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Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad

Chapters 37 and 38

Chapters 34 - 36

Chapters 39 - 42

Summary

Marlow's narrative begins by describing an encounter with a dying pirate, Gentleman Brown. Marlow tells us that Brown's story will fill in the gaps of a narrative he has gotten from a visit to Stein's many months before. Arriving at Stein's, Marlow recognizes a Bugis whom he had occasionally seen at Jim's. Entering Stein's house, Marlow finds Tamb'Itam, and asks him if Jim is there. Tamb'Itam looks distraught and says, cryptically, "He would not fight." Stein takes Marlow to see Jewel, who is also at his house. The people from Patusan arrived two days ago, according to their host. Jewel, quietly and calmly, reminds Marlow that she had predicted that Jim would leave her, as all men do. She gives Marlow a brief sketch of events, an account that is not shared with the reader. She is too distraught to talk more, and, when Marlow encounters her later in the day, he upsets her still further by pointing out that her distrust of Jim probably contributed to whatever has happened. Stein reassures her that Jim was true, and tells her he will try to explain it to her someday. Marlow leaves Stein's house in the company of Tamb'Itam, who completes Jewel's narrative (again, the information about what happened to Jim is not shared with the reader).

Marlow begins to tell the story of Jim's final fate by relating the history of Gentleman Brown, a successful pirate who has become the representative ruffian of the area. Brown is dying, sheltered in the hovel of a dissolute white man in Bangkok who worships Brown's legend and feels privileged to let him die in his home. Brown tells Marlow that he had a run of bad luck, beginning with his capture at the hands of a Spanish patrol boat while smuggling guns. He managed to bribe his way into an escape, stealing another ship to replace his, which had been disabled by his captors. Unfortunately, the stolen ship had very little in the way of fresh water or provisions on board, and Brown feared entering port in a stolen vessel. Dying of hunger, he recalls hearing of the remote territory of Patusan. He and his crew anchor off the fishing village and make their way upriver in a boat from their ship. The fishermen have managed to get a warning to the people of Patusan, though, and Brown and his crew are attacked the moment they land. They are forced to retreat to a small hilltop, where they dig in.

Commentary

Marlow's interview with Gentleman Brown is similar in structure to his interview with the alcoholic second engineer of the Patna. These two morally, mentally, and physically corrupted men serve as conduits for parts of Jim's story. Brown is another figure who can be viewed as an alternate to Jim. His life is patterned on romantic tales and abstract ideas of heroics, albeit rather immoral ones. He, too, is largely motivated by fear of being held responsible for his earlier actions, as the next chapters will show. But there is a realism to Brown's struggle to realize his mental image of himself, a realism that Jim's story lacks. Brown is a small-time bandit, a blackmailer of poor villagers; his mistress dies almost immediately after he steals her away from her missionary husband; he himself is constantly subjected to the exigencies of everyday life--thirst, hunger, illness; and he dies horribly, choking to death in a Bangkok slum. Brown's fate is an important contrast to Jim's, which will become clear in a few chapters. Brown represents the real-life version of romantic tales. His life story is the generic bastard child that occurs when romance tries to become reality. Jim's story will end tragically, but aesthetically. Jim's attempt to make heroic tales come to life is not as successful as Brown's, though. Brown has always been a man of action, while Jim is still marked by his failure to act heroically aboard the Patna. Perhaps this accounts for the differing fates of their stories: Brown becomes the very type of the South Pacific ruffian, known even to those back "home" in Europe, while Jim is only of interest to a coterie of sympathetic individuals, who must struggle to piece together the final chapter of his history, and who still find his tale essentially indecipherable.

Jewel's reaction to Marlow and his comments to her compromise his claim to Jim's memory. Marlow has often been cruel to Jim in their conversations, but his harshness in the face of Jewel's grief seems extreme. Jewel predicted Jim's eventual infidelity based on her own life experience and that of her mother. She seems intelligent and credible, and in the end she turns out to be right: Jim does abandon her in favor of something else, something he perceives to be better, an ideal. Stein immediately aligns himself with Marlow in his interpretation of Jim's actions (which, remember, are still mysterious to the reader). Jewel suggests that there is an alternative story here, one in which the worst thing may not be the failure to realize a heroic ideal but instead may be the betrayal of the people closest to one. Her take on the situation finds the actions that will be detailed in the succeeding chapters selfish rather than unselfishly honest, and her version of the story, if it were told, would consider Dain Waris's fate, not Jim's, to be the tragic outcome. That Marlow privileges the account he gets from Gentleman Brown rather than the versions from Jewel or Tamb'Itam is suggestive. On the other hand, Marlow, again, is the only person in the novel who has known Jim both in his moment of greatest failure and at his time of greatest triumph, so perhaps he is the only individual who has the necessary perspective to judge Jim truly.

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