The renaissance 1485 – 1625 The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement

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The novels of depersonalization refer to those few cases in which the colonist (the modern man, the exponent of the Euro-American universe) loses his identity under the influence of the colonized (the primitive man, the exponent of the traditional Asian or African universe) and becomes a depersonalized tragic fellow. We witness such situations in Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness.

The novels of destruction are Conrad’s traditional novels of anti-colonialism in which the modern civilization annihilates and destroys the primitive world and leads, symbolically, to the death of God (to the termination of the archetypal spirit). Such cases of cultural clash appear, again, in Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness. One may consider Conrad an anticipator of the postcolonial concept of the double critique. This notion refers to the double identity individuals and communities develop as a result of colonialism.

Conrad uses 3 major narrative strategies:

  1. The oblique point of view – implies the transfer of narrative authority from an omniscient author to a first person narrator or to a group of narrators who, in their turn, may transfer the perspective to other possible narrators.

  2. The disseminated narrative perspective – is a direct consequences of the oblique point of view. It refers to the multiplicity of narrative variants one witnesses in Conrad’s fiction.

  3. The partial reflector – links Conrad to the Victorian tradition and especially to James’s innovative epic techniques. His reflectors are limitative, subjective and unreliable.

Conrad’s absolute masterpieces are Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness. Lord Jim is a novel of introspection and identity in which the character discovers – during an initiation-like process – that his adolescent heroic dreams do not fit in the reality of adulthood.

In Heart of Darkness we deal again with an allegorical novel about the intervention of the modern civilization in the archetypal spirituality and the primitive world. Kurtz is a Nietzschean God avant la lettre, who dies symbolically at the beginning of modernity. Heart of Darkness is an anti-colonial novel concentrated on the idea of destruction.



Joseph Conrad was born in the Ukraine in 1857. Lord Jim is the first of his major novels. It appeared in 1900, the year after Heart of Darkness, which is perhaps his best-known work.  Conrad was writing at the very moment when the Victorian Age was disappearing and the modern era was emerging. Victorian moral codes still influenced the plots of novels, but such principles were no longer absolute. Novelists and poets were beginning to experiment with form. The jumbled time sequence and elaborate narrative frames of Lord Jim are part of this movement. Lord Jim nevertheless situates itself in a world where national differences are often reduced to the dichotomy of "us" and "them," where the term "us" can encompass a surprisingly heterogeneous group. Both economic and racial versions of the colonial dynamic come into play in this novel.

Analysis of major characters

1.Lord Jim

 Also known as "Lord Jim," or "Tuan Jim." The hero of our story, Jim is a young man who, inspired by popular literature, goes to sea dreaming of becoming a hero. He gets his chance when the ship he is aboard gets damaged, and fails utterly by abandoning ship with the rest of the crew. Haunted by his failure and stripped of his officer's certificate, he wanders from job to job, finally becoming the manager of a remote trading post. He falls in love with Jewel, a beautiful, half-native girl, and, by defeating a local bandit, becomes leader of the people. His dreams of heroism lead to his failure to kill a marauding white pirate, Gentleman Brown, which in turn leads to the death of Dain Waris, his best friend and son of Doramin, the local chief. Jim allows Doramin to shoot him in retribution.


The narrator of this story and a ship's captain. Marlow first encounters Jim at the inquiry where Jim loses his certification. Feeling that Jim is "one of us," he takes an interest in him, first helping him find employment as a water clerk and as a trading post manager for Stein, then compulsively piecing together Jim's story and perpetuating it through various retellings. It is Marlow who filters and interprets most of the narrative for the reader.


Brierly's Pocketwatch

When Brierly commits suicide by jumping ship, he leaves his pocketwatch hanging on the rail. Let's take a look at that scene:'There's a funny thing. I don't like to touch it.' It was Captain Brierl...


The fear grows shadowy; and Imagination, the enemy of men, the father of all terrors, unstimulated, sinks to rest in the dullness of exhausted emotion. Jim saw nothing but the disorder of his tosse...


Stein collects butterflies, which may seem like just a passing hobby. But we think there just might be something more to it. Let's take a look at Stein's description of his favorite pasttime: "When...

Water Imagery

We've got a novel about sailors in Lord Jim, which means that water and the sea are like characters in and of themselves. Marlow spends a fair amount of time pondering the sea and its moods, person...

Darkness Imagery

It seems like half this novel takes place at night. The Patna sinks at night, Jim confesses his shameful actions to Marlow under the cover of darkness, Marlow relates his story to an audience over...


Where It All Goes Down

Patna, the Malabar Hotel, Patusan, Southeast Asia, Late 19th century

Lord Jim is technically a British novel, though almost none of the novel's action takes place in Jolly Old England. This novel really belongs more to the British empire, specifically Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. As a former sailor, Conrad kept the action in places familiar to him – on boats at sea, at seaports, and on islands. This is a novel written by a sailor about sailors, so it makes sense that the bulk of the action takes place at in the more watery corners of the world.

Backdrops and Backgrounds

Unfortunately, Conrad doesn't seem all that interested in painting a vivid picture of these environs. He's much more interested in Jim's story. Perhaps that's why he doesn't go into much detail when it comes to the locations where events go down.

The bulk of the novel takes place on board the Patna, at the anonymous port where Jim's trial takes place, at Stein's house, and on Patusan. These places are all tropical and filled with eclectic individuals, but ultimately they are fairly forgettable. They're merely backdrops for the more exciting human dramas going on. And even when Conrad does give us details about the setting, it's often the human element that draws his attention.

At a description of Jim's trial, the characters seem to become part of the setting itself. Conrad tends to define places by the people in them.

[T]he big framework of punkahs moved gently to and fro high above his head, and from below many eyes were looking at him out of dark faces, out of white faces, out of red faces, out of faces attentive, spellbound, as if all these people sitting in orderly rows upon narrow benches had been enslaved by the fascination of his voice. [...] The light of a broad window under the ceiling fell from above on the heads and shoulders of the three men, and they were fiercely distinct in the half-light of the big court-room where the audience seemed composed of staring shadows. (4.1)

These nameless faces provide the backdrop against which the trial occurs. Though these faces are, of course, people, who they are and what they are saying isn't of huge importance. Conrad is more interested in the image because it helps him set the scene

The setting for Jim's trial is relatively generic – it could be taking place at any number of locations in the South Pacific. What's important isn't so much the location as the mood, the people involved, and the overall atmosphere defined by people. The same is true for the other settings of the novel, which are filled with tropical "stock footage."

Setting the Mood

The setting details we do get are often very atmospheric and mirror the characters' moods and emotions. Take, for example, this description of Stein's house:

We passed through empty dark rooms, escorted by gleams from the lights Stein carried. They glided along the waxed floors, sweeping here and there over the polished surface of a table, leaped upon a fragmentary curve of a piece of furniture, or flashed perpendicularly in and out of distant mirrors, while the forms of two men and the flicker of two flames could be seen for a moment stealing silently across the depths of a crystalline void. (20.37)

Dreamy, right? Swirls of light and darkness, empty rooms, a crystalline void. That doesn't sound like any house Shmoop has been to. But it does set an otherworldly tone for Marlow's encounter with Stein. And it reemphasizes the fact that this entire story is made up of memories, which are always a bit dreamlike and unstable.

That instability comes into play in Conrad's descriptions of the Patna as well:

And all is still. No thunder, no wind, no sound; not a flicker of lighting. Then in the tenebrous immensity a livid arch appears; a swell or two like undulations of the very darkness run past, and, suddenly, wind and rain strike together with a peculiar impetuosity as if they had burst through something solid. Such a cloud had come up while they weren't looking. (9.3)

Conrad's descriptions highlight what is happening more than where it's happening here, which just goes to show that settings matter in the novel only so much as they affect and reflect the characters.

The Sun Never Sets…... On the British Empire.

Before you go thinking, okay, so the setting is no big deal, it's important to stop for a second and think about the larger setting in which the novel takes place. It's a little thing we like to call the British Empire, and it's not so little at all. Conrad wrote his novels when British (and European) imperialism was at its height, and European influence was felt in just about every corner of the world.

With that imperialism comes a whole boatload of issues, all of which our characters are grappling with. First and foremost, race relations between white imperialists and their local subjects were tense at the best of times, and violent at the worst. We see this tension hinted at all over Lord Jim, but the novel rarely puts race at center stage.

The Empire, though, is always in the spotlight, with its remote outposts (like Patusan) and innumerable ships (like the Patna). So while we may become totally engrossed with Jim's story, it's important to remember the larger story of the British Empire. After all, Jim's story would never have happened without it.


Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

Third Person, Limited Omniscient/ Marlow. Or First Person.

We'll just level with you here: the narrative technique of Lord Jim is confusing to say the least.

Third Person… Sort of

First, we have Marlow, who is the main narrator of the novel. But as he tells Jim's story, other voices creep into the mix as the characters he meets share what they know of Jim. It's as if Marlow is channeling a story with multiple voices into one narrative stream. Plus, there's the fact Marlow is not actually the narrator of the novel at all.

Yep, that's right. There's a whole other, unidentified person who is sitting on the verandah listening to Marlow, and interrupting every once in a while to remind us that Marlow, too, is a character:

Marlow paused to put new life into his expiring cheroot, seemed to forget all about the story, and abruptly began again. (8.10)

Weird, right? Plus, there's the anonymous narrator of the first five chapters, which document Jim's early life. If your head is already spinning, don't worry. Shmoop has your back.

First Person... Sort of

For the sake of sheer practicality, we're going to go ahead and call Lord Jim a first person narrative, because the bulk of the novel is told in Marlow's words. As Conrad's go-to narrator (Marlow also narrated Conrad's first novel, Chance, and his most famous novel, Heart of Darkness), Marlow has his work cut out for him. Lord Jim has a great many stories woven together, and we need someone to tell them to us. That gargantuan task falls to Marlow.

After the first four anonymously narrated chapters, we meet our storyteller at the end of Chapter Four. Every chapter after that uses quotation marks around the paragraphs to indicate that Marlow is speaking. For much of the novel, it's a pretty straightforward narrative; Marlow tells us Jim's story, and how he came to find out about it (through his many, many sources, far and wide).

The only wrench that ever gets thrown is that pesky third person we've already mentioned. Why not have Marlow just narrate the whole darn story?

Part of the reason might be thematic – Lord Jim is largely about storytelling, and Conrad uses multiple storytellers throughout the narrative who all interpret one another and repeat one another. The novel shows us how stories can get filtered and distorted through different people's perspectives, including Marlow's.

Also, the outside narrator means that Marlow functions both as a narrator and an independent character. Bonus, right? Instead of seeing the whole world of Lord Jim through Marlow's eyes, we get one layer of removal that gives us a good dose of perspective. Every time that other narrator rears his anonymous head, we're reminded to take Marlow's words with a grain of salt, because he's only human.

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

Marlow's voice glides in and out of the story, and we get frequent instances where Marlow slips over to quoting Jim, or Stein, or the French Lieutenant, or, well, you get the picture:

[W]hile his brain and his heart together were pierced as with daggers by panic-stricken screams, "Let go! For God's sake, let go! Let go! She's going." Following upon that the boat-falls ripped through the blocks, and a lot of men began to talk in startled tones under the awnings. "When these beggars did break out, their yelps were enough to wake the dead," he said. (9.21)

Marlow is both paraphrasing Jim and quoting his young protege. How could he possibly know that Jim's brain and heart were pierced with dagger-like screams? Either Marlow is projecting feelings onto Jim, or Jim has described his experience this way, and Marlow is merely restating what he said (perhaps with a little color added). This back-and-forth makes it difficult to suss out who is really saying what, and, more important, who is feeling what.

As it turns out, another reason for not having Marlow be a first-person narrator may be Conrad's interest in the way, by telling a story, we use and reinterpret other peoples voices. Jim's story is complicated, and Marlow has to wrangle it out of various people, put it into his own words, then share it with an audience who may go on to retell it in their own way.

The narrative technique puts us in the same position as Marlow's audience in the story, trying to sort out what he and others are saying, wondering what's true. We're on shaky ground here, and we can't help but think that's exactly where Conrad wants us.


Adventure, Modernism, Psychological Thriller and Suspense


At first glance, Lord Jim might not seem like adventure material. Frankly, the bulk of the novel involves people sitting around and talking. Of course it's what they're talking about that matters, otherwise we might have to write this one off as big ol' snooze. But at its heart, Lord Jim is an imperial adventure tale, filled with swashbuckling, nautical hijinks, and even a little romance. And in its day, it was published in serial form in Blackwood's Magazine, alongside stories and articles on hunting in Africa, deep-sea fishing, and exciting battles. (Check out the "In a Nutshell" section for more on Blackwood's Magazine.)

The only snag we might hit in calling this one an adventure tale is the sad fact that Jim doesn't get to sail off into the sunset with his girl in the end. Oh well. You can't have everything.


What do we talk about when we talk about Modernism? "Modernist Literature" is a hefty phrase that pretty much refers to literature written between 1899 and 1945, and involving experimentation with the traditional novel format. Modernist literature plays all kinds of games with time and order, perspective, and point of view. There was a lot of play with form, and it was more common to see a fragmented plot than, say, a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Modernism and adventure don't normally go together, but in Lord Jim, they absolutely do. Conrad was a big fan of experimenting with style, and many critics consider him a precursor to modernism. He used a lot of modernist tricks in his narratives, including stream of consciousness; unreliable, biased narrators; a focus on characters' inner lives; and a fairly cynical view of the world – all of which we see in Lord Jim at one time or another. Plus, there is the whole fragmented nature of Jim's story, which is told in snippets that are incomplete and out of order. We're left to do the dirty work of piecing it all together.

Psychological Thriller and Suspense

In Lord Jim, Conrad has a tricky habit of witholding information from us reders to build suspense. Consider, for example, the beginning of the novel, where we get hint after hint of the Patna scandal and Jim's role in it, but we don't find out what actually went down until several chapters in.

Add to that the novel's obsession with these characters' inner turmoil and you've got all the ingredients for a psychological thriller. After all, Marlow is always trying to analyze Jim – to get inside his head, so to speak. And we readers never quite know what Jim will do next, because we can see that his torment drives him to make rash decisions. His actions haunt him his whole life, just as many characters' pasts do in your typical thriller.



Heart of Darkness in particular, provide a bridge between Victorian values and the ideals of modernism. Like their Victorian predecessors, these novels rely on traditional ideas of heroism, which are nevertheless under constant attack in a changing world and in places far from England. Heart of Darkness is as much about alienation, confusion, and profound doubt as it is about imperialism. Imperialism is nevertheless at the center of Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness suggests that this is the natural result when men are allowed to operate outside a social system of checks and balances: power, especially power over other human beings, inevitably corrupts.  Heart of Darkness, thus, at its most abstract level, is a narrative about the difficulty of understanding the world beyond the self, about the ability of one man to judge another. Heart of Darkness was one of the first literary texts to provide a critical view of European imperial activities, it was initially read by critics as anything but controversial.

Analysis of major characters


Although Marlow appears in several of Conrad’s other works, it is important not to view him as merely a surrogate for the author. Marlow is a complicated man who anticipates the figures of high modernism while also reflecting his Victorian predecessors. Marlow is in many ways a traditional hero: tough, honest, an independent thinker, a capable man. Yet he is also “broken” or “damaged,” like T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock or William Faulkner’s Quentin Compson. The world has defeated him in some fundamental way, and he is weary, skeptical, and cynical. Marlow also mediates between the figure of the intellectual and that of the “working tough.” While he is clearly intelligent, eloquent, and a natural philosopher, he is not saddled with the angst of centuries’ worth of Western thought. At the same time, while he is highly skilled at what he does—he repairs and then ably pilots his own ship—he is no mere manual laborer. Marlow can also be read as an intermediary between the two extremes of Kurtz and the Company. He is moderate enough to allow the reader to identify with him, yet open-minded enough to identify at least partially with either extreme. Thus, he acts as a guide for the reader. 


Kurtz, like Marlow, can be situated within a larger tradition. Kurtz resembles the archetypal “evil genius”: the highly gifted but ultimately degenerate individual whose fall is the stuff of legend. Kurtz is related to figures like Faustus, Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Moby-Dick’s Ahab, and Wuthering Heights’s Heathcliff. Like these characters, he is significant both for his style and eloquence and for his grandiose, almost megalomaniacal scheming. In a world of mundanely malicious men and “flabby devils,” attracting enough attention to be worthy of damnation is indeed something. Kurtz can be criticized in the same terms that Heart of Darknessis sometimes criticized: style entirely overrules substance, providing a justification for amorality and evil.


1.The hypocrisy of imperialism

Heart of Darkness explores the issues surrounding imperialism in complicated ways. As Marlow travels from the Outer Station to the Central Station and finally up the river to the Inner Station, he encounters scenes of torture, cruelty, and near-slavery. At the very least, the incidental scenery of the book offers a harsh picture of colonial enterprise. However, for Marlow as much as for Kurtz or for the Company, Africans in this book are mostly objects: Marlow refers to his helmsman as a piece of machinery, and Kurtz’s African mistress is at best a piece of statuary.  While Heart of Darkness offers a powerful condemnation of the hypocritical operations of imperialism, it also presents a set of issues surrounding race that is ultimately troubling.

2.Madness as a result of imperialism

Madness is closely linked to imperialism in this book. Africa is responsible for mental disintegration as well as physical illness. Madness has two primary functions. First, it serves as an ironic device to engage the reader’s sympathies. Kurtz, Marlow is told from the beginning, is mad. However, as Marlow, and the reader, begin to form a more complete picture of Kurtz, it becomes apparent that his madness is only relative, that in the context of the Company insanity is difficult to define. Thus, both Marlow and the reader begin to sympathize with Kurtz and view the Company with suspicion. Madness also functions to establish the necessity of social fictions. Although social mores and explanatory justifications are shown throughout Heart of Darkness to be utterly false and even leading to evil, they are nevertheless necessary for both group harmony and individual security. Madness, in Heart of Darkness, is the result of being removed from one’s social context and allowed to be the sole arbiter of one’s own actions. Madness is thus linked not only to absolute power and a kind of moral genius but to man’s fundamental fallibility: Kurtz has no authority to whom he answers but himself, and this is more than any one man can bear.

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