Lord Jim

Lord Jim Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-18

Marlow, detained by his chief mate (who was waiting to receive a letter from his wife), attends the final day of the Inquiry, where the judgment is to be announced. The entire thing, he thinks to himself, has the sense of an exaggerated view of a common occurrence--where the crime was a very subtle, yet worse than a beheading. The judgments come in: the ship is deemed not to have been seaworthy, but it was navigated properly at the time of the accident. The result, for Jim, is that his certificates are cancelled; he is effectively exiled from the sea.

After the event, Marlow hears a voice behind him say, "man overboard" (123). The man is Chester, a West Australian "pearler, wrecker, trader, whaler" in search of a steamer to buy. He nods in Jim's direction and asks Marlow, "Takes it to heart?" (123). Marlow nods, and Chester, along with his partner Captain Robinson, an "emaciated patriarch in a suit of white drill" and a white beard, are together embarking in a sordid business scheme on a far-off island, to which Chester suggests that Marlow prod Jim to go and work. Marlow defeats the suggestion, offending Chester and Captain Robinson, but then considers it again in his hotel room as he writes his letters. Jim is with him there, like "a little child" (130). Marlow admits that he can't help but feel responsibility for the young man who, by that point, "stood on the brink of a vast obscurity, like a lonely figure by the shore of a somber, and hopeless ocean" (132).

The reader learns that Chester and his crew, en route for the sordid business, disappeared into a hurricane. The story continues with a storm, a growl of thunder, and Jim in Marlow's hotel room finally taking his seat. Marlow explains that the letter he is writing is to an old friend of his, one who will give him a home and good work. "You must let me help you," Marlow says. Jim likewise at first resists, but he eventually recognizes the value of chance and this chance. He is grateful, and the scene is described through a tangle of weather and emotion.

Six months later, Marlow receives a happy letter from his friend, the owner of a rice mill, who has been enjoying Jim's company thoroughly. Marlow describes it as an "active liking," though the friend is very curious about the nature of Jim's guilt (141). After a trip north, upon returning to Hong Kong harbor, Marlow finds another letter, this time carrying the news that Jim has gone. Yet another letter in the pile is from Jim himself, who explains that the second engineer of the Patna had appeared to take a temporary job overseeing the machinery of the mill. Jim could not stand to be near him, so he left, and he was now employed with Egstrom & Blake, ship-chandlers, as their water-clerk. Marlow eventually finds himself in those parts, and when he sees Jim, Jim expresses how bad he felt having deserted the man who had become "like a father" (143).

On his next trip to the region, however, Marlow finds that Jim left Egstrom & Blake three weeks earlier, when the Sarah W. Granger came in with pilgrims from the Red Sea. Marlow asks if there was talk of the Patna, and Egstrom, surprised, says that there was. Captain O'Brien called the incident a "disgrace to human nature," and he called all the seamen involved "Skunks!" (146). He followed this with the comment that "it stinks here now," an ambiguous insinuation that he knew exactly who Jim was, though Egstrom had not understood his meaning at the time. Just after the company departed, Jim set his sandwich down and announced that he would be off. Egstrom says it seemed as if he were running away, and at Jim's parting he said, "mark my words, if you keep up this game you'll very soon find that the earth ain't big enough to hold you" (148). Jim had been uneasy.


The final judgment of the Inquiry is ironic in deeming the steamship not to be seaworthy, since it had proven its mettle in spite of the damage that had been done to it. Regardless, the result of Jim's commitment to telling the facts of the incident to the best of his knowledge is the cancellation of his certificates. In other words, he is exiled from work at sea. Confined to the land with a kind of death sentence--killing the dreams of romantic adventure Jim might have realized--he receives a chance at a fresh start when Marlow insists on offering him help.

The first opportunity that Jim has, however, and one that Marlow rejects for him, is an unpleasant one, and it would have led to a definite death at sea (since Chester's crew is lost in a hurricane). Marlow, then, figures as Jim's protector or guardian of his fate. The fact that Jim knows he can never face his father again calls attention to his need for another man to fill that role for him now. Marlow, in response, sends Jim to a friend of his with a job at a rice mill; since the man is a bachelor and without children, the hope is apparently that Jim will become an adopted son and inherit the rice mill. Then, when Marlow receives positive word from his friend that all is going well between Jim and the man, Marlow appears to have been right about Jim's worth: Jim has a good heart and a character worth preserving.

Jim's humiliation regarding the Patna incident, however, takes the form of a fundamental character flaw. This character flaw is more than an aspect of his personality; it constitutes a part of his personal history, and he is unable to release himself from the memory of his action and state of mind at a particularly distressing time. His personality responds to and obsesses over this failure, and Jim runs away from whatever life he is building if news of the failure penetrates the people around him. Thus he runs from Marlow's friend and his work, and he likewise runs from the ship-chandlers. In both places, he achieved an amiable intimacy with these other persons, but in both cases his "clean slate" is sullied. It is too much for him to bear when the second engineer from the Patna arrives at the rice mill for employment, and the ship captain arriving at Egstrom & Blake seems to recognize who Jim is by his comment that "it stinks here now." Having exhausted his other resources, Marlow soon will turn to his friend Stein for help.

Jim's behavior evinces a desire to seek and remain in a space that is "a clean slate," free of the memory of his failure. He seeks to be anonymous and to begin again. Chester's statement to Marlow was that Jim takes it all too much to heart, and this observation is correct: Jim's failure has become too much a part of his personality. Although Jim runs, the circulating nature of story of rumor in these colonial reaches means that word of mouth travels far--Egstrom even states that the entire earth will not be big enough to hide from the past. The question now is: How will Jim mature, given this flaw and the way it has been expressed through his actions?