Jim “Under a Cloud”: The Career of a Leitmotif

Nic Panagopoulos

The present paper begins by arguing that, unlike the omnipresent phrase “one of us” in Lord Jim which has two easily identifiable primary sources, namely Genesis 3:22 and Poetics II, the source of the related poetic leitmotif which imagines grief or shame as a clouded sky is multiple and protean. What Conrad called “the common expressions, ‘under a cloud’” (LJ 259) is shown to have travelled through such grand narratives as Homer’s Iliad (750-700 BC), Sophocles’ Antigone (442-441 BC), and Euripides’ Hippolytus (428 BC), before gracing the pages of Lord Jim. In the shame culture of epic, the clouded-sky motif is identified as signaling the warrior’s rising ire through the pathetic fallacy. In tragedy, on the other hand, the same motif in conjunction with the convention of the theatrical mask is said to signify the opaqueness and inaccessibility of the human psyche which necessitates the construction of identity while facilitating the production of scapegoats. However, in keeping with the anti-Gnostic pessimism that Conrad shares with the Greek tragedians, Lord Jim presents the ontological and moral fog surrounding the protagonist as a blessing in disguise since, as Oedipus’ fate illustrates, there may be more danger finally in being understood than in being misunderstood. Thus, given that Jim is “one of us”, his clouded countenance—akin to a mask shielding an actor’s face from himself as much as from the audience—is presented by the novel as humanity’s last line of defense against tragic knowledge.
Słowa kluczowe: Lord Jim, “under a cloud”, intertext, Homeric epic, shame culture, kleos, poetic formulas, Greek tragedy, theatrical mask, construction of identity, recognition, pessimism, tragic knowledge

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