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Joseph Conrad And The Modern Age

1772 words - 7 pages

The 20th Century stands out not merely as an age of growth or refinement, but one of absolute transcendent recreation. This new era, presenting the world with radical new ideas and invention, ushered in shocking changes and previously unheard of notions and theory over the views of man. This new phase of humanity brought about the conception and birth of Modernism. Joseph Conrad in particular rushed forward to slam a door on the Victorian Age and end the century of optimism, reproving the human race's ideologies on virtue and purity with the more skeptical realities of the bleakness of real human nature and the power of unfortunate circumstance. Conrad's novel Lord Jim cleaved into the supporting pillars raised by previous Victorian value and set a foundation for his notions of High Modernism; his characters and their reactions to irresolute situations, and even the situations themselves, present the absence of the divine and holy to take the skeptical stance that men, imperfect as they are, face an existential existence.
Through his work Conrad unabashedly declares that human nature, in agreement with Robert Stevenson's concept for The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is composed of a dual nature. Rather than focus on such grandiose descriptions of good and evil however, Conrad tackles a subtler and more base exploration of the human spirit. Jim as his prime example, Conrad makes to show that humanity "is an enigmatic paradox of strength and weakness" (Wester 3314). In the case of Jim, whose struggle is not the duality of good and evil so much as it is a question of the integrity of his character, a much more complicated war is fought in which he must face the perils of human weakness and walk a balanced line between “the selfish potentialities of idealism or the saving potentialities of egoism” (Guerard 116). Put into a situation of immense scorn and personal indignity after abandoning his station aboard the steamboat Patna, Jim must stand up against a society upholding Victorian values and prove more to himself than anyone else that he has not betrayed his own integrity despite the careless judgment given to him by the civil world.
Introducing a powerful and resilient character such as Jim gives Conrad the means to showcase the hypocritical dishonor of judicial Victorianism. The inquiry by which Jim is subjected to the callous interrogation of “not the fundamental why, but the superficial how,” of his jumping ship, is a glaring skeptical display of the uselessness of the previous era's reasoning (Conrad 64). A representation of the constriction of a society that judges itself by appearance, is best told by Marlow the watchful narrator of the event itself, who observes, “nothing [is] more awful than to watch a man who has been found out, not in crime but in a more than criminal weakness” (Conrad 50). Displaying the complete absence of an absolute moral order, Conrad presents a situation in which the lawful good of factual judgment...

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