Lord Jim

Lord Jim Autobiography in Joseph Conrad's Work

Much of Conrad's work is inspired by his own experiences at sea. Conrad the cosmopolitan sailor became a writer in English. Conrad also is noted for his intense sense of self-concern, particularly as a Pole who had fled the cause to which his father had committed himself. The tensions in his life experience, as well as his international perspective, fed life into the possibilities of language. Conrad's mastery of English prose has come to be seen, first and foremost, as his desire to communicate something that remains faithful to his inner life.

Despite his sailing experiences, like many writers Conrad may have often felt a little out of touch, or out of sync, with the rest of the world, which so seldom probes deeply into the complexities of life. Thus he also transcended his personal musings in order more fully to be known--to be known as a human being, in all of man's subtle depths and shadows. This aim produced a constant, difficult struggle.

Knowing this background, we can read Lord Jim in a slightly different light. Marlow often figures Conrad's own role as storyteller and writer. At the same time, the figure of Jim, the romantic youth who lives out, to the very end, his aspirations toward honor and courage, seems to reflect Conrad's own youthful aspirations. Like Conrad, he experienced an overwhelming sense of guilt in leaving the sea life for more "civilizing" comforts, despite the benefits they yield in producing many an elegant narrative. Conrad also may have glimpsed his own shortcomings in Jim, especially with regard to how they face mortal dangers: Conrad is included as "one of us."

Conrad dedicated much of his writing to examine the life he had lived before his writing became his primary work. In this way, a Conrad book is often a kind of atonement for and testament to the raw but complex nakedness of men's characters. A good book, in his view, was a good tale of action. Conrad can be said to have succeeded in meeting his duty to respect, display, and inquire into his past.