Study Guide

Lord Jim Youth

By Joseph Conrad


On the lower deck in the babel of two hundred voices he would forget himself, and beforehand live in his mind the sea-life of light literature. He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane [...] (1.5)

Ah, to be young and full of dreams. Of course these dreams are a sign of an overactive imagination, which emphasizes Jim's youthful, if a bit foolish qualities.

He sighed with content, with regret as well at having to part from that serenity which fostered the adventurous freedom of his thoughts. He was a little sleepy too, and felt a pleasurable langour running through every limb as though all the blood in his body had turned to warm milk. (3.5)

In this scene, Jim seems like a small child. He's sleepy, tired, and ready for some good dreams. The adventurous freedom of his thoughts will soon be squashed when his mind becomes dominated by the Patna scandal. So much for serenity.

"Were I to go home tomorrow, I bet that before two days passed over my head some sunburnt young chief mate would overtake me [...] and a fresh deep voice speaking above my hat would ask: 'Don't you remember me, sir? Why! little So-and-so. Such and such a ship. It was my first voyage.' And I would remember a bewildered little shaver, no higher than the back of this chair [...]" (5.10)

Marlow has a whole lot of proteges, and Jim is by no means the first. Does that change your view of little Jimmy in any way? Does it make him any less special? If anything, Marlow's mention of all these young sailors he has met over the years emphasizes just how old <em>he </em>is.

"This was my first view of Jim. He looked as unconcerned and unapproachable as only the young can look. There he stood, clean-limbed, clean-faced, firm on his feet, as promising a boy as the sun ever shone on; and, looking at him [...] I was as angry as though I had detected him trying to get something out of me by false pretenses. He had no business to look so sound." (5.8)

Marlow performs a great shift in tone while speaking here. He starts off with a glowing description of Jim, but then he shifts to his own emotional response to Jim, the ideal youth who turns out to be totally disappointing, and the tone becomes negative. Marlow's balloon has burst before he even has a chance to inflate it.

"He was a youngster of the sort you like to see about you; of the sort you like to imagine yourself to have been; of the sort whose appearance claims the fellowship of those illusions you had thought gone out, extinct, cold, and which, as if rekindled at the approach of another flame, give a flutter deep deep down somewhere, give a flutter of light [...]." (11.1)

The young "rekindle" old emotions and dreams, memories of Marlow's own youth. The strange thing is, if it's Jim's youth that got him into the Patna mess, then we're not sure why Marlow would want to imagine himself to have been just like him as a youngster.

"Don't you see what I mean by the solidarity of the craft? I was aggrieved against him, as though he had cheated me – me! – of a splendid opportunity to keep up the illusion of my beginnings, as though he had robbed our common life of the last spark of its glamour." (11.13)

Here, as in the previous quote, Marlow uses the word "illusion" to describe his own youth. For Marlow, youth and illusion seem to go hand in hand, and Jim's "disillusioning" actions threaten Marlow's nostalgic memories of his own youth.

"'Ah! The young, the young,' he said indulgently. 'And after all, one does not die of it.' 'Die of what?' I asked swiftly. 'Of being afraid.' He elucidated his meaning and sipped his drink." (13.5)

The indulgent tone of the French Lieutenant suggests that he sees youth as foolish, even a little ridiculous, but not terribly sad. We might imagine him as the type of father who chuckles at his young son's impuslive mistakes, rather than putting the kid on time out.

"If his imaginative conscience or his pride, if all the extravagant ghosts and austere shades that were the disastrous familiars of his youth would not let him run away from the block, I, who of course can't be suspected of such familiars, was irresistibly impelled to go and see his head roll off." (14.1)

To Marlow, Jim's strange willingness to face whatever drastic consquences might come of his trial is a product of Jim's youth. And even though Marlow is so much older, he is somehow drawn to these immature, rash decisions. He wants to see their results.

"He was a horrible bungler. Horrible. I heard the quick crunch-crunch of the gravel under his boots. He was running. Absolutely running, with nowhere to go to. And he was not yet four-and-twenty." (13.16)

Aren't all young people horrible bunglers every now and then? What's so sad and extreme about Jim's situation is that the guy is not even twenty-four and has already run out of options in life. He's futureless (at least for the time being).

"He followed me as manageable as a little child, with an obedient air, with no sort of manifestation, rather as though he had been waiting for me there to come along and carry him off." (15.1)

This father-son bond between Jim and Marlow crops up in a few places in <em>Lord Jim</em>. In this scene, their relationship makes Jim seem all the more vulnerable, like a little tyke who relies on his papa for just about everything.

"Why hurl defiance at the universe? This was not a proper frame of mind to approach any undertaking, an improper frame of mind not only for him, I said, but for any man." (23.5)

Marlow sounds a bit like an overbearing dad here. He thinks he knows what's best for Jim and slams the kid for his moody, adolescent behavior. Marlow is totally right, of course, but his tone is a little patronizing.

"He had the gift of finding a special meaning in everything that happened to him." (32.5)

Jim? Self-centered? Never! In all seriousness, the young are famous for thinking the world revolves around them (come on, you know it's true), and to the older, wiser Marlow, that self-centeredness seems more than a little stupid. In fact, it just might be reckless.

"The twilight was ebbing fast from the sky above his head, the strip of sand had sunk already under his feet, he himself appeared no bigger than a child – then only a speck, a tiny white speck, that seemed to catch all the light left in a darkened world... And, suddenly I lost him..." (35.18)

What a stirring last image Marlow has of Jim. It's a strong reminder that Jim is still a young man, and has a lot to learn.