by Joseph Conrad
Analysis: Writing Style
Elliptical, Meandering, Jumping... Yep, Jumping
45 Chapters on the Elliptical Machine
This novel is teeming with ellipses, you know – the good ol' dot-dot-dot? Characters are forever trailing off, lost in their thoughts, unable to express what they really want to say. Marlow is constantly leaving things out, hinting at things, and not explaining things very clearly. Jim is even more prone to pauses and omissions. Just look at the scene where he finally tells Marlow what went down on the Patna:
"She was going down, down, head first under me..."
"I had jumped..." He checked himself, averted his gaze... "It seems," he added. (9.24-6)
It's the Big Moment. The Big Reveal. But Jim can barely get the words out. Maybe they're too painful, or maybe the memory is too vague, too uncertain. Whatever the case, we are left with an incomplete picture because of those pesky dot-dot-dots. The same thing happens elsewhere in the novel, too. Can you spot any more occurrences?
Lord Jim's style asks a lot of us. Not only do we have to make educated guesses about the characters' thoughts, but we also have to navigate a jumbled, meandering narrative that jumps back and forth in time faster than you can fire up the flux capacitor.
Our intrepid narrator Marlow longwindedly wanders through different time periods, events and stories with a stamina that defies understanding. With the novel's long paragraphs (just look at paragraph 3.7) and endless sentences (check out 5.8), it takes a careful reader to keep track of where and when we are. Things are out of order, and we move from place to place without warnings or signposts. As readers, we can hardly be blamed for feeling a bit out of sorts.
But all this jumping around is there for a reason; it reinforces the novel's central conflict: Jim's fateful jump overboard off the Patna. Every time the narrative jumps to a different time and place, and every time the word jump is mentioned, we're reminded why we're here in the first place: because Jim jumped ship. Take a peek at a few moments in which the word occurs in Lord Jim:
The verdict must have been of unmitigated guilt, and [Brierly] took the secret of the evidence with him in that leap into the sea. (6.4)
"Jumped," he corrected me incisively. "Jumped – mind!" (11.14)
Strange, this fatality that would cast the complexion of a flight upon all his acts, of impulsive unreflecting desertion – of a jump into the unknown. (22.3)
"Jump!" he thundered. The three splashes made one splash, a shower flew up, black heads bobbed convulsively and disappeared [...] (33.2)
All right, all right. We get it. Jim jumped once, and now we readers will have to jump over and over and over again in order to understand just what prompted Jim's leap into the sea.