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Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad

Chapters 43 -45

Chapters 39 - 42

Analysis

Summary

Swayed by the people's faith in Jim and his own fear of risking his son Dain Waris, Doramin agrees to let Gentleman Brown and his men escape. Preparations are made. Jewel begs an exhausted Jim not to take active command. He tells her that every life in Patusan is his responsibility now, since the people have placed their trust in his opinion. Tamb'Itam is sent downriver to notify Dain Waris that Brown is to be allowed to pass. He takes with him Stein's silver ring as a token of his identity. Jim sends Cornelius to Brown with a note informing him that he will be allowed to go. Cornelius delivers the note, then tells Brown that an armed party headed by Dain Waris, the very man who ambushed Brown initially, waits downstream. Cornelius also tells Brown that there is an alternate river channel that will take him directly behind Dain Waris's camp, and that he, Cornelius, can guide Brown's men down it.

Two hours before dawn, in a thick fog, Brown and his men head down the river. Jim calls out that he will try to send them some food. Unbeknownst to those ashore, Cornelius accompanies Brown. When they reach the alternate channel, Cornelius takes over the navigation. Meanwhile, Tamb'Itam reaches Dain Waris's camp with news of the truce. He gives Dain Waris the silver ring, which Dain Waris slips on his finger. A moment later, Gentleman Brown lands his boat behind the camp to take his revenge "upon the world." He and his men open fire. Many fall dead, including Dain Waris, who takes a bullet in the forehead. Brown and his men leave as quickly as they came.

Tamb'Itam, who has not been hurt, rushes to his canoe to get the news to Doramin and Jim. At the water's edge, he finds Cornelius struggling to launch a boat and escape. Tamb'Itam strikes him twice, killing him. Marlow digresses for a moment to report that a ship's boat was picked up a month after the massacre in the middle of the Indian Ocean. On board were Brown and two of his men, who claimed that they had been transporting a cargo of sugar when their ship sprung a leak and sunk. The two men died aboard the rescue vehicle; Brown has survived to tell Marlow this story. Returning to the main narrative, Marlow recounts Tamb'Itam's arrival back in Patusan. He finds Jewel, who immediately fears Doramin's wrath for the death of his son. Next he carries the news to Jim, who prepares to go fight. Tamb'Itam reluctantly informs him that he is no longer safe among the people of Patusan. This realization hits Jim hard. Tamb'Itam and Jewel urge Jim to fight for his life. Jim seems not to hear them and orders that the gates of his compound be opened and his men dismissed. Dain Waris's body is brought to Doramin's courtyard. Stein's silver ring is found on his finger. Doramin lets out a bellow and the crowd begins to murmur, realizing that the ring could only have come from Jim. Jim prepares to leave his house. Jewel reminds him of his promise not to leave her, and he tells her that he would no longer be worth having if he didn't leave. He departs for Doramin's. Tamb'Itam recalls the frightful aspect of the sky, and Marlow notes that a cyclone passed near Patusan on that very day.

Jim arrives at Doramin's. Approaching the old man, he declares himself sorrowful and unarmed. Doramin stands, sending the silver ring rolling toward Jim. Doramin shoots Jim through the heart, and Jim falls dead. Marlow ends the narrative reiterating the dark, romantic nature of Jim's life and his "extraordinary success." Yet, for Marlow, Jim remains "inscrutable at heart," and the meaning of the narrative is still in question.

Commentary

It is Marlow, not Jim, who has the last word on Jim's life, noting simply that "[h]e is gone, inscrutable at heart." The word "heart" has been associated with Jim over and over again. He is described both as having a core, or "heart," that is in some way unknowable or confusing, and also as being at the "heart" of some vast puzzle. The doubled use of this word points back to some of the earlier incidents of confusion over language ("cur," "water," "jewel") and the failure of language to have a definitive meaning. Jim's life has no definitive meaning either. The two "hearts" associated with Jim are also suggestive of one of the fundamental problems of the novel: is Jim in fact representative of something larger than himself? Is there an "us" that he is "one of"? Whether he is at the heart of the inscrutable or merely inscrutable at heart is the fundamental question Marlow must answer. By deferring to Stein, and speaking of Stein's approaching end, and by finishing the narrative in a manuscript rather than in another session of storytelling, Marlow avoids the question. Perhaps it is a question that cannot be answered at all; as Marlow notes, some days Jim seems very real to him, some days Jim seems not to have existed at all.

As Marlow notes, Jim has "[gone] away from a living woman to celebrate his pitiless wedding with a shadowy ideal of conduct." Marlow thus assigns Jim's story to the realm of romance. The ending of Lord Jim suggests more of a fatal collision between romance and realism than any sort of viable, pure romance, though. Jim's choice of the "shadowy ideal of conduct" has led to the deaths of Dain Waris and other men, and to the destruction of Jewel's world. Had Jim not dwelt so fixedly on his failure in the Patna incident, he would have ordered the deaths of Brown and his men, and all would have been well in Patusan. On the other hand, had Jim not dwelt so fixedly on the Patna, he would never have come to Patusan, and arguably not only he but also the people of Patusan are better off for his presence. Idealism and notions of heroism lead to nothing but paradox and sadness. This novel has more in common with Hemingway's tales of damaged and disillusioned men or T.S. Eliot's narratives of the forlorn and impotent than it does with earlier works in which moral upstandingness leads to death with honor, if not a happy ending complete with riches and beautiful women. That this section contains more of the trappings of traditional swashbuckling romance (the ring as token, the hero going to his death, the heartbroken heroine) is meant to highlight the contrast. The ending is a mixed one: Jim dies, with a curious mixture of honor and shame, in a manner at least somewhat similar to an old-fashioned hero, while Marlow, like one of Hemingway's protagonists, is left alive, sadder but not necessarily wiser.

This is also a section heavier in symbolism than most. The fog which envelops Brown and his men as they head downriver contrasts with the extreme clarity with which Marlow last sees Jim, on the beach with the fishermen. It is also indicative of the amorphous morality of both Brown's and Jim's actions. Brown, after all, thinks he has been double-crossed, based on the information Cornelius has given him. Jim, as we have already seen, is caught in a bind. The night of the Patna's accident was crystal-clear and still; nothing should have obscured Jim's decision-making then. Because he failed then, yet has held on to his ideals, situations no longer have clear solutions. Brown, too, although he seems to be acting logically, is also punished, by being shipwrecked soon afterward and dying a long, drawn-out death. Weather, though, is the primary vehicle for symbolic content. When the fog clears off, Tamb'Itam reports, the sky is in turmoil. Marlow attributes this to a cyclone passing nearby. This is another moment when romance and realism are at odds. In a romantic world, the cyclone would have descended upon Patusan at the moment of Jim's death, symbolizing the disorder in the world that led to the destruction of our hero. In a realistic world, weather would be ordinary and meaningless. The cyclone's close approach suggests a failure of both models; somehow, Jim's death must be given import, yet the issues surrounding it are too muddled and romance too outmoded for the full symbolic performance to occur. This cyclone should be contrasted to the squall that hits the Patna, as well as to the rumored hurricane that wipes out Chester and Robinson's guano-collecting expedition to the Walpole Reef. Here, finally, the storm--the symbol of higher powers or order--fails to impose its meaning.

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