Jim, the well-loved son of an English parson, goes to sea to make a name for himself. Just how he is to become "Tuan Jim" or "Lord Jim," however, remains to be told. With his youthful, romantic aspirations for the sea, he is physically powerful; he has "Ability in the abstract." He roams the Asian south seas as a water-clerk, moving from place to place, always trying to outrun, it seems, a particular fact of his past. The story then cuts to an early incident where Jim lost an opportunity to prove his mettle: he "leapt" too late, missing his chance. Then, after a long injury and hospital stay, instead of deciding to return to England, Jim accepts the position of chief mate of the Patna, an old local steamship carrying 800 Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.
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Lord Jim in 2016
It is a 19th century tale about a sailor that captures a moral dilemma all of us who seek to lead a moral life and to assume responsibility for those people who depend upon us. Trapped on a ship that appears about to sink taking hundreds of sleeping passengers with it, Jim must choose between staying with them to do what he can or saving his own life as the captain and the rest of the crew have done. He finds himself in this situation through no fault of his own, but rather because he has been faithful and diligent, not worse than his colleagues, but more effective and honorable. Though the action in the book is slow at times, the description of the evolving situations in which Jim finds himself are told in lurid (a favorite Conrad word) color keeping you focused on Jim's zeal to survive and thrive under the most unfavorable circumstances. It is about rectitude and honor in a cynical world. As such, it is as true today as it was in Victorian England.