Lord Jim: Essay Q&A

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1. Describe the events on the Patna, including the decision to leave it, and explain the effects these have had on Jim.
On the night he and the other white crewmen jumped into a lifeboat believing the ship was about to sink, they believed they had collided with an unknown object. They thought this collision had damaged the ship enough to make it sink and they chose to jump to safety and in so doing they left the 800 pilgrims to their own fate. It is not revealed until later in the novel (in Chapter Twelve) that nobody drowned and the ship was successfully towed to land.
As Jim recounts the events on the Patnaat the inquiry, and to Marlow alone in more detail, it becomes apparent that he regrets his decision to abandon the ship. He feels guilt and shame for what he sees as an act of cowardice, although he realizes he could not have saved the mass of people if it had eventually sunk. This regret continues to haunt him until his death and it is, therefore, of central significance to the plot. In addition, Jim also regards his jump into the lifeboat as a missed opportunity as this meant he had not acted on his dreams to be the hero of an adventure. Instead, he followed the others.
2. Consider how this novel interrogates the expectations raised by the imagination.
Through the characterization of Jim, and via Marlow’s control of the main narrative, the readers are warned of the dangers of the overactive, romantic imagination. Because Jim has hopes to be as heroic as the romanticized heroes he has enjoyed reading about, he confuses the ideal with realism and sets himself impossible standards to live by.
He punishes himself for not being the hero on board the Patna and, therefore, torments himself for not behaving as he imagined he would in a crisis. His failure to live up to his dreams means that he cannot settle if he knows somebody might recognize him from this debacle. The novel is, of course, deeply ironic about the dangers of the imagination taking precedence over pragmatism as this is also a romanticized adventure story that is similar to the novels that influenced Jim as a youngster.
3. Examine the way the narrative is structured and how this influences our understanding of the novel.
Lord Jim uses a highly complicated structure that depends on shifts in time and various narrative threads for support. Marlow is the main voice that holds the novel together, yet his digressions and prolepsis mean that straightforward linearity is eschewed. Jim’s tale is also delivered in a complex way: for the most part, Marlow tells a group of listeners about him, but often deviates to tell other stories too, and towards the end of the novel the ends are tied up by Marlow’s packet of letters.  
Because of the many instances that Marlow refers to other stories to embellish his tale of Jim, this also becomes a novel about storytelling as various stories overlap each other. Furthermore, Marlow reminds the readers that a character such as Brown may have been lying to him (and so highlights the unreliability of Brown and storytellers generally).
4. To what extent, if any, does this novel support racist colonial assumptions of white superiority?
This novel has its main focus on white seamen, who are employed to fulfil the imperialist dreams of their so-called mother countries. The imperialist hold over the East is seen to be maintained largely by advantageous trade links and white-dominated decision making here. To a certain extent, then, Lord Jim may be seen to describe the workings of imperialism in its manifestation as a controller of markets.
It leaves imperialist rule unquestioned because it only describes it and these descriptions are usually given from the ruling power’s perspective. It also gives little insight into characters that are indigenous to areas such as Patusan, for example. Tamb’ Itam is drawn as just a faithful loyal servant and is yet another minor supporting figure to demonstrate how Jim has become Tuan Jim.  
5. Analyze the scene concerned with Jim’s death and discuss its significance to the rest of the novel.
Jim’s death may be viewed as an act of martyrdom as he steps unarmed before Doramin, who is holding pistols. Jim believes he has no life and he cannot contemplate running away, as this presumably would be akin to jumping from the Patna.
Marlow describes his death as excessively romantic and this is ironically the fate Jim has been searching for as it fits with his earlier dreams of playing the hero. This is an ironic ending as Jim is given the fate he deserves. As the reader of adventure stories who empathized with the hero, he could die no other way in a novel that critiques the idealizing of the romance whilst simultaneously invoking it.

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