Jim thanks Marlow for listening to his story. He says it has done him good, and Marlow feels camaraderie with the young man. Jim insists that they are both "gentlemen," reinforcing the sense of a common experience between them. But Marlow grows dark in the retelling, stating that Jim "had robbed our common life of the last spark of its glamour" (101). The men in the boat had conjured a story to tell the world. Jim asks Marlow, then, "What do you believe?" and Marlow experiences a "profound and hopeless fatigue" (102).
The Avondale rescued the castaways, and they told their story. They related how they had freed the first lifeboat when the steamer had sunk like lead beneath them. Eventually, however, the irony of the incident is made clear to the reader, since the steamer never sank. Their imagination had been playing tricks on them. The light going out had only been the turning of the ship. A French gunboat discovered the steamer with its masses free of plague and with the fascinating corpse of a dead white man, George, on the bridge. Marlow had heard the real story from the lips of the very lieutenant who had stayed on the ship for thirty hours, signaling to the gunboat as it tugged the Patna to the nearest English port.
His chance meeting with the lieutenant had happened in Sydney, and Marlow remembers that the man had been irritated by the recollection. Their conversation, speckled with French in parentheses, arrived at the lieutenant's simple assessment: "And so that poor young man ran away along with the others" (111). Marlow was struck by the simplicity and truth in the statement, and the exactitude of its tenor. The Frenchman, however, then announced bombastically that he had never known of such a loss of honor. Marlow almost left his seat, but he was appeased.
Marlow's narrative than skips ahead to an episode when he saw Jim in Samarang, a port city in northern Java, working for De Jongh on Marlow's own recommendation, as a water-clerk--a dull occupation. Marlow begins to wonder then why he is so protective of Jim and why he has such an intense interest in Jim's fate. His memory flows into the past, past De Jongh's shop, to their conversations at the Malabar House. Jim had seemed a condemned man then, laden with guilt and touched by the inevitability of execution. As they had parted that evening, Marlow had been struck by Jim's refusal of help, despite being unsteady and unsure of himself, with so little faith. The parting was embarrassing, almost excruciating, and Jim was only twenty-four.
As the relationship between Marlow and Jim deepens, and Marlow becomes the "helper" or "ally" Jim needs, Marlow is struck by a feeling of disappointment. Jim becomes the quintessential figure of youth and possibility--or, as Marlow refers to him, of a "beginning." There is wistfulness in his tone, not unlike the wistfulness those in their mature years feel in looking upon youth. Men all seek the life at sea for the same reason, perhaps; each may be driven by the same romantic dreams of adventure and honor and success. Most, however, eventually fall into a state of disenchantment, the natural state of maturity. For Marlow, the feeling of disappointment in Jim rises in such a way as to cause the comment that it had been as if Jim "had robbed our common life of the last spark of its glamour" (101). This comment serves to place Jim, then, in the position of needing to reclaim the "glamour." Though Jim may have failed in the Patna incident, there is no indication that he is disenchanted by the possibilities of his romantic dreams; he is only disenchanted with himself. Thus, when Jim asks Marlow what he believes, the suggestion is that Jim is still driven by his belief in adventure and romance and the imaginative wellsprings that drive men to the sea. Marlow, on the other hand, has grown. He probably has not tasted the life of glamor, or he has come to conclude that such a life cannot really exist. His response is a general tiredness, suggesting that belief, generally, becomes tested and thus insecure.
When the narrative illuminates how the steamship had not actually sunk, we become aware of the effects of illusion. The illusion of the light going out had been misread by the crew, and this illusion of the eye stands for a landscape of deeper human illusions. The realization of one's mistake or illusory misinterpretation of reality leads to disenchantment.
As the friendship between Marlow and Jim begins to develop, the reader sees Marlow become increasingly concerned about Jim's fate. But the narrative cuts then to a view of the French lieutenant, a significant minor character, who presents a model of conduct. The novel continually cuts back and forth among Marlow's observations, the perspectives he gathers from other sources, and pure imaginative conjecture, as he builds the case for an inquiry into Jim's soul.
The French lieutenant's conduct contrasts severely with the conduct of the crew of the Patna. Unlike them, he had ignored the dangers of the ship sinking and the possibility of pandemonium among the passengers; instead he remained with it for thirty hours as it was tugged to shore. Conrad's sensitive ear for foreign accents and dialect is also highlighted in his conversation, in that he speckles French throughout. (Conrad was fluent in French, and the international flavor of life at sea is intensified by his facility with language.)
The French lieutenant's statement that "One does not die of it ... Of being afraid" becomes key. It implies that fear is ultimately about self-preservation on a basic level, a point that was illustrated by the behavior of the crewmen of the Patna. The reverse of the statement would be that one lives well if one defeats fear and lives courageously without it--a paradox, since such a way of life confronts the possibility of death closely. This tension suggests the way that the novel unfolds and how Jim, having learned his lesson from the Patna, eventually learns to live in precisely this more noble manner. While living by reflex and instinct can lead to basic human survival, the ability to overcome these instincts is to live by something higher, an ideal of conduct and belief. In this way, a man becomes properly "one of us," in the Biblical sense that the mere man becomes something more than an unaware Adam and more like God.
When Marlow becomes defensive of Jim during his conversation with the French lieutenant, he asks himself why. This protective feeling is something of an enigma, even to Marlow, but it can be inferred that he again senses a commonality between them, and that the concern for Jim's fate relates directly to some important trait hidden inside Marlow.