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Literature / Lord Jim

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"It is when we try to grapple with another man’s intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun. It is as if loneliness were a hard and absolute condition of existence; the envelope of flesh and blood on which our eyes are fixed melts before the outstretched hand, and there remains only the capricious, unconsolable and elusive spirit that no eye can follow, no hand can grasp."

Lord Jim is a 1900 novel written by Joseph Conrad. It is the story of an idealistic Englishman who believes that his cowardice while serving as an officer on the pilgrim ship Patna has ruined his life. He later finds his way to an obscure island outpost of Patusan, where he is able to rebuild his life and reclaim some honor. However, the ghosts of Jim's past come back to haunt him when the greedy adventurer Gentleman Brown arrives, and plots to steal from Jim's profitable little paradise...

The novel was adapted for the screen twice, once as a 1925 film directed by Victor Fleming and starring Percy Marmont, and again as a 1965 film directed by Richard Brooks and starring Peter O'Toole and James Mason.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Lord Jim.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The pirate "Gentleman Brown" is the son of a baronet.
  • The Atoner: What drives Jim during the second half of the novel. It's why he works to free the local Bugis community from their corrupt overlords and gains their respect hence the nickname Lord Jim. Unfortunately, that need to atone becomes a problem when Gentleman Brown shows up and sees how he can exploit Jim's one flaw...
  • The Chief's Daughter: Actually, Jim becomes friends with the Chief's son, while Jim gets paired with a regular mixed-blood local girl.
  • Dirty Coward: Cornelius. He's too weak and fearful to challenge Jim or his other enemies, so he tries to use Gentleman Brown to do his dirty work for him.
  • Downer Ending: Gentleman Brown pillages the Patusan villagers despite being allowed safe passage, killing Jim's friend (and son of the local tribal chief) Waris. Filled with guilt over the incident, Jim allows Chief Doramin to kill him. Perhaps worse than his death is the fact that Jim never truly found the sense of redemption that he sought.
  • Evil Counterpart: Gentleman Brown to Lord Jim.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Jim assumes that Gentleman Brown will behave honorably as a show of gratitude for being allowed safe passage. The completely amoral Brown just sees Jim's mercy as nothing more than weakness and naivete.
  • Honor Before Reason: Jim has a chance to flee in the aftermath of Gentleman Brown's raid, but refuses and goes back to the Bugis' community to answer for the death of his friend Dain Waris.
  • Ironic Name: Gentleman Brown. He's nothing of the kind.
  • Jumped at the Call: Viciously deconstructed. Jim is described as a young man looking for the opportunity to be a hero. The novel details how that desire destroys him both when he fails during the Patna disaster and when he succeeds on Patusan.
  • Mighty Whitey: Deconstructed.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: What happens to Jim when he finds out the Patna and its Muslim passengers survived the accident that made him and the crew jump ship. It's the same response he develops when he finds out the cost of dealing with Gentleman Brown, leading to Jim's tragic end.
  • Mysterious Past: Jim moves to the island of Patusan where his past can remain anonymous. It still haunts him to his death.
  • The Narrator: Marlow from Heart of Darkness shows up during Jim's trial over the Patna incident. He keeps tabs with Jim over the course of the story and is the one who helps him get his job on Patusan.
  • Noble Savage: Deconstructed as well.
  • Promoted to Scapegoat: What happens to Jim as the responsibility for the Patna fiasco gets dumped onto him by the ship's captain and higher-ranking officers. Made worse by the fact that he readily accepts the fault of others' as his own.
  • Survivor Guilt: INTENSELY played throughout the novel, even when it turns out that Jim really wasn't guilty of anything.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The novel starts off as a standard Third Person Narration, but switches to Marlow's narration POV when he shows up in Jim's life. It works in this novel because it keeps Jim as an cipher of a protagonist throughout the remainder of the story.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The incident of the SS Jeddah, and the scandal following it, provided Conrad the basis for this novel. The Other Wiki has more.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Sherif Ali is driven out of Patusan and never seen or heard from again after his defeat.
  • What You Are in the Dark
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Jim in the beginning. He's still an idealist at the end, but it means he's willing to go back and die for it.

The 1965 film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: The villain in Patusan goes from a mere bandit to a strutting Calvera Expy.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Sherif Ali in the novel is simply known as The General.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Gentleman Brown describes himself as "an expert in human weakness, depravity and avarice," besides being regarded as The Dreaded by everyone else.
  • Death by Adaptation: In Conrad's novel, Gentleman Brown finds a safe passage out of Patusan after robbing and murdering the natives, and tells his story to Marlow several years later. In the film, he's killed by a blast from a cannon during a shoot-out with Jim and the defending natives.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Cornelius is confused by Jim's desire to help the General's prisoners.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The General as played by Eli Wallach, whose performance is very reminiscent of Calvera.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: The General's right hand man has a blind left eye.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: This exchange:
    Cornelius: It's peaceful tonight.
    General: Too peaceful.
  • Machete Mayhem: Several people wield machetes during the fight, even Jim's love interest.
  • No Name Given: Jim's love interest is only credited as "The Girl". The General is not given a name either.
  • Scenery Porn: The Malaysian scenery is quite beautiful thanks to Freddie Young's photography.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: The local village girl fights along with the rest against the General.
    "If we can plow a field, we can pull a cannon."
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Jim trains the victims of the General to fight back against him.
  • Villainous Valour: Any other villain in a Hollywood movie would have tried to escape when they had the chance. Not the General. When the heroes launched their second attack, despite considering escaping beforehand, the General stayed and fought, eventually going out in a blaze of glory while wounded and trying to put out a fuse.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Gentleman Brown's men kill a young boy during the climax.
  • You No Take Candle: Varied: Some, such as the General and Jim's love interest, speak fluent English, while other people's grasp of English is sketchy.
  • You Have Failed Me: The General kills one of his henchmen for letting Jim escape.