Turning to the official Inquiry, Marlow describes the magistrate as "patient" and then dives into great detail about the assessor Brierly or "Big Brierly." Brierly seems bored (but, in fact, he is exasperated) with the entire affair since he, Marlow conjectures, had never made such a mistake in his life. Brierly is 32 years old, a success, and the commander of the Ossa, the crack ship of the Blue Star line. The mysterious thing, of course, is that Brierly later commits suicide, a fact that Marlow overlays as he tells of Jim at the Inquiry. Brierly looks contemptuously at Jim, so Marlow guesses that perhaps there has been some sort of parallel inquiry into the depths of Brierly's own heart--and the discovery of some guilt. Marlow adds that Jones, Brierly's first mate and witness to Brierly's death-leap into the sea, had told Marlow that the last words on Brierly's lips had been for the safety of his dog Rover. Marlow then moves toward the telling of his own final conversation with Brierly, tinged now in his memory with this known end. He remembers that they were talking about the Patna and that Brierly had been furious. He had judged it all a shame and a disgrace.
The discussion of Brierly is immediately followed by an account of Marlow's first personal encounter with Jim. There is an insult in the air, and Jim mistakes Marlow as the source; this misjudgment becomes the basis of their meeting. Jim is on the defensive, and yet, again, he seems "strangely passive" (57). He asks Marlow why Marlow was staring at him so particularly during the proceedings, and Jim's general sense of humiliation and disappointment is palpable. Marlow, apparently fascinated by his upfront view of the man, invites Jim to the Malabar House for dinner.
The dining hall of the hotel teems, and Marlow studies Jim further, noting "his frank aspect, the artless smile, the youthful seriousness." He concludes, as he will conclude time and again, that "he was one of us," meaning "of the right sort" (62). The reader now is afforded a more intimate view of Jim during this meeting. His father, Jim confides, must have seen it all in the home papers by then. Jim says he will never again be able to face him and, as if Marlow's own age and wisdom can stand in for the figure Jim feels he has lost, Jim now attempts to justify all of his fears--how he had not been thinking of himself in the boat incident, but of the pilgrims. There had only been seven boats.
As Marlow observes the progression of the official inquiry, he comments that, with regard to the proceedings, "Its object was not the fundamental why, but the superficial how, of this affair" (46). In other words, the "how" indicates an attention to facts and details regarding the occurrence, while the "why" requires a deeper meditation upon the event in question. While the "how" limits itself to an outside objective view of the facts and visible actions, the "why" requires an exploration of the state of a man's soul: why did he act in such a manner? Why did he not act otherwise? This distinction refigures Jim's discomfort with discussing only the facts of the event, while his own inner life is a whorl of confusion. However, the nature of official legal proceedings and judgments is often, if only for the sake of efficiency and objectivity, strictly geared toward collecting the undisputed facts. The deeper and more subtle details of a story require just that: a story. Hence, the novel undertakes the task of the "why," which the Inquiry fails to address.
The significant minor character Brierly is an assessor of the proceedings involving Jim and the Patna incident. According to Marlow--though he is not at all certain, because he does not know Brierly's inner life at all--Brierly may have begun an inquiry into his own soul during the proceedings. What he might have found there is later suggested as quite disturbing, given his suicide leap into the sea. So, with Brierly, the reader is offered an objective view of the facts, a little conjecture, and the actions of a man, which again introduce the question "Why?"
When Marlow tells of how he and Jim first met, noting that the encounter is caused by a misjudgment on Jim's part, the incident shows how Jim continually misjudges or misreads a situation. It is also important in that Marlow, in the end, by telling Jim's story, arrives at a more complete picture and a profound and forgiving view of Jim's character.
Marlow notes that Jim "was one of us," and the statement assumes a variety of connotations throughout the novel. The root of the statement is the comment God makes in Genesis after Adam has eaten the forbidden fruit: "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." The implication, perhaps, is that Jim is the one carrying a heightened self-awareness regarding his qualities, his shortcomings, and his potential, even though he perhaps has not been the best judge of his situation. In any event, his character assumes more depth and detail at this point. We learn that he was adamant to see the proceeding through, despite the humiliating gossip that would follow him afterwards. Through this awareness, and plagued by feelings of grief, Jim is "an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be" (64-65).
In another sense, the assertion that "he was one of us" binds Marlow more closely to Jim. Their joint presence in this novel, indicative of the level of common experience that binds humankind, may also hint that Marlow sees in Jim something of his own beginnings and youth--the same illusions, the same romantic ideals. The questions then become: how will Jim mature? What will Jim make of it all? What kind of man will he become?