Lord Jim

Lord Jim Summary and Analysis of Chapters 37-39

The story resumes in Marlow's written form. Marlow explains in his letter that he encountered a man named Brown at the direction of Schomberg (a hotelkeeper in Bangkok). Brown is more than ready to tell his tale. He is a suspicious character, a thief, and a kind of figure of evil. The narrative then cuts back in time, creating additional suspense. Eight months prior to this encounter with Brown in Bangkok, Marlow had gone to visit Stein at his home, where he had found Tamb' Itam, Jim's Malay servant. Marlow had hoped that Jim was not far away, but the Malay had said quietly, "He would not fight" (260). Stein had appeared and told Marlow that the girl Jewel was also there, and that the two had arrived two days earlier. Jewel had said to Marlow, "He has left me" (261). She spoke in grief and shock. "He is false!" she cried. Stein protested: "True!" (263). The shock of the events "seems to have changed their natures. It had turned her passion into stone" (263). Tamb' Itam and the Malay boat-driver who had helped them to escape were both "over-awed by a sense of deep, inexpressible wonder, by the touch of an inscrutable mystery," echoing Marlow's own statement to Jim that Jim would always remain a mystery to them (264). The letter concludes with Marlow's signature.

Now, the "privileged reader" is able to focus on the "story" that Marlow has written of the last events. Brown (or Gentleman Brown, as Marlow enigmatically refers to him) has led a lawless life as a virtual "latter-day buccaneer." The story went, apparently, that Brown had once run off with the wife of a missionary, a very young girl, who had died of fever on board the ship. The girl had hoped to make a great conversion in the name of her husband. When she died, Brown had wept violently. His shipmate always comments on that scene. Brown had lost his ship on the rocks.

Soon after, Brown stole a schooner. His best man, a devoted Solomon Islander, killed two shipkeepers with a long knife, and Brown's sixteen men all rushed off to sea. They planned to cross the Indian Ocean, but were low on supplies and, out of the need to replenish their water and food, headed for Patusan. The big white boat carried the "assorted scarecrows" to the Patusan Reach, whence fourteen of them took to the river in a small boat. The headman of the fishing village, by this time, sent a warning to the town, and, when Brown's men arrived to see the flourishing community, shouting men fired from the mosque. There were armed men in the river, blocking their retreat. The natives fired, and Brown's men fired in reply. Brown saw the entrance to a narrow creek and established his men in the little knoll near the Rajah's stockade. As the sun set, they cut down the few trees for protection, and Brown lay on his back, in awe at the immensity of the place.

Brown's story turns to consider Jim's absence, although he has not yet met the man. Jim has been gone in the interior for more than a week, while Dain Waris has been leading the fight in his absence. Dain Waris, significantly, is not Jim: "He was not the visible, tangible incarnation of unfailing truth and of unfailing victory" (271). Dain Waris fails to compare favorably with Jim's mythical stature. Jim is the one everyone believes cannot die. He holds the store of gunpowder in Patusan, supplied by Stein, and Jewel takes charge as they wait. The council gathers at Doramin's, and the townspeople are disturbed that the Rajah's boat did not act when it could have. Kassim, the Rajah's diplomat at the meeting, is unreadable. Rumors fly about a large ship and many men. The danger of panic is in the air, and Doramin orders Dain Waris to take an armed party down the river, to make a camp and to blockade the stream with canoes. Doramin seems motivated most by a desire to keep his son out of harm's way.

Kassim goes into open communication with Brown, taking Cornelius with him to serve as interpreter. Brown, overjoyed to hear English words, demands food as a guarantee of good faith. The Rajah sends them rice, chillies, and dried fish. It becomes clear that Kassim intends to double-deal, however, given his unhappiness with the order of things and with Jim's power, and given his dislike for Doramin. He asks Brown to quickly send for his big ship and many men, and then to attack and defeat the Bugis settlement before Jim's return.

This is where Brown hears about Jim for the first time. He hears the story of Jim's accomplishments, how the whole area is basically his. Brown begins to get the idea of accomplishing something of the same. Cornelius urges him to kill Jim at the first opportunity. The men doze on the stockade, and Brown gazes greedily. Kassim presses Brown for his ship again, and Brown writes the message, "We are getting on. Big job. Detain the man." He sends this message to his two remaining men on the schooner.


Marlow's letter to the "privileged reader" provides his sources for the conclusion of the events that help him understand his subject, Jim. First, he describes a man named Brown, who had communicated his part in the story to Marlow in Bangkok. Second, upon a visit to see Stein, Marlow finds Tamb' Itam, who is Jim's servant, and Jewel. From these three characters, along with his own imagination and understanding, Marlow builds the conclusion to the story.

Brown's character presents a foil against both Stein's and Jim's romantically charmed lives, particularly by way of the woman he is associated with. She is a missionary's wife who dies of fever, like Stein's wife and daughter. For Brown, however, the woman dies quickly, before there is a chance for Brown to know happiness. The forcefulness of his weeping, a poignant detail that adds depth and mystery to his character, suggests that, for Brown, fortune has always been tough. His "Eastern bride" of opportunity, also veiled in the hope of a more spiritual salvation, is lost to him before being realized. Therefore, Brown becomes decrepit, almost without hope, yet has just enough strength and anger at the world to continue to eke his way through it. Jim may very well have descended to resemble such a character, given his anger and frustration and feeling that he had been cheated of some of his opportunities, but Jim differs from Brown in that Jim was lucky enough to have found helpers in both Marlow and Stein. Brown had never come upon someone who had had this kind of encouraging faith in his underlying character.

Brown is a significant figure, particularly in comparison with Jim and Brierly. While Brierly had lived the length of his life committed to a particular ideal of honor, his honest recognition of something dishonorable in his heart had led him to commit suicide. Brown, on the other hand, with little comfort or faith in the world, struggles to survive with as much effort as Brierly had struggled in order to live a life of honor. These two characters therefore delineate two paths along which a man may live. Brown's abhorrent character is not unlike that of the crewmen of the Patna, who had leapt from the steamship in an act that privileged personal survival over honor. The reader, by this point, knows that Jim harbors this element within him, but at the same time desires to live a life of honor and ideals. The question presented by the events unfolding before the reader is, therefore: what kind of man is Jim; which path is he following?

Stein's character is also a mixture of the impulse to survive with the desire to live by ideals. This tension is expressed by his struggle to begin again--successfully, after the fantastical life of the Malay court falls upon him. He persists. Again, however, note that the parallels between Stein's and Jim's situations are often reversed: if this pattern of reversal continues, we might predict that Jim's end will go the opposite way compared with Stein's.

Therefore, when Brown arrives in Patusan, a sinister force has arrived: Brown is not there in order to prove himself capable of achieving romantic ideals, but he arrives in need of water and food. The opposition between the romanticism of Jim and Stein is therefore set against the Darwinian struggle to survive (and win) in Brown (recalling, likewise, the similar struggles of the German captain of the Patna and of Cornelius).

Brown's arrival thus has a profoundly destabilizing effect on the community in Patusan. Neither Jim nor his influence is present to adequately protect the community. This lack reveals the degree to which Jim had become the de facto leader, primarily because of his "racial prestige" (271). Dain Waris is truly "beloved, trusted, and admired," but he remains just one of the natives, in their view. According to Marlow, in contrast, "Jim was one of us," and by reiterating this statement, Marlow puts Jim in a superior category: that of Western men, men of good character, men who have remained committed to higher, romantic ideals. Without him, the community does not have such a leader. Marlow thus accentuates Jim's difference from the community of Patusan, recalling his claim that Jim would always remain a mystery to them.

The community has found stability and faith in the presence of a great mystery living amongst them. Fortune, however, has intervened. It is only by chance that Jim is not present at Brown's arrival, and the plot line implies that if Dain Waris had not been left to lead, the reaction to Brown might not have been a shower of gunfire, thickening the tension between Patusan and the white newcomers. When Jim had first arrived, in contrast, he had successfully diffused tensions and avoided conflict and death. Dain Waris, however, has reacted hastily.

Thus the plot thickens: Brown's arrival becomes an opportunity for the less trustworthy characters in Patusan--Rajah, Kassim, and Cornelius--to make their moves.