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Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad

Chapters 6 and 7

Chapters 3 - 5

Chapters 8 - 12

Summary

Marlow offers his take on the inquiry. The facts of the Patna case were already known with as much certainty as possible, he claims, and the inquiry is merely being held to satisfy some deep psychological need of the community of sailors. Marlow thinks about Captain Brierly, one of the judges at the inquiry. Brierly is a well-regarded, well-known sailor who commands one of the best ships in the East, a man who has been recognized for his feats of heroism and good seamanship. Yet, Marlow tells us, Brierly commits suicide soon after the inquiry into the Patna affair. Brierly's chief mate, whom Marlow encounters later, tells of Brierly's careful preparations before jumping overboard to drown in the middle of a passage. Marlow reflects that the man's suicide, not attributable to any other cause, must have been a result of a self-condemnation provoked by some identification with Jim. Marlow encounters Brierly on the street during the inquiry and has a terse conversation with him. Agreeing with Marlow that Jim is being tormented because he assents to being tormented, Brierly proposes to Marlow that the two put up a fund of money with which Jim can flee, on the condition that Marlow make the offer to Jim. The next day, Marlow finally has occasion to speak to Jim. Leaving court, Jim is just in front of Marlow. Someone outside the court has a dog with them, which trips up the crowd. Another person in the crowd makes reference to the dog, calling it a "cur." Jim whirls around and accuses Marlow of insulting him, thinking it was Marlow who uttered the word (a significant insult, if directed at a person, and, with its implication of cowardice, particularly hurtful to Jim) and that it was directed at him. He also tells Marlow that he's noticed him staring during the inquiry. Marlow points out the dog in the crowd and explains the mistake.

Jim is abashed but defiant; he runs off. Marlow follows him, unsure why he is doing so, and invites him to dine at his hotel. Jim agrees, and the two eat in a dining room full of package tourists. Slowly, Jim begins to talk, first of his torment, then of his shame at his family's knowledge of his trial, then of his desire to be understood by someone, anyone. Marlow will do, he says. Marlow again notes that Jim is "one of us." Jim begins to describe the events following the Patna's collision: going below again, he found that the bulkhead separating the flooded compartment from the rest of the hold was bulging and about to fail. If it were to fail, the ship would surely sink. Jim begins to reflect on "the chance missed," eventually getting to the heart of "the impossible world of romantic achievements" that could have been his, given this opportunity. Through a series of indirect references by both men, the reader is given to understand that the Patna's officers, sure that the bulkhead would fail and the ship sink, had abandoned the ship, leaving its cargo of pilgrims behind. The officers were picked up a few days later by another vessel, whose captain they told that the Patna had sunk. Apparently, however, the bulkhead did not fail, and the ship did not sink. This is why Jim (along with the other officers in absentia) has been put on trial; he missed his chance to do the heroic thing by staying with the damaged ship, and instead made the worst possible mistake a seaman could make, abandoning a still-floating ship. Jim recalls watching the sleeping pilgrims, aware that, due to a lack of lifeboats, they were all already dead. Paralyzed by some unnameable emotion, he does not wake any of them.

Commentary

Brierly's story, which begins this section, reinforces Marlow's idea about Jim being "one of us." Although Brierly is one of the most successful merchant seamen in the Pacific, he nevertheless has something in common with Jim, something that drives him to pass the ultimate judgment on himself. The actual act of Brierly's suicide is significant in two ways. First, Brierly's actual jump overboard is not narrated. There is a void where the action should be, as will be the case with the two most significant moments of Jim's life, when we finally get to them. Instead, Brierly's chief mate is only able to describe the events and preparations surrounding Brierly's death. From this description it is obvious that the suicide has been carefully planned, the culmination of many hours of fantasy about the event itself. This is the second significant aspect of the suicide: its analogous relation to Jim's fantasy world of heroic deeds. Like Jim, Brierly rehearses the act in his head, imagining all the circumstances leading up to it and considering himself particularly qualified to undertake this action. Unlike Jim's, though, Brierly's fantasies become reality. The significance of Brierly's death will become even more apparent when Jim resumes the story of what happened on the Patna, when we see him faced with a jump of his own.

The "cur" incident will also have a parallel aboard the Patna, as Jim will reveal in Chapter 8. The scene with the dog also serves as another instance of indecipherability. While the actual use of the word "cur" is directed to the dog outside the courthouse, the inquiry underway within the courthouse represents the community of seamen implicitly accusing Jim of being a "cur." And, as his subsequent conversation with Marlow reveals, his resentment over the implied slur has him at a boiling point. In a novel full of vague words and indirect conversations, this moment also stands out as one where language achieves an unusual sharpness.

Most importantly for us, though, it gives Jim and Marlow a chance to meet. Each has noticed the other. While Marlow is drawn to Jim for deep psychological reasons, Jim is interested in Marlow because he thinks Marlow has been staring at him with undue curiosity and in a condemnatory way. It is a sign of the strong fascination each has with the other that they come together over an insult that wasn't meant to be one. Jim, still convinced that his true self is based in his heroic fantasies, rejects the term "cur," while Marlow, initially put in the position of the giver of the insult, finds himself rushing after Jim to make explanations and amends. Marlow is barely offended when Jim, during the course of their conversation, suggests that the epithet may better apply to Marlow himself. Note, too, that Marlow is often cutting or insensitive to Jim in the course of their conversation.

The entangling of the judging and the judged that takes place over the word "cur" foreshadows the way the two men's stories will become entangled. Jim chooses Marlow as a recipient for his narrative, wanting only to find someone who will "understand." Jim's desire to perpetuate and justify himself through his story calls to mind traditional notions of poetic immortality; if Jim's story lives on, so too, in some way, does Jim. Marlow, though, is not a neutral recipient of the tale. Seeing something in Jim that corresponds to a part of himself, he co-opts it; Lord Jim becomes a story that can say something about Marlow, that is perhaps in the end more Marlow's story than Jim's.

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