I really got into Lord Jim even though there were times when I wasn’t sure what was going on. Joseph Conrad tends to ramble, say things that seem to have no cause or effect, and then come back around to them. I liked it.
Poor Jim. He made a mistake when he was just a boy by our standards, and he felt guilty about it for the rest of his life, right up to the end. It made me think of a lot of news stories I’ve been seeing lately. This person went to a party and was a racist. That person did drugs. This one made sexist remarks. All accusations made about events at least twenty years in the past.
We all do things we regret, every single one of us, and not all of us dwell on it for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we are meant to. We learn from our mistakes (or not) and move on with our lives. Thanks to our new permanent and worldwide media, we can’t escape our past and our culture seems to lean into and celebrate that.
Now that I think about it, that’s not a new thing, is it? It’s just that we have more opportunities to record and bring up proof of the past. Throughout the ages, we’ve ostracized people for their past discrepancies: bad business deals, sexual infidelities, where people were born or to whom.
What good does it do? If I do something to offend someone when I’m twenty years old, does that mean I’m a terrible person and unfit for service when I’m forty? Jim thought so. He fell into a big mistake, following along with the people around him, and ended up being the only one that paid legally for it. Then socially, too. He was ruined, not only in society, but in his head and heart.
A friend believed he was a good man and helped him start a new life. It was good one. He did well, helped people, made a life for himself, but in the back of his mind was that fateful deed. He never forgave himself and ended up paying for it again and again until he died.
Is that what we want today for everyone? Is that what seems like justice, community, progressive thinking? I think what we’re doing is harmful to our society. We expect people to be perfect right from the start, never make a misstep, and to be clairvoyant enough to know what a misstep will look like in the future. All we’re going to get is a neurotic society, afraid to step out of line, afraid of the people around them, afraid to make any remark, create anything, or to let go even a little.
Jim’s story was a sad one, echoing now from 120 years in the past.