Study Guide

Lord Jim Foreignness and the Other

By Joseph Conrad

Foreignness and the Other

"There were only two other patients in the white men's ward: the purser of a gunboat, who had broken his leg [...] and a kind of railway contractor from a neighbouring province, afflicted by some mysterious tropical disease [...]." (2.5)

This casual mention of the "white men's ward" gives us a sense of the racial segregation in the empire, and the way it was taken as a matter of fact.

"They were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea. They loved short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white." (2.6)

This description of the "east" as somehow calm and easy, a sort of perpetual vacation-land, is a great example of "othering," where a white Englishman boils an entire part of the world down to a few convenient stereotypes. Jim will soon find out just how wrong these stereotypes are.

"Jim started, and his answer was full of defiance; but the odious and fleshy figure, as though seen for the first time in a revealing moment, fixed itself in his memory for ever as the incarnation of everything vile and base that lurks in the world we love [...]." (3.5)

The "other" described here isn't a racial other, but a socioeconomic one. This lower-class man, described in such unpleasant terms, seems to be a sort of nightmarish bogeyman in Jim's imagination.

"'The beggar clung to me like a drowning man,' he said impressively. [...] It flashed upon me it was enough to start a panic, and I hauled off with my free arm and slung the lamp in his face. The glass jingled, the light went out, but the blow made him let go, and I ran off [...]." (8.4)

This is one of the most violent episodes in the book. We get a strong sense of how Jim views this foreign "beggar" with contempt and even anger in his all-consuming panic, as if the beggar is not worth his time.

"To some further questions he jerked his spare shoulders, and declared it never came into his mind then that the white men were about to leave the ship through fear of death. He did not believe it now. There might have been secret reasons." (8.19)

This scene pretty much sums up the book's theme of foreigners and the "other." It's both fascinating and horrifying that this "native" man would refuse to believe that "white men" had behaved dishonorably. That gentlemanly propaganda that Brierly seems so invested in definitely appears to be working here. And the scene gives us a new angle on how much of a potential impact Jim's actions had. Jim seems to have practically jeopardized the entire empire, which depended on "white men" appearing superior to the "natives" they controlled.

"'These people were beginning to agitate themselves – Parbleu! A mob like that – don't you see?' he interjected with philosophic indulgence." (12.18)

The Frenchman spouts off one of the book's many casually racist references. Here he describes the native "mob" onboard the <em>Patna</em> as dangerous, reinforcing a stereotype of non-white people as emotionally volatile and uncivilized.

"'Anyhow, he can't be much good; but then you see I am on the look-out for somebody, and I've just got a thing that will suit him. I'll give him a job on my island!' He nodded significantly. 'I'm going to dump forty coolies there – if I've to steal 'em [...] Make him supreme boss over the coolies. Good idea isn't it?'" (14.7)

The Australian is probably the most overtly racist character in the book, and Marlow's discomfort with him on various levels is worth noting. "Coolie" was a derogatory term used to describe native individuals in British imperial holdings. Not cool, dude.

"'Sometimes it seems to me that man is come where he is not wanted, where there is no place for him; for if not, why should he want all the place? Why should he run about here and there making a great noise about himself, talking about the stars, disturbing the blades of grass? [...]" (20.7)

Stein gives a fascinating spiel about empire here, and seems to be questioning the whole shebang. He speaks about "man" in general, but he's clearly referring to white men tromping around the world setting up empires – the greedy men who "want all the place." In a book that often comes across as gung-ho for the empire, this passage stands out.

"'For a bag of pepper they would cut each other's throats without hesitation, and would forswear their souls, of which they were so careful otherwise [...]." (22.1)

We get yet another criticism of empire here from Marlow, who emphasizes its violent, greedy, and often futile nature. The way he tells it, the entire effort is all about the benjamins.

"His flowing English seemed to be derived from a dictionary compiled by a lunatic. Had Mr. Stein desired him to 'ascend,' he would have 'reverentially' – (I think he wanted to say respectfully – but devil only knows) – 'reverentially made objects for the safety of properties.' If disregarded he would have 'resignation to quit.'" (23.13)

This is one of the funnier passages in the novel, but its humor depends on Marlow making fun of a foreigner, so in the end, no one's laughing.

"This was true; he had that sort of courage – the courage in the open, I may say – but he had also a European mind. You meet them sometimes like that, and are surprised to discover unexpectedly a familiar turn of thought, an unobscured vision, a tenacity of purpose, a touch of altruism." (26.4)

Marlow's casual racism is striking here. Dain Waris's positive qualities are seen as "European," as if it were impossible for a native man to have traits like "open courage" or "clear vision."

"The land, the people, the friendship, the love, were like the jealous guardians of his body. Every day added a link to the fetters of that strange freedom." (26.4)

Jim might be emotionally ensnared on Patusan, but the result is physical entrapment. Jim's enslavement in a foreign land seems to disturb Marlow, who places a rather odd emphasis here on Jim's body. The people of Patusan might be filled with love and friendship, but they are also "jealous guardians," according to Marlow.

"Theirs was one of these strange, profound, rare friendships between brown and white in which the very difference of race seems to draw two human beings closer by some mystic element of sympathy." (26.4)

The friendship between Dain Waris and Jim revolves largely around ideas of racial difference. These two can never be just friends; they are always defined by their races. And the fact that their friendship is "strange" is telling, don't you think?