Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We ain't no delinquents; we're misunderstood

Current book: Lord Jim
Pages read: 88-186

Well, we've gotten more of Jim's story, by way of Marlow, and the nearly 100 pages worth of it boil down to this: his ship hit something, probably a wreck, around midnight and was damaged beyond the possibility of repair. The crew members immediately decided to abandon ship in the crew lifeboat with no regard to the 800 passengers aboard. Jim argued vehemently to help them, but in the end, there was neither time nor the possibility of making any difference, so he ended up joining the crew in their escape boat, though they accused him of committing the murder of another crew member to secure himself a spot.

Upon hearing this testimony in court, the judge at the hearing chooses to believe that Jim didn't commit murder, but that his abandonment of the ship constitutes criminal negligence, and he strips Jim of his seaman's license as punishment. (If you're wondering why none of the crew is getting tried, a couple of them are, and the rest cheezed it before the fuzz caught up with them.) After the verdict, Marlow offers to help Jim get back on his feet financially by offering him a letter of recommendation that he can take to future job opportunities. It's unclear what those opportunities might be, but there you have it.

I think Conrad is largely making the point that in situations where survival is on the line, those who act with honor are largely tread upon, either at the moment of the crisis or in the period immediately afterward, in retribution for the guilt they've caused those who didn't act with honor. (I just impressed myself with the brevity and clarity of that assessment, so I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.)

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