From George A Panichas' "The Moral Sense in Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim," which serves as the introductory-interpretive essay to
Wiseblood Books' edition of Conrad's novel, available for purchase here:
In the end, Jim’s habit of detachment and abstraction manifestly rarefies his moral sense and diminishes and even neutralizes the moral meaning of his decisions and actions. His self-proclaimed autonomy dramatizes monomania and egoism, and makes him incapable of harmonious human interrelations, let alone a redeeming humility. His moral sense is consequently incomplete as a paradigm, and his moral virtues are finite. And his fate, as it is defined and shaped by his tragic flaw, does not attain true grandeur. In Jim, it can be said, Conrad presents heroism with
all its limitations. Despite the circumstances of his moral incompleteness, Jim both possesses and enacts the quality of endurance in facing the darkness in himself and in the world around him. Even when he yearns to conceal himself in some forgotten corner of the universe, there to separate himself from other imperfect or fallen humans, from thieves and renegades, and from the harsh exigencies of existence, he also knows that unconditional separation is not attainable.
He persists, however erratically or skeptically, in his pursuit to reconcile the order of the community and the order of the soul;
and he perseveres in his belief in the axiomatic principles of honor,
of loyalty, prescribing the need to transcend inner and outer moral squalor. His death, even if it shows the power of violence, of the evil that stalks man and humanity, of the flaws and foibles that
afflict one’s self, does not diminish the abiding example of Jim’s
struggle to discover and to overcome moral lapses. Jim can never silence the indwelling moral sense which inspires and illuminates his life-journey. Throughout this journey the virtue of endurance does not abandon him, does not betray him, even when he betrays himself and others. He endures in order to prevail.
In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad portrays a fitful but ascendant process of transfiguration in the life of a solitary hero whose courage of endurance contains the seeds of redemption. Such a life recalls the eternal promise of the Evangelist’s words: “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.”