to Marlow how his love of Jewel has changed his perceptions. He feels an obligation to her— a need to uphold her trust in him. He assures Marlow he is equal to the task.

This sense of obligation extends to the people of Patusan. Jim, however, will ultimately betray Jewel's trust and abandon the people, demonstrating his overriding devotion to his exalted ideals. With Dain Waris's death, Jim feels all is lost; his existence is no longer necessary. He can help no one, yet he remains committed to his romantic concept of himself and his moral code, which dictates the only path to redemption is meeting death with courage.


One wonders whether this was ... that last and satisfying test for which I had always suspected him to be waiting, before he could frame a message to the impeccable world.

Marlow, Chapter 36

Marlow refers to Jim's final sacrifice, forfeiting his life as penance for Dain Waris's death. In retreating to Patusan, Jim has the opportunity he has long desired to start over and achieve greatness to match his storybook heroes. His extraordinary success exceeds his boyish visions, but Jim continues to believe the outside world can neither forget nor forgive his conduct—choosing life over honor—during the Patna incident.

Therefore, the fresh confidence Jim gains in Patusan is fragile, and at heart, Jim feels certain that he still has not fully proven himself worthy of the world he has left. In presenting himself to Waris's grieving father to face certain death, Jim makes a clear and conscious choice of honor over life. It seems to be his way to send a message to the unforgiving world that he has passed a final test and is worthy at last.


I am come in sorrow. ... I am come ready and unarmed.

Jim, Chapter 45

Gentleman Brown has betrayed Jim's trust by slaughtering innocent villagers while leaving Patusan. Dain Waris is among the dead.

These are Jim's last words to Doramin before the chief of the Bugis and father of Dain Waris shoots him dead. In sharp contrast to his wordy attempts many years ago to explain his desertion of the ship Patna to Marlow, Jim refrains from any explanation for his actions during the current crisis. His statement is a brief and direct expression of his heart. As Jim falls mortally wounded, he puts "his hand over his lips" in a gesture to indicate there are no words for this moment. Its meaning rests in the quiet, unflinching courage of his final deed.

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