Is it our internal conscience or external comrades that goad us in one direction or another? Our moral compass or our constant associates? Our upbringing or our society?

“I am willing to believe each of us has a guardian angel, if you fellows will concede to me that each of us has a familiar devil as well.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Donald's conscience guiding him.
Photo from IMDb

Remember this one? Donald Duck with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

I’ve always considered it a representation of our conscience, the impulse to do good or evil, to consider ourselves or others, Jiminy Cricket imploring us to do what’s right. Yeah, I watched a lot of cartoons and movies growing up. But could it be more?

In this story, I believe Marlowe is asking us to consider the company we keep and how it could influence our actions. Humans are greatly influenced by the people that surround them. We are driven to fit in and belong. No matter what our personal feelings are, if we’re surrounded by evil, we all tend to succumb to the “When in Rome…” idea.

There are so many sayings that put forward this idea. They keep popping up in my head! Didn’t your mom ask you, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” Of course, you would! That’s what humans do.

We have evolved to live in groups. It’s safer and far more productive than living alone. We band together in families, clans, communities, states, and nations. We share resources. We emotionally bond with others. We are stronger in groups. Even a Bible verse comes to mind, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

Maybe we should consider the company that we keep. And, when considering the guilt of another, that person’s company as well. Sometimes we fall into the wrong crowd. Sometimes we get swept along with the current. And sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to just to stay alive.

This is the first of my posts on this book. If you want to read more, you’ll find a list of posts at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”