Skip over navigation

Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad

Chapters 34 - 36

Chapters 28 -33

Chapters 37 and 38

Summary

Marlow, preparing to leave Patusan, visits the grave of the Dutch-Malay woman. In the darkness and silence, he fancies himself the last man on earth and remarks on the forgotten, lost nature of Patusan. Cornelius appears and begins to talk. Marlow, noting regretfully that he seems to be "doomed to be the recipient of confidences," has no choice but to listen. Cornelius tries to justify his treatment of Jim, citing his fear of Rajah Allang and his need to play both sides to save himself. Marlow tells Cornelius that Jim has forgiven him, although Marlow knows that Cornelius actively hates Jim and that Jim does not trust Cornelius. Cornelius rages at Jim, questioning his intentions toward Patusan, and at Jewel, comparing her to her late mother. He then asks Marlow to talk to Jim for him. Cornelius wants a monetary gift in exchange for his continued guardianship of the girl after Jim returns home. Astounded at the man's vulgarity, Marlow informs him that Jim will not be leaving Patusan. Cornelius erupts in a fit of anger and frustration.

Marlow leaves Patusan the next morning. Jim accompanies him down the river to the coast, as they journey by canoe "through the very heart of untouched wilderness." They alight at the coastal village, where two of the fishermen ask for an audience with Jim. He and Marlow take leave of one another; for the first time, Jim speaks of the intense strain he feels at trying to "go on forever holding up [his] end, to feel sure that nothing" of his past can come back to spoil his success. Marlow tells him they will not meet again, unless Jim leaves Patusan. Marlow departs for his ship, while Jim takes up with the fishermen. Drawing away from shore, Jim's white-clad figure remains visible long after other details have vanished.

Marlow ends his storytelling session here. At this time, he has no further knowledge of Jim, and the story seems destined to remain incomplete. The narrative skips ahead two years, when one of Marlow's audience receives a packet from Marlow containing a sheaf of documents. This man, who remains unnamed, is the greatest doubter of Marlow's take on Jim's story, but he is also the most interested, and the most polemical; he declared that for Jim to dedicate his life to the non-white inhabitants of Patusan was like "'"selling your soul to a brute."'" (The use of triple quotes here is remarkable for its rarity, for the simple reason that it is correct, and because it is uniquely evocative of Conrad's dense, layered narratives.) The packet contains a letter from Marlow explaining that the enclosed papers represent the best he has been able to do in piecing together the rest of Jim's story. It also contains a letter from Jim, in which he continues to try to justify himself and his plans to Marlow; a very old letter with moral advice from Jim's father, the parson; and a manuscript, written by Marlow, detailing the rest of Jim's adventures. Marlow tells the packet's recipient that he "affirm[s] nothing" of the truth or the meaningfulness of his account, that perhaps Jim's final message is, in fact, in the words that Jim had wished to send to the outside world, nothing.

Commentary

Marlow's interpretation of Jim shifts dramatically during this section. As he is leaving Patusan, he sees Jim, standing on the beach, as "the heart of a vast enigma." In the letter to his friend, however, he declares that Jim is no longer the "white speck at the heart of an immense mystery" but "of full stature, standing disregarded. . .with a stern and romantic aspect, but always mute, dark--under a cloud." Marlow's initial evaluation, that Jim stands at the center of an enigma, suggests that the vagueness and difficulty that surround him can be interpreted--after all, mysteries and enigmas have implied solutions, if only one is capable of finding them. If Jim is already of "full stature," though, and is merely "mute" and clouded, then perhaps the vagueness and confusion surrounding him are all there is to know. Jim's story gains a few layers of distance in this section, too, becoming not a direct account but a patchwork put together by Marlow from different sources. Marlow is no longer telling the story in person, either. It comes to the nameless reader from a distance, as a written text. No longer can the audience interrogate Marlow; he's not there. Jim's story becomes more of a fictional construct, more of an attempt to impose meaning on a series of events that may not have any intrinsic meaning. Marlow tells his friend that "[i]t is impossible to see [Jim] clearly." "There shall be no message," he says, "unless such as each of us can interpret for himself from the language of facts, that are so often more enigmatic than the craftiest arrangement of words." This statement highlights the doubled confusion in Marlow's story: not only is his set of "facts" vague and open to subjective manipulation, but language--that which conveys the facts--is also "crafty" and arranged. This is why Marlow sends the remainder of Jim's story to the person who has shown the most doubt in the exalted meaning Marlow ascribes to it; the nameless recipient of Marlow's package will be the one least likely to find in Jim's story something that's not there.

Once again in this section, people approach Marlow seeking to access Jim. Marlow is, of course, the sole point of connection between "just Jim" and "Lord Jim," the only person who has contact with him in both his Patna and his Patusan days. Jim may feel secure in his new little world, but the fact that people are constantly turning to Marlow for information should make him nervous.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us