page 1 of 2
Jim tells Marlow the rest of the story of what happened aboard the Patna: Finding himself amidst a crowd of sleeping pilgrims, he realizes that there will be nowhere near enough room in the lifeboats for everyone. Suddenly one of the passengers grabs him and utters the word "water." Thinking that the man is aware of the flooding belowdecks and worried that his shouting will start a panic, Jim attacks the man to silence him. Only then does he realize that the man is not referring to the flooding but is only asking for a drink for his sick child. Jim hands his water bottle to the man and goes to the bridge, where the rest of the officers are trying to launch a lifeboat. They ask him for help and abuse him when he inquires about their plans for patching the ship. Jim describes for Marlow the impossibility of shoring up the failing bulkhead below, then enters into an elaborate meditation on his emotions at the time and the perilous position of the ship, floating head-down in a leaden sea. Marlow recalls the testimony of the Patna's two Malay steersmen at the inquiry: when asked what they thought when the white crew left the ship, one replies, "Nothing," while the other says that he thought the white men must have had "secret reasons." The officers continue to abuse Jim as they struggle to launch the boat. Jim laughs insanely as he tells Marlow this part of the story. Jim finally understands the urgency when one of the officers points to the horizon; a squall is approaching, which will surely sink the damaged ship. Nevertheless, Jim is too paralyzed with the thought of the pilgrims sleeping below to help with the lifeboat. The squall draws nearer, and Jim feels a slight swell pass under the ship, which until now has been in a perfectly calm sea. The third engineer drops dead from a heart attack as the officers continue to work. Finally, the lifeboat rips free of the ship, waking many of the passengers below. Several things seem to happen at once: the squall begins to hit, the crew gets into the boat, the third engineer's corpse slumps sideways as Jim stumbles over its legs, and the officers begin to yell for the dead man to join them in the boat, unaware that he has died. The next moment, that of crucial action, is not described in the narrative. Somehow, Jim finds himself in the boat. He, too, has abandoned ship.
The squall hits; the men in the boat struggle to pull away from the sinking Patna. Seeing no lights from the ship, they agree that she has gone down. The men begin to talk of their narrow escape, ridiculing the man they think is the third engineer for his hesitation in jumping. When they discover that it is actually Jim in the boat with them, they accuse him of murdering the engineer by taking his place in the boat. The crew constructs a unified version of events to give to the authorities on shore. Jim ignores them and spends the night clutching a piece of wood, ready to defend himself. At this point in the story, Jim pauses and asks Marlow, "Don't you believe it?" Marlow finds himself declaring his faith in Jim and his account. Jim tortures himself and Marlow for several minutes, examining the alternative possibilities available to him and justifying his course of action. Again he makes Marlow state his belief in the tale and in Jim's motives.
The men in the lifeboat are picked up by the Avondale, a passing ship, the next morning. They tell the version of the story upon which they agreed during the night; Jim does not dissent, although he feels as if he were "cheating the dead." That he soon finds out that there are no dead, that the Patna has made it into port, is of little account. He admits to Marlow now that he thought he heard shouts after the squall hit, and after the men had declared the ship sunk, although he still attributes the noises to his imagination. Jim recalls learning of the Patna's deliverance upon reaching port. Marlow ponders the question of the disappearing ship's lights, wondering why the men were so quick to assume that they indicated the sinking of the Patna. He recalls Captain Brierly's explanation at the inquest, that the arrival of the squall had caused the ship, dead in the water and listing, to swing about, thus hiding the lights from the men in the lifeboat.
The story of the Patna's rescue comes from Marlow, who has gotten it from official reports and from an old French officer he meets many years later in Sydney. Around the same time the crew were picked up, a French gunboat encountered the Patna and attached a tow line. The old man Marlow meets is the officer from the gunboat who stayed onboard the Patna as she was being towed into harbor. Miraculously, the Patna makes it into port. The French officer recalls the boredom of being aboard the ship and complains that, although he was able to eat, he had no wine. He also recalls the great interest shown by both the passengers and the authorities in the corpse of the third engineer, which he found where it fell after Jim stumbled over it. Marlow is amazed that, so many years later and so far away, he continues to encounter Jim's story.
This section presents a number of figures who serve as alternatives to Jim. The first, of course, is Marlow, who continues to be fascinated, repulsed, and personally involved, and who, although he compulsively makes cruel comments to Jim, is nevertheless willing to declare his faith and sympathy again and again. The second contrast is with the dead third engineer. Overcome with horror and fear, the man simply drops dead rather than deal with the situation. While this is certainly not an option valorized in the narrative, it seems to be slightly better than Jim's paralysis and total lack of action. The Malay steersmen also provide perspective on Jim. Both espouse somewhat simplistic conceptions of duty: one believes it his job not to think at all, while the other holds to a naïve faith in the motives of the white officers. Both, of course, do the "right" thing by staying on the ship, but neither, it seems, has any thought of becoming a hero by doing so. They are just doing their job. Whereas neither a sense of duty nor the opportunity to fulfill his fantasies of heroism are enough to keep Jim on board the Patna, the two Malays do what Jim longs to have done out of a sense of professionalism skewed by their position in the colonial order. Does Conrad essentialize these two as simplistic natives bound by their lack of intelligence to loyalty to the white "master"? Or are these men instead a powerful critique of Jim's professional abilities and his propensity to daydream? The French lieutenant is the most complete and most damning figure of analogy to Jim. He, like the Malays, stays aboard the Patna out of a sense of duty. He doesn't want to be a hero; he only wants to do his job, and if possible be comfortable enough to have a glass of wine with his meal. Yet his experience aboard the ship has left him with a sort of honorable scar, like the saber wound on his temple or the bullet scar on his hand. He and Marlow, strangers otherwise, are somehow drawn to each other and immediately into the story of the Patna. The French lieutenant's actions have not made him a hero, though; as the next chapter reveals, he has not risen far in the French navy, although he is now an old man. There is nothing heroic, it seems, about doing one's duty; perhaps staying on board would not have fulfilled a fantasy for Jim.
Although Jim has filled in most of the story of the Patna in this section, he omits the moment where he jumps into the lifeboat. The narrative's use of ellipsis (or omission) at key moments of decision-making indicates the insecure status of motive and explanation in this world. Jim tries to explain to Marlow why it is okay that he jumped--he would have had to abandon ship sooner or later anyway, the bulkhead was bound to fail, there was nothing he could do alone--but he does not approach the actual moment of his leap. Remember that Captain Brierly's leap overboard is not narrated either. These are the moments around which the text is built, yet they somehow escape the mass of words and explanations that describe them. Another episode that has a parallel in an earlier section of the text is Jim's encounter with the pilgrim asking for water. As he does in the "cur" episode, Jim mistakes the meaning of a single word, assuming it contains a depth of knowledge (about Jim's character in the case of "cur," about the condition of the ship in the case of "water") when really the word is only a simple reference (to a dog, to thirst). If such simple communications can go so awry, the capacity of words to describe complex emotional states and unclear motives must be highly suspect.
Take a Study Break!