Okay I have read the rest of the book (Lord Jim), and the events are a little more clear now. First, I should say that Jim did not go to trial separate from the other crew. The German captain was also tried and found guilty. The consequences of their actions resulted in the loss of the licenses that allows them to be merchant marine officers. Therefore, Jim is not distinguished from the other crew members. The narrator, Charlie Marlow, concerns himself primarily with Jim's character because he wants to solve "the problem" of Jim's character and find out what makes him think the way he does. The question is important for Marlow because he frequently mentions how Jim was "one of us." Here is my best summation, and interpretation of what happens next:
Jim, devastated by the loss of his license, and the knowledge that he acted cowardly in the Patna incident, take various jobs working on behalf of shipping companies. However, he only works at these jobs until the point people discover his involvement in the Patna episode, upon which he leaves for another port to find another job. These series of exiles continue until, ironically, everyone seems to know about his past making it impossible to run away from it anymore.

At this point, Marlow intervenes and finds Jim a job with shipping company run by a mysterious man named Stein. Stein appoints Jim to a post on the Island of Patusan, an island inhabited by the previous company representative, a Portuguese man named Cornelius, and the native inhabitants--South Pacific Islanders who, thanks to an Arab foreigner, are apparently all Muslim. Jim distinguishes himself to such an extent that he becomes the virtual King of the Island. He, with the blessing of a particular chief, makes war on the other villages and succeeds in uniting the Island under his rule. As one of the only white men on the Island, Jim attains a mythic, almost God-like status among the villagers. And of course, Cornelius has a daughter that falls in love with Jim, so Jim takes her for his native wife. Jim names her Jewel.

Jim, living in this Island as a virtual King and God, seems to have escaped the humiliation of his past. Until, one day, when pirates show up and start killing people. The tribes turn to Jim for help, so Jim arranges for the pirates to leave without a fight through negotiation. But the pirates, jealous of Jim's power and stung at having been repulsed by mere villagers, seek revenge. Before they leave, the pirates attack a native outpost killing the chief's son. The chief, horrified and disconsolate, now knowing that Jim is not some kind of super-being, kills Jim as a kind of retribution. End of novel.
The implication throughout all of this is that Jim's basic problem is that he is a romantic. He persecutes himself over the Patna episode and exiles himself from Western Society. It is his sense of Romance that impels him to send the pirates away rather than kill them outright. And it is his sense of romance that leads him to face the chief at the end of the story, where he might know (I'm not sure) that he will be killed. Jewel accuses him of knowingly leaving her, and in a sense, he does.

The interesting connection here for me is the fact that the people he abandoned on the Patna and the people of Patusan are all Muslim. In the first instance, Jim left them to die what he assumed would be a certain death. In the second instance, he defends the Muslims against the whites and faces a death that he feels he should have faced on the Patna. This may be why Jim feels him must face the chief, rather than escape. It is romantic because he must think it courageous to face death, especially over an issue of honor: he must think it is honorable to account for his role in the chief's loss.

Of course, it should be remembered that throughout this novel are most of the 19th century prejudiced assumptions about race combined with their belief in the inherent superiority of white western peoples. For me, that Jim becomes a local god among the natives smacks of the insidious paternalism that is one of the disgusting features of racism; this kind of thinking goes along the lines of, "These people are such children. Obviously, they need my help." Of course, while the novel, or Marlow as the narrator, may suggest that Jim is helping the natives acheive success until the moment the chief's son is killed, what Jim is really doing is using the native for his own purposes. He is absolving himself of the guilt he feels. Like Ophelia says, he is no hero.

30 May 2004
Comments: Post a Comment