Realization of one’s imminent death can drastically change an individual. Knowing that death is imminent can change the way we look at things, and cause us to confess our sins. In Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad and Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the main characters experience this trauma. The instant that Jim jumps from the Patna, his life becomes a series of lies that will tamper with him for the rest of his life. He cannot confess the cowardly act that plagues him incessantly and, thus, he is controlled by his hidden secret.
Only when he realizes that he is going to die does Jim face the lie. In parallel, Macbeth also is controlled by a lie. Macbeth’s murder of Duncan ignites a guilt inside of him that can only be confronted before he fights Macduff. Macbeth also needs to face the false promises that the witches gave him. These promises give Macbeth a false sense of security which help lead to his demise. Macbeth, like Jim, is badgered by a singular act that prevents him from living an honest life.
However, both men are able to redeem themselves prior to their deaths. By confronting the lies and dying with dignity, the two men are able to regain some of their honor. The similarity between the two works emphasizes the effect of lies on the way an individual lives, and further stresses the internal struggle that Jim faced after he had jumped from the Patna. In their respective stories, Jim and Macbeth face the lies that dictated their lives and, consequentially, die with some of the dignity and honor that they had once experienced in their lives. This process is described as each man realizes and confronts his lies, faces the fatal consequences, and eventually dies.
The most significant point in Lord Jim and Macbeth is the respective main character’s realization of his lies. The realization of the lies begin by a singular drastic event that catches both men by surprise. When Tamb’ Itam explains to Jim about Dain Waris’ death, Jim is shocked. Jim separates himself from everyone else to ponder both the past and the present.
‘What thoughts passed through his head – what memories? Who can tell? Everything was gone, and he who had been once unfaithful to his trust had lost again all men’s confidence. It was then I believe, he tried to write – to somebody and gave it up. Loneliness was closing on him. People had trusted him with their lives – only for that; and yet they could never, as he had said, never be made to understand him’; (Conrad 302).
Jim ponders everything and knows what he must do. When Jewel screams for him to fight, Marlow describes, ‘There was nothing to fight for. He was going to prove his power in another way and conquer the fatal destiny itself’; (Conrad 302). He decided that he would put everything that he had happened in his past and face his fate. He faced the fact that his life had been filled with situations where he avoided adversity and never became the hero that he wanted to be.
Jim accepted what he had done in the past and was willing to submit to his fate and hoped to regain some dignity before he died. For a majority of Jim’s life, he was engulfed in personal shame for jumping from the Patna and leaving so many people behind. As Gentleman Brown said, Jim was a hollow man. Facing his death could help to bury his past. In Macbeth, Macduff’s confrontation with Macbeth is parallel to Tamb’ Itam’s visit to Jim. Both Macduff and Tamb’ Itam surprise Macbeth and Jim respectively. When Macbeth faces Macduff, he is brimming with confidence because he thinks that he is immortal.
‘Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
To one of woman born.
‘And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripped.’; (Shakespeare V, viii, 14 – 20)
When Macduff tells Macbeth that he was no actually born of woman, Macbeth realizes that the three witches have lied to him about his mortality and that he will die. He says, ‘And be these juggling fiends no more believed,/That keep the word of promise to our ear,/And break it to our hope.’; (Shakespeare V, viii, 23 – 25). The shock and utter horror that Macbeth experienced was similar to that which Jim felt when Tamb’ Itam told him about Dain Waris. The feeling of devastation that both men felt nearly instantaneously caused the men to confront the lies that they had endured. The similarities between the two scenes emphasizes the feelings that Jim was having when he accepted his past.
The second stage of Jim facing his lies is his confrontation with Doramin. When Jim approached Doramin’s campong, the surrounding people were originally in awe. The feeling of awe was soon replaced by admiration. The people were very pleased to see that Jim had come to accept responsibility.
”He came! He came’ was running from lip to lip, making a murmur to which he moved. ‘He hath taken it upon his own head,’ a voice said aloud. He heard this and turned to the crows. ‘Yes. Upon my head.’ A few people recoiled. Jim waited awhile before Doramin, and then said, ‘I am come in sorrow.’ He waited again. ‘I am come ready and unarmed.’ he repeated.’; (Conrad 307).
Jim has gained back the respect the Patusanians that looked up to him. Jim is gaining a dignity and pride which, since he jumped from the Patna, has eluded him. For once in his life, Jim acted maturely and took responsibility for his actions. He was no longer the hollow individual that Gentleman Brown labeled him as. He shed his former guise and expressed what he truly wanted to become. This is similar to the confrontation between Macbeth and Macduff. After Macbeth tells Macduff that he will not fight, Macduff says:
‘Then yield thee, coward,
And live to be the show and gaze o’ the time.
We’ll have thee, as out rarer monsters are,
Painted upon a pole, and underwrit
‘Here may you see the tyrant.’; (Shakespeare V, viii, 27 – 31).
Like Jim, Macbeth refuses to end his life as a coward. He is enraged by the comment and shows signs of the fiery leader that he once was. Macbeth wishes to put what has happened behind him and die with honor. He says:
‘I will not yield
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet
And to be baited with the rabble’s curse.
Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane
And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And damned be him that first cries ‘Hold! Enough!’; (Shakespeare V, viii, 32 – 39).
Both Jim and Macbeth wish to die as men of honor, not cowards. Despite the fatal consequences, the two tragic heroes wanted to proclaim a final, if not singular, essence of self-confidence, heroism, and dignity. Confronting their ultimate demise was their final opportunity to do just this. These harmonic scenes help explain Jim’s reasons for accepting the consequences for what he has done. He, like Macbeth and many other individuals, want to be a respected and honored man.
The final constituent to Jim’s fate is his death. The buildup to Jim’s death proves him to be an honorable man because he is willing to die. Jim feels sorrow for what has happened to Dain Waris and acknowledges the rage that Doramin would feel. In silence, Jim stood near Doramin waiting for his reaction when Doramin stood up with the assistance of a young man and shot Jim in the chest.
‘The crowd, which had fallen apart behind Jim as soon as Doramin had raised his hand, rushed tumultuously forward after the shot. They say that the white man sent right and left at all those faces a proud and unflinching glance. Then with his hand over his lips he fell forward dead.’; (Conrad 307).
The way that Jim died is also very important. The old Jim would have screamed in pain or begged for mercy. Instead, Jim took the shot as a consequence for what had happened to Dain Waris. He looked around at the faces that were now filled with respect and love for their Tuan Jim, not hate and spite which would have been their reaction had Jim not accepted responsibility. His honorable death culminates a happy ending to a man who was tormented throughout his entire life for a single incident. Marlow expresses this by saying:
‘Not in the wildest days of his boyish visions could he have seen the alluring shape of such an extraordinary success! For it may very well be that in the short moment of his last proud and unflinching glance, he had beheld the face of that opportunity which, like an Eastern bride, had come veiled to his side.’; (Conrad 307).
Marlow is proud of Jim for being able to overcome his lifelong lie about the Patna and for becoming a man. Marlow thinks that Jim would be shocked at the success that Jim ended up having. I feel that when Jim accepts his fate, he doesn’t completely understand what the result will be. He doesn’t realize that accepting responsibility will prove him to be an honorable man. There is another parallel between Jim’s death and Macbeth’s death. In his final moments, Macbeth reveals his true self by fighting for his life. After he killed Duncan, he was a coward, never showing the qualities of a good king.
However, when Macbeth faces his lies, he is able to show the courage and valor that he had before Duncan’s death and the witches predictions. Macbeth’s death was different than Jim’s but his final intentions were nearly identical to those of Jim; if he died, he wanted to die with dignity. The similarities between the deaths of Macbeth and Jim help our understanding of the Jim’s desire to be a true hero. Macbeth fell under similar circumstances while having the same intentions of Jim. Dying with dignity saved some dignity for both of the men whether it be from others or themselves.
Both Macbeth and Jim were victims of unfortunate surroundings that led to extreme psychological anguish for the two men. Jim’s habit of daydreaming was his downfall, and the influence of Lady Macbeth and the three witches was Macbeth’s. They were the cause of their life long lies that they needed to suppress. Near the end of their lives, they eventually confronted these lies and were able to die with dignity as tragic heroes. They both wanted to be honorable men and despite what happened in their lives, that is what they eventually became.