In this article, we assess the value of pragmatic theory through an analysis of a particular novel: Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. We draw on the ideas of three philosophers, J. L. Austin, J. Searle, and H. P. Grice, as well as the work of an applied linguist, H. G. Widdowson. We use ideas on speech acts, social reality, discourse, and the cooperative principle to examine Lord Jim, with a particular focus on three pieces of embedded spoken discourse in the novel. By doing so, we examine how well the theory helps with an analysis of the novel, and how a reading of the novel challenges the pragmatics framework that we use.
In our analysis we find that the speech act framework that we use, adapted from Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, works well in the analysis of the discourse. We also find that Widdowson’s technique of expanding discourse to make cohesion between sentences more overt works well for exploring implicature. In contrast, Austin’s technique for using reported speech to find illocutionary verbs is problematic. A further problem is that the cooperative principle seems too limited in the diversity of oral interaction within the novel, particularly in relation to interlocutors who are in some way unreliable.