Literature Study GuidesLord JimChapters 10 12 Summary

Lord Jim | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim | Chapters 10–12 | Summary



Chapter 10

The squall descends, and, for several minutes, the men in the lifeboat are "blinded and half-drowned with rain." While some distance separates the boat from the Patna, Jim can still see the high, yellow gleam of the masthead light. The ship is still afloat. Then the light disappears and someone says, "She is gone."

The squall passes, leaving behind blackness and dead silence. In the boat, nobody stirs for a time. Then all at once, the survivors begin to discuss their lucky escape, repeating over and over the ship is gone and could not have been saved. No one mentions the 800 passengers lost with her.

In a while, the men become dismayed to discover Jim is not George—the third engineer—as they had assumed in the darkness. They become abusive, hating him for being in the boat after refusing to help them. They make loud threats against him, and for the six hours until sunrise, Jim stands in the bow, clutching the boat's wooden tiller—or lever—to defend himself.

The day dawns calm and clear. The men's anger has dissipated, and they call out for Jim to put down the tiller, saying they had done him no harm. Jim feels they could have done no worse to him than make him jump. He has convinced himself, "it was their doing as plainly as it they had reached up with a boat hook and pulled me over." As a result, Jim has become "one of them."

Jim soon perceives the motive behind his mates' friendliness: when they are picked up by a passing ship, it's important their stories match.

Throughout the mercilessly hot day, the boat drifts. While the captain and two engineers sleep under protection of a canvas, Jim remains at the other end of the craft. To Marlow, he asserts he was considering whether or not to die. It would have been easy to let himself slip over the edge into the sea. He then anxiously asks, "Don't you believe it?"

Chapter 11

Jim steps back from his story to thank Marlow for listening, saying, "You don't know what it means to me." Marlow takes a moment to mention he then glimpses in Jim something of his young self and of the youthful illusions he thought had been extinguished like a flame. In Jim, he sees youth on the brink of life, full of magnificent expectations.

Memory of these youthful illusions leads Marlow to reflect on a career at sea, in which illusions swiftly fall short of reality. Disenchantment soon follows. With this realization comes a measure of sympathy for Jim, yet Marlow curses him privately for contemplating suicide. It was an option Jim could entertain simply because his life had been saved.

Marlow continues the story, describing how Jim debates the truth behind his leap. Jim claims a cowardly intention to stay alive was not behind it. It just happened, and he wasn't going to leave people thinking otherwise by committing suicide. Then he further justifies his ignoble desertion by declaring, "There was not the thickness of a sheet of paper between the right and wrong of this affair." Still, he knows the world will not see things as he does: his jump will be judged as cowardly. By facing the world, telling the truth, and living with the consequences, he will prove he is not afraid. "I knew the truth," he explains, "and I would live it down—alone, with myself." Ending his life would have solved nothing and would have cut off a future chance to "find out"—to learn who had judged him correctly, himself or the world.

Chapter 12

Jim continues his story as an emotionally weary Marlow listens. He and the other three crew members are picked up by the Avondale just before sunset. Jim keeps quiet as the others tell their agreed-upon story, claiming they had released only one lifeboat when the squall hit and sank the damaged ship.

Later on shore, when they learn the Patna has been towed safely to the port of Aden, Jim is relieved to know the shouts and screams echoing in his head day after day are only imagination. As for the ship's vanishing masthead light, it appears the Patna had swung around in the storm, and the change in her position had hidden all lights from the lifeboat.

The Patna is rescued by a French gunboat about nine o'clock in the morning. Three years after the event Marlow learns the details of the rescue from a French lieutenant he happens to meet in Sydney, Australia. Marlow remarks upon how the peculiar nature of the Patna incident keeps it fresh in the minds of men years afterward, and how it continues to turn up in conversation, just as it has on this night as he sits with his friends.

The lieutenant is one of two sent aboard the damaged ship to assess the situation. He tells Marlow their arrival stirred the passengers, who gathered around them in a mob. Some circled the dead George. "These people," says the lieutenant, "were beginning to agitate themselves." Nevertheless, the officers got to work hooking the ship up to the gunboat for towing. They then stayed aboard for the next 30 hours until the two vessels reached the nearest English port. The lieutenant recalls one notable drawback to the task: he had no wine to drink at meals. In the end, "one has done one's possible," he explains, meaning he performed his duty the best he could.

Once the Patna is safely delivered to the port authorities, the passengers are quickly brought ashore, except for George, to whom the lieutenant refers as "the interesting corpse." Two hours later, the gunboat resumes its original journey.


This section details events in the lifeboat after Jim's leap as well as the presumed sinking of the Patna, its actual rescue by a French gunboat, and the fate of the deserting crew members. Jim also reveals his state of mind and his reasons for facing up to his crime.

Marlow observes that, by jumping, Jim "had tumbled from a height he could never scale again." This idea refers to Jim's fall from grace and foreshadows the court's decision to strip Jim of his license to serve on a ship. This consequence will close the door on Jim's romantic dreams of seagoing adventure.

Once the squall passes and the Patna's lights disappear, Jim's imagination again becomes more curse than blessing. It torments him with appalling visions of suffering and despair among the ship's doomed passengers. He fights the urge to slip from the lifeboat, swim back to the spot where the ship most likely sank, and then allow himself to drown.

In an aside, Marlow muses that the deserters' lifeboat, alone and adrift on the ocean, is a metaphor for the "shipwrecks" in life that cut people off from the rest of mankind. He sees the isolation of the deserters as more wretched than most. Their act of villainy has cut them off completely from humanity because they will be judged by men whose code of conduct has not been similarly tested. Within the lifeboat, Jim is more isolated still by the fact he abhors the entire situation. The others merely despise him for not helping them. The struggle to separate himself morally from these scoundrels will be a driving force in Jim's life.

Jim is keenly aware that aboard the small boat, he could easily slip overboard and be lost without a trace. When he tells Marlow of this revelation, he sets the stage for Marlow's concern when he learns Jim is considering suicide after the court hearing. Jim then asks Marlow, "Don't you believe it?" which echoes once again the sentiments of novel's epigraph. Marlow realizes he is now ready to believe anything Jim tells him.

Contemplating Jim's leap into the lifeboat, Marlow sees that all the man held dear—all that had given his life meaning—is seemingly lost with the ship. In Jim, he glimpses the illusions of youth, especially the glamour of adventurous dreams and the nobility of heroic ideals. His sympathy is aroused, but at the same time, he is angry with Jim for failing to live up to his self-image and potential. Marlow feels cheated of "a splendid opportunity to keep up the illusions of my beginnings."

Finally, the French lieutenant provides the last pieces of the puzzle concerning the Patna's rescue. His conversation with Marlow marks the end of Jim's flight to escape his past.

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