Lord Jim Theme of Respect and Reputation
Lord Jim takes place in the late 19th century, and those Victorian Brits weren't exactly known for being chill and flexible. When Jim disobeys the social code that governs his group of "gentlemen" sailors, he has to be punished as a result. His most significant punishment comes in the form of a major blow to his reputation, which he attempts to avoid and then rebuild over the course of the novel. The problem is, when it comes to his reputation, Jim is his own worst enemy. By refusing to let the past go and move on, he practically forces people into judging him unfavorably, and his inability to get over his mistake ensures that his past will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Questions About Respect and Reputation
- In what ways does Jim repair his reputation after the trial? In what ways does he do more harm to it?
- Does Marlow ever seem to respect Jim for the tough choices he makes, such as standing trial? Or is his respect for Jim gone forever once he finds out what happened aboard the Patna?
- Jim completely flies off the handle when he thinks Marlow has called him a "cur," yet he explains that he's willing to be raked over the coals in the courtroom. Why do you think he is intolerant of the fact that Marlow might judge him but totally game for being judged by a bunch of strangers?
- What about Marlow's reputation? Do you think, based on his anonymous listeners, that Marlow is a respected individual in the sailing community? Does Marlow's reputation affect his role as a narrator?
Chew on This
In Lord Jim, having a good reputation is basically meaningless. Brierly, for example, shows that your inner emotions matter far more than what people think of you.
Jim is obsessed with regaining his good name, yet his obsession with the past causes him to damage his reputation even further.