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Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad

Chapters 13 - 18

Chapters 8 - 12

Chapters 19 - 23

Summary

Marlow concludes his conversation with the French lieutenant. He tells the man the story of the inquiry and subsequent events. Somehow, the man discerns Marlow's interest in Jim and inquires whether Jim, too, ran off rather than stand trial. This leads the lieutenant to meditate on bravery and fear. Like Marlow, he fails to find words for what he is trying to say, and as they take leave of one another, Marlow is struck by the futility of conversation.

Marlow mentions that he has seen Jim recently, working as a water-clerk (see Chapter 1) in the port of Samarang. He also notes that it is through his recommendation that Jim got the job. Marlow digresses briefly to tell the story of Bob Stanton, a sailor he once knew who also spent some time as a water-clerk, who drowned trying to save a woman after a ship collision. Marlow goes back in time to the dinner with Jim at his hotel, recalling that the next day was to be Jim's day of sentencing. That night, Marlow makes Jim the offer he has discussed with Captain Brierly, telling him that if he chooses to flee, Marlow will provide him with money and a job recommendation. Jim refuses. Marlow realizes that Jim has made the ultimate appeal to his (Marlow's) ego: would Marlow behave the way Jim does, in the same situation? Marlow thinks he'd be able to do better. The next morning, Marlow goes to the court to hear the verdict. The court finds the Patna to have been unfit to go to sea, deems her navigation and operation up to the accident proper, declines to speculate as to the cause of the collision, and finds the crew derelict in their duties, revoking their officers' certifications. Leaving the court, Marlow encounters Chester and Captain Robinson, two suspicious characters who have stayed one step ahead of the law for years. They discuss with Marlow a business scheme in which they want to involve Jim. They want to find a derelict old boat and send it out to a deserted, waterless island to harvest guano (bird droppings), which can then be sold as fertilizer to sugar planters in Australia, and they want Jim to command the boat. Marlow refuses to make Jim the offer, and the men insult Jim, noting that at least the island won't sink.

Aware of Jim's vulnerability to people like Chester and Robinson now that he has been punished, Marlow finds him and takes him back to his hotel room, where he writes letters as Jim struggles with his own thoughts. Marlow admits his responsibility to Jim and thinks about ways to help him. Suddenly Marlow draws back and reveals to the audience that soon Jim will be "loved, trusted, admired, with a legend of strength and prowess forming round his name." He explains why he will not present Chester and Robinson's offer to Jim ("he is too interesting or too unfortunate to be thrown to the dogs"), and notes that their expedition was lost without a trace after a hurricane. The narrative returns to Marlow's hotel room. Jim tells Marlow that he thinks he will have another chance to become a hero, that he's "bound to come upon some sort of chance to get it all back again." Marlow convinces Jim to stay a little longer and persuades him to accept a letter of recommendation for a job. Jim thanks him for giving him a "clean slate."

Marlow receives a letter from Jim's new employer, praising Jim. The man wonders at what Jim has done to need Marlow's protection, but says that Jim is "blooming. . .like a violet" in his new position. Not long afterward, Marlow receives another letter from his friend. Jim has departed suddenly, leaving only a note of apology. In the same batch of mail, there is a letter from Jim, explaining that the second engineer from the Patna turned up and got a job with Jim's employer. The engineer tormented Jim, reminding him of the incident; the anguish forced Jim to leave. Marlow soon runs into Jim, who is now working as a water-clerk in another port. Returning to that port a few months later, he finds that Jim has again quit a promising job, this time because a damaged steamer carrying pilgrims had put in, and the Patna case had again become a subject of conversation. His most recent employer remarks to Marlow that he had told Jim that, although he didn't know what he had done, "the earth wouldn't be big enough to hold his caper."

Commentary

This section explores the aftermath of Jim's "conviction." Jim believes that he still has the chance to be a hero, but Chester and Robinson's questionable offer and his difficulty in retaining a job suggest otherwise. Jim has been marked in some way by his actions (or lack of action). Marlow hints at a mysterious future for Jim, however, in which he will be wildly successful, although the statement is qualified in an odd way; Marlow says that a legend will develop around Jim "as though he had been the stuff of a hero." Why is Jim just comparable to a hero in the future, rather than actually becoming one? It seems that the moment that has been omitted from the narrative, the moment of Jim's leap overboard, will become the moment that defines his life, and that, for Jim, there can be no such thing as a "clean slate." This is in part a result of his punishment. Tried by a court of his professional peers, Jim has been found to be unfit to keep the certification he earned as a young man; in some way, he's no longer "one of us."

Marlow, however, still thinks that he and Jim do belong to the same fraternity. He helps Jim recover some semblance of a life and continues to follow him with interest. Marlow's interpretive skills are called into question in this section, though, as he declares himself "unenlightened" by his encounter with Jim. He also makes the strange claim that by helping Jim out he "had saved him from starvation--of that peculiar sort that is almost invariably associated with drink." This is a strange claim to make. It doesn't square with what we know of Jim, and it doesn't seem in line with Marlow's opinion of Jim in general. Perhaps Marlow has begun to fear the implications of his own association with Jim, and comments like this one are a way for him to distance himself. Chester and Robinson approach him because of his budding friendship with Jim, after all, and Marlow himself sadly notes that, of he and Jim, "it was yet he, of us two, who had the light." Jim may have been publicly condemned, but it is Marlow who has no chance. Jim seems to be headed for a successful future, while Marlow will be left only to repeat Jim's tale to anyone who will listen.

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