As a child, Jim is described as being influenced by ‘light literature’ and whilst training to be a seaman he used to imagine the heroic deeds he could perform. This romanticized view of himself, which is shaped by his reading, continues to be an influence on him as an adult. It is this imaginative desire to be a hero that contributes to his guilt when he decides to jump into the lifeboat rather than stay on board the Patna. Not only does he fail to live up to his own expectations, he also misses the opportunity of showing the world his value.
This theme of wanting to be perceived as heroic is the dominant theme of the novel as this goes on to influence Jim’s decision to stand before the grieving Doramin unarmed. Without this romantic view of what a hero should do, Jim (like other lesser mortals), would have either run away or defended himself. His ‘excessive’ love for the romantic may be seen, then, to contribute to his martyrdom in the final chapter. The irony of this is evident as these dangers of believing in romantic adventurous dreams are related in a love story (as Marlow tells us), which is full of adventures.
Jim’s sense of shame that arises because he jumped from what he believed was a sinking ship never quite leaves him and it is, from then on, a constant shadow over his happiness. This pervasive emotion is constantly returned to by Marlow in his narrative as he points out several times that others do not think badly of him; it is only Jim that is unable to forgive himself.
Through the treatment of Jim’s shame, the novel is able to examine the dangers of seeing romantic escapades as realistic. This is also a means to expose the destructiveness of some masculine values as Jim is unable to live in a society that knows about his past. Furthermore, because he has failed to live up to the (impossible) obligations of sacrifice and honor, he punishes himself for the rest of his life and this includes being swayed by the dishonorable ‘Gentleman’ Brown.
If one notes the novel’s epigraph by Novalis, it is possible to see that the concept of trust is being introduced as an early theme: ‘It is Certain my conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe in it.’ This belief in another is seen in Marlow’s friendship with Jim as well as in Stein’s desire to support a fellow romantic. Their trust for this younger man (who Marlow refers to as ‘one of us’) is vital for Jim’s well being.
However, when the trust is gained and then broken, as Doramin views the final stage of his relationship with Jim, the effect is lethal. Trust between these two men has been symbolized by the silver ring, which Stein gave to Jim to help smooth his introduction into this new society. On the death of Dain Waris, the ring now represents dishonor and treachery. Similarly, Jewel feels that Jim has broken his bond with her when he fails to run away or defend himself. She interprets his resignation to fate as a form of betrayal.