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Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad

Chapters 3 - 5

Chapters 1 and 2

Chapters 6 and 7

Summary

The Patna continues toward Mecca through an impossibly still night. The passengers are asleep and Jim is on watch, imagining heroic deeds as usual. The ship's captain, a tremendously obese and violent "New South Wales German," argues with the second engineer, who is drunk. A sudden impact shakes the ship, pitching the engineer forward and nearly knocking Jim and the captain off their feet. The impact is followed only by silence and a rumbling shake of the ship.

The narrative suddenly skips ahead a month to a courtroom, where an inquest is being held. Jim is on the stand recounting the events of that night. He recalls that he was sent below to examine the ship for damage following the impact, which, it is mentioned, is thought to have been with a floating shipwreck. Jim tells the court that he found the hold filling with water and that he then realized that there must be "a big hole below the waterline." On his way to examine the bulkhead, which divides sections of the hold, he encountered the second engineer, who had broken his arm falling from a ladder. Jim enters into a detailed, impressionistic account of subsequent events, but he is quickly cut off by the court, which wants only "yes or no" answers in their search for the "facts." As he testifies, Jim notices "a white man who [sits] apart from the others, with his face worn and clouded, but with quiet eyes," who is watching him intently. Jim senses that the man understands his predicament (of which we, the readers, are not yet fully aware; why is this inquest being held?). We find out that this man is Marlow, who will narrate a good bit of the story, and who will "later on, many times, in distant parts of the world. . .show. . .himself willing to remember Jim, to remember him at length, in detail and audibly." In other words, Marlow is to be the keeper of Jim's story.

The narrative shifts again, to Marlow, on a verandah after dinner, recounting Jim's story to a group of silent listeners. Marlow admits to his audience that he's not sure why he attended the inquiry, except for the fact that the Patna "affair" (with which the reader is still not fully acquainted) had become "notorious" in the maritime community of that part of the world, and everyone who could came to the trial. Marlow tells his listeners that he himself saw the rescued crew of the Patna arrive in port and report to the harbor office to make a deposition. He digresses for a moment, detailing the repulsive appearance of the crew, particularly the captain, who was wearing someone else's pajamas, and then digresses still further to offer an account of his acquaintance with the harbormaster's clerk, which has no real relevance to the story except to reveal something of Marlow's character: he once gave the clerk a generous tip, he says, because the man's "childlike belief in the sacred right to perquisites quite touched [his] heart." Marlow looked on as the Patna's crew argued with the harbormaster, and it is then that he first noticed Jim, who stood out from the rest of the debased bunch. Marlow immediately fixed on Jim as "one of us," a tag that will be repeated throughout the novel. The crew, after disputing with the harbormaster for a few moments longer, disappeared into a series of rickshaws. The second engineer, with his broken arm, went to the hospital, where Marlow, going to see an injured member of his own crew, encountered him a few days later. Another member of the Patna's crew, a man with a long, drooping mustache, was also in the hospital, in the throes of delirium and hallucinations after a long drinking binge that began when he reached port. Marlow interrogated him, and was told by the man that he saw the Patna go down with his own eyes. He then rambles on about the reptiles on board the ship and the pink toads that are under his hospital bed. Marlow was asked by one of the doctors, as he left the hospital, if the man's testimony would be material to the inquiry. Marlow tells him it would not.

Commentary

The narrative continues to play games with time, jumping between the collision on board the Patna, the inquiry into the collision, and events between the crew's rescue and the inquiry. Note that a great deal of information is still not available to the reader: What did the ship hit? Why did the crew need to be rescued? Why is an inquiry being held into the crew's behavior? And, most critically, who is Marlow, and why is he so interested in Jim? The reader is put in the same position as the crew of the Patna following the impact: something important has just happened, but we're not sure what it is, and the consequences are entirely unclear. Jim theorizes that the Patna has an enormous gouge "below the waterline," but he is unable to see the damage threatening his ship, as it is hidden at the bottom of a dark, flooded compartment below the deck. Just as it is only the flooding that is apparent to Jim, it is only the aftermath of a major, still-unknown event that is visible to the reader: an injured man, a man who has drunk himself into hallucinations, and a trial, for a crime still a mystery to us.

The inquiry introduces Marlow (he's a spectator), and also serves to highlight his curious interest in Jim by way of contrast. The inquiry is interested in "fact," so much so that the magistrate presiding tells Jim to curtail his explanations and reminiscences and get to the point. "Yes or no" answers are what the court wants, but perhaps, as Marlow's presence suggests, the issues at hand require a more subtle form of inquiry. Marlow fixates on Jim's status as "one of us," but what does this phrase mean? Marlow and Jim are both sailors, but so are the men who seem to have Jim on trial (as we will find out later, in fact, this is a hearing to revoke the officers' certificates of the crew, not a criminal trial). Marlow initially offers us the explanation that he is interested in Jim because he is "outwardly so typical of that good, stupid kind we like to feel marching right and left of us in life"; in other words, he claims to pity Jim in a way, and to feel an urge to protect him. Later, though, Marlow gives a more complicated reason for his interest, saying that he "would have trusted the deck [of his ship] to that youngster on the strength of a single glance, and gone to sleep with both eyes [shut]--and, by Jove! it wouldn't have been safe." He preliminarily concludes that Jim fascinates him because "he look[s] as genuine as a new sovereign, but there [is] some infernal alloy in his metal." What does this mean, and why does Marlow so deeply identify with Jim? We still don't know why it wouldn't be safe to trust Jim with a ship (after all, we've just heard about his great "Ability") nor why Jim should be considered "infernal." Above all, who is this Marlow, and how is it that he has access to every part of Jim's story? Marlow is the consummate storyteller, as we see in the hypothetical setup at the end of Chapter 4 and the beginning of Chapter 5. He reorders the material at hand to maximize suspense and create meaningful juxtapositions and omissions. Most of all, he offers a record of his own involvement with and reaction to Jim's story. Marlow constructs himself as an alternate hero, an intellectual hero who is not only Jim's best reader, but also his best representative, his best hope for a continued place in the world's memory.

Pay attention to Marlow's encounter with the alcoholic crewman from the Patna. This is a novel filled with coincidences and parallel structures, and this is a plot device that will recur. Coincidence is an important idea in this novel. Marlow's eventual ability to piece together all of Jim's story is due to chance meetings, mutual acquaintances, and the similarity in their occupations. He takes an interest in Jim and makes an effort to learn about him over time, but he is aided by sheer luck and some mysterious circumstances, in a part of the world where distances are great and "civilization" is still minimal. What does coincidence mean in Lord Jim? It is not evidence of providential design or predestined fate; rather, coincidence highlights Jim's representative quality--he is, in some way, "one of" all of "us." It also emphasizes Jim's inability to escape his past, a fact which will assume great importance in the closing chapters of the novel; despite moving thousands of miles away from white civilization and several years forward in time, Jim is never quite able to escape whatever it is that happened on the Patna. The role of coincidence thus also suggests lingering overtones of Victorian moral codes, under which nothing goes unpunished, nothing is forgiven. Watch for repeating structures and coincidences in the plot, and look particularly for parallels between the two major episodes.

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