- Also known as "Lord Jim," or "Tuan Jim." The hero of our story, Jim is a young man who, inspired by popular literature, goes to sea dreaming of becoming a hero. He gets his chance when the ship he is aboard gets damaged, and fails utterly by abandoning ship with the rest of the crew. Haunted by his failure and stripped of his officer's certificate, he wanders from job to job, finally becoming the manager of a remote trading post. He falls in love with Jewel, a beautiful, half-native girl, and, by defeating a local bandit, becomes leader of the people. His dreams of heroism lead to his failure to kill a marauding white pirate, Gentleman Brown, which in turn leads to the death of Dain Waris, his best friend and son of Doramin, the local chief. Jim allows Doramin to shoot him in retribution.
- The narrator of this story and a ship's captain. Marlow first encounters Jim at the inquiry where Jim loses his certification. Feeling that Jim is "one of us," he takes an interest in him, first helping him find employment as a water clerk and as a trading post manager for Stein, then compulsively piecing together Jim's story and perpetuating it through various retellings. It is Marlow who filters and interprets most of the narrative for the reader.
- Daughter of the Dutch-Malay woman and stepdaughter of Cornelius. She and Jim fall in love, and she makes him promise never to leave her. She is a pragmatic woman and encourages Jim to fight to survive after Dain Waris's death. Marlow encounters her after Jim's death at Stein's, where she, broken and saddened, reminds Marlow that her prediction of Jim's infidelity has come true.
- The owner of a large trading post, he sends first Cornelius and then Jim to Patusan. Stein was forced to flee Europe as a young man after becoming involved in revolutionary activities. Having made his way to the East Indies, he has become successful as a trader. A thoughtful, analytical man who immediately "diagnoses" Jim for Marlow, he collects butterflies and beetles.
- A white pirate who, having barely escaped Spanish officials in the Philippines, comes to Patusan hoping to steal some provisions. He is rather famous in this part of the world, and is used as the stock bad guy whenever locals are telling stories. He is proud, terrified of confinement. He and his men are attacked upon arrival in Patusan by Dain Waris and his band, who have had advance warning of their coming. Although he had initially wanted to conquer and loot Patusan, he realizes he is outnumbered and negotiates with Jim. In those negotiations, Brown shows that he is aware that Jim has a dark past, thereby appealing to Jim's tortured sense of ideals and receiving permission to retreat in safety. Brown has been conspiring with Cornelius and the Rajah Allang, though, and on his way back to his ship, he surprises Dain Waris and his men at their camp. Dain Waris is killed, which will lead to Jim's death. Brown and his men are shipwrecked soon after. Brown is the only survivor, although he dies soon afterward. Marlow visits him on his deathbed and gets part of the story from him. Brown is an important contrast to Jim, as a man who lives a romantic life, but one that is far from moral or idealized. Unlike Jim, Brown is quick to own up to his past and his fears.
- Husband of the Dutch-Malay woman, he is the previous manager of Stein's Patusan post. A bitter, conniving man, he betrays Jim to Gentleman Brown and causes the death of Dain Waris. He is Jewel's stepfather, and treats her badly, even asking for Jim to give him money in exchange for her.
- A woman with a mysterious past, she is Jewel's mother and Cornelius's wife (although Cornelius is not Jewel's father). As a favor to her, Stein gives Cornelius a post in Patusan. She dies a horrible death with Cornelius, who has always tormented her, trying to break down the door to her room.
Crew of the Patna
- Jim's fellow officers aboard the Patna,
they immediately begin to try to leave the damaged ship after the collision. A physically repulsive and dishonorable lot, they flee before the inquiry. One of them, the third engineer, dies of a heart attack on board and is found by rescuers. Marlow meets with another of them in a hospital. The man is delirious from the effects of alcoholism and is hallucinating pink toads, but he tells Marlow that he personally watched the Patna
sink (the ship did not actually sink). The captain is an enormous, disgusting man who bullies Jim. Jim encounters another of the engineers in the workplace of his first post-Patna
employer, which causes him (Jim) to skip town.
- One of the most decorated and respected ship's captains in the area. He is on the board of inquiry that tries Jim. Secretly, he makes Marlow an offer of money to help Jim run away. Not long after the inquiry, he commits suicide, motivated by some secret shame. He is implicitly contrasted with Jim.
Chester and Robinson
- Two disreputable characters who offer Jim, through Marlow, a job taking a wreck of a ship to a desolate island to collect guano. Both have questionable pasts and can be compared with both Jim and Gentleman Brown. The guano-collecting mission, under someone else's command, leaves port and is never heard from again; it is thought to have been wiped out by a hurricane.
- Marlow meets the French lieutenant in a Sydney café many years after the events of the novel. The lieutenant was the man who stayed aboard the damaged Patna
as his gunboat towed her back into port. Although his act was heroic, he seems to have been motivated more by duty and professionalism. His prosaic attitude and his failure to describe the mystery of the experience adequately in words disappoints and even disgusts Marlow.
- Chief of the Bugis; a wise, kind old man and a "war-comrade" of Stein's. Stein gives Jim a silver ring as a token of introduction to Doramin. Doramin saves Jim after his escape from the Rajah Allang, who had been holding him prisoner. Doramin is the father of Dain Waris, Jim's closest friend. When Dain Waris is killed because of Jim's misjudgment, Doramin shoots and kills Jim, who has offered himself up as a sacrifice.
- Doramin's son and Jim's best friend. The two are soul mates, and Dain Waris serves as Jim's second-in-command. He leads the initial attack on Gentleman Brown, but is not entirely successful, lacking Jim's charisma as a leader of men. He is killed when Cornelius leads Brown down the river channel behind his camp, after Jim foolishly frees Brown and his men.
- A group of traders from Celebes who immigrate to Patusan many years before Jim arrives there. They are constantly embroiled in conflict with the Rajah Allang, who wants to shut down their trading activities and enjoy a monopoly for himself. Doramin is their chief.
- A Malay who came to Patusan and was enslaved by the Rajah Allang. Freed by Doramin, he becomes Jim's loyal servant and adviser. He escapes with Jewel after Jim's death and is the one to give Marlow the most complete account of Jim's final days.
- Also known as Tunku Allang. The corrupt, unofficial ruler of Patusan; the uncle of the legitimate but underage and possibly mentally-incompetent Sultan. He tries to enforce a monopoly on trade in the area. Allang captures Jim upon his arrival in Patusan. He also secretly allies with Gentleman Brown against Jim.
- A fanatic Muslim bandit who terrorizes Patusan from a stronghold in the hills. Jim defeats Ali to become a hero in Patusan.