Study Guide

Lord Jim Respect and Reputation

By Joseph Conrad

Respect and Reputation

"You must know that everybody connected in any way with the sea was there, because the affair had been notorious for days, ever since that mysterious cable message came from Aden to start us all cackling." (5.3)

The <em>Patna </em>scandal spreads like wildfire among the seafaring community, so Jim's reputation is already ruined before Marlow even meets him.

"I didn't care a rap about the behavior of the other two. Their persons somehow fitted the tale that was public property and going to be the subject of an official inquiry." (5.8)

Appearances say it all in <em>Lord Jim</em>, and a person's reputation often hinges on them. The real horror of Jim's case is that his appearance doesn't coincide with his actions – unlike the other two men mentioned here who "look" the part of cowardly scoundrels.

"'The worst of it,' he said 'is that all you fellows have no sense of dignity; you don't think enough of what you are supposed to be.'" (6.13)

Well isn't this interesting? Brierly believes a sailor should focus on what he is "supposed to be," which means that a good sailor thinks about his reputation first, and everything else comes second to that. That sounds all well and good, but it doesn't seem too practical when you're ship's going down, now does it?

"This is a disgrace. We've got all kinds among us [...] but, hang it, we must preserve professional decency or we become no better than so many tinkers going about loose. We are trusted. Do you understand? – trusted!'" (6.14)

Though Captain B seems concerned with "professional decency" and public "trust," a loss of reputation and respect doesn't mean a loss in profits or customers. No, what he's really concerned with, deep down, is that he no longer knows what it means to be a sailor. Every cowardly act by a seafarer threatens his identity of a man of dignity, honor, and trust. Tinkers, by the way, refers to people who would travel the countryside mending household utensils like pots, pans, scissors, and knives. By this time in Britain, the word had come to be a bit of an insult.

"'I am going through with that. Only' – and there he spoke a little faster – 'I won't let any man call me names outside this court.'" (6.22)

Jim draws all sorts of weird and wacky boundaries for himself, especially in matters concerning his personal reputation. He's oddly willing to take his punishment and accept the consequences of his actions in formal institutional settings, like the trial. Yet he's also extremely touchy and won't let people insult him in just any old situation. He seems willing to be judged by a faceless system, but not by the men he actually meets.

"It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only one of the rules of the game, nothing more [...]" (7.8)

Solemn? Ridiculous? Sounds about right if you're looking for words to describe Jim's sad story. Marlow, for one, finds Jim's situation tragic, but also pretty absurd. Jim is aspiring to be some sort of moral person that he simply isn't.

"Nothing could be more true: he had indeed jumped into an everlasting deep hole. He had tumbled from a height he could never scale again." (10.1)

The imagery of falling also acts as a metaphor for Jim's fall from grace – his ruined reputation. He's in for some serious bumps and bruises.

"'Man is born a coward [...] It is a difficulty – <em>parbleu</em>! It would be too easy otherwise. But habit – habit – necessity – do you see? – the eyes of others – voila. One puts up with it. And then the example of others who are no better than yourself, and yet make good countenance...'" (13.5)

According to the French Lieutenant, the only thing that prevents men from behaving like cowards is the fact that others are watching them. That's a depressing view of humankind, sure, but it rings true in <em>Lord Jim</em>, where your reputation means everything.

"The time was coming when I should see him loved, trusted, admired, with a legend of strength and prowess forming round his name as though he had been the stuff of a hero." (16.1)

Hey, at least there's hope for poor Jimmy. In this glimpse of Jim's future on Patusan, Marlow assures us that Jim will regain his reputation. The only question we have at this point is whether he will do so by facing his past, or pretending it never happened.

"But I cannot fix before my eye the image of his safety. I shall always remember him as seen through the open door of my room, taking, perhaps, too much to heart the mere consequences of his failure." (16.1)

In Marlow's opinion, no matter how high Jim's star climbs, his mentor will never be able to think of him as safe from his bad reputation. Though Jim may escape his past on Patusan for a while, Marlow remembers it, and since we get the story through Marlow, we can never forget it either.

"'It's no laughing matter. It's a disgrace to human natur' – that's what it is. I would despise being seen in the same room with one of those men.'" (18.7)

Those are some strong words, Brierly. But then again, we have come to expect nothing less from you, Judgy McJudgypants.

"To the common mind he became known as a rolling stone, because this was the funniest part; he did after a time become perfectly known, and even notorious, within the circle of his wanderings (which had a diameter of, say, three thousand miles) in the same way as an eccentric character is known to a whole countryside." (19.2)

Jim intends to disappear through his wanderings, but instead the exact opposite happens: his wanderings make him even more "notorious." Nice try, Jimmy.

"'He wants to be a saint, and he wants to be a devil – and every time he shuts his eyes he sees himself as a very fine fellow – so fine as he can never be.... In a dream.... '" (20.30)

Stein is quite the wise old man. He understands that Jim wants to restore his reputation, but he also wants to punish himself for his mistake. It's a little hard to do both, especially when you're still clinging to the dream of being a gentleman.

"But what dismayed him was to find the nature of his burden as well known to everybody as though he had gone about all that time carrying it on his shoulders." (19.3)

Aw, and here Jim is thinking he has played it so cool. Little does he know that everyone knows what he's going through. Maybe if Jim relaxed a bit, he would find that people are judging him less than he thinks.

"'You all remember something! You all go back to it. What is it? You tell me! What is this thing? Is it alive? – is it dead? I hate it. It is cruel. Has it got a face and a voice – this calamity?'" (33.11)

Cool your jets, Jewel. It'll all come out in good time. Still, you can't blame the girl for being a bit frantic. She knows Jim has some serious skeletons in his closet, but she doesn't know what they are. She's dying to know the source of Jim's bad reputation, because it's causing her all kinds of trouble.

"'Because he is not good enough,' I said brutally. (33.16)

Marlow's damning judgment of Jim is a Big Moment in the novel. We're kind of shocked when he says it, but we're also surprised it took him this long.