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Literature Study GuidesLord JimChapters 13 14 Summary

Lord Jim | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim | Chapters 13–14 | Summary



Chapter 13

Having shared what he knows of the Patna incident, the French lieutenant asks Marlow, "What was there at the bottom of this affair?" As Marlow answers, the lieutenant listens passively with downcast eyes, and at the end of the tale murmurs, "That's it. That is it." Following a pause, he says more clearly, "And so that poor young man ran away along with the others." His observation sums up exactly Marlow's diagnosis of Jim's problem.

As the lieutenant observes, fear "is always there" in a man's heart. It waits for "a certain combination of circumstances" to show itself. "There is somewhere a point," he says, "when you let go everything. ... And you have got to live with that truth." He further explains while man is born a coward, he copes with it by habit and necessity, keeping up a good front for "the eyes of others." Around him are men no better than he who set a good example. The lieutenant then concludes Jim "had none of these inducements" during events aboard the Patna. He was surrounded by cowards.

For one bright moment, Marlow thinks this idea may relieve Jim of some guilt in the matter. Then the lieutenant adds, while man has no control over the cowardice in his heart, his honor is another matter. When honor is gone, what may life then be worth?

Marlow explains to his gathered friends that at the time of this conversation, more than three years had elapsed since the Patna incident. He had just recently run into Jim working as a water clerk in Samarang, a port city on the coast of Java. Jim is working for De Jongh, a ship's chandler and Marlow's friend.

The French lieutenant goes his own way, leaving Marlow to sit and think about his evening with Jim at the Malabar House three years previously. Knowing Jim would hear the court's verdict the following day, Marlow is moved to suggest to him Brierly's plan of escape. Jim refuses and, in fact, is eager to face "the ceremony of execution." The idea of "clearing out" like the others is repugnant to him. "I may have jumped ship," he explains, "but I don't run away." For Jim, it is vital he stay and accept the consequences.

The two men part after an awkward moment in which Jim is unsure Marlow can bear to shake his hand. Marlow's gruff reassurance ends the matter, and Jim disappears into the night. Marlow listens to him break into a run, sadly aware Jim has nowhere to flee to "and he was not yet four-and-twenty."

Chapter 14

Feeling unexpectedly depressed, Marlow makes his way to the court the next day to hear the verdict in Jim's case. He sums up Jim's crime as "a breach of faith with the community of mankind" and Jim as a traitor to the moral standards by which the community lives. He describes the proceedings as coldly vengeful and "infinitely worse than a beheading." The officers of the Patna are judged guilty of "utter disregard of their plain duty" and "abandoning ... the lives and property confided in their charge." In consequence, their certificates, or licenses to serve as officers, are revoked. Only Jim is present to hear and bear the shame of the judgment.

Upon leaving the court, Marlow is approached by a man named Chester, a West Australian who has been "anything and everything a man may be at sea, but a pirate." He is soon joined by his business partner, an elderly captain named Robinson, whose infamous past has earned him the nickname Holy-Terror Robinson. Chester and his partner have a business scheme and are looking for men desperate enough to join them. Jim seems ripe for the job. The scheme involves gathering bird guano (manure), which can be used for fertilizer. The guano is to be harvested from the island of Walpole, where Jim will be in charge of the native workers.

Walpole is a hot, arid island of rock surrounded by dangerous currents with no place for a ship to safely anchor. Marlow, certain that working conditions would be dreadful, pictures Jim "perched on a shadowless rock, up to his knees in guano." Worse still, he knows Chester and his partner are far from trustworthy. When Chester asks Marlow to talk Jim into joining their scheme, Marlow protects Jim by indignantly refusing.


Together, these chapters highlight what Jim has lost by choosing life over honor and provide a bleak picture of the future he faces.

Marlow's conversation with the French lieutenant shows the latter to be a seasoned professional, too, and his scars prove his devotion to duty. The lieutenant has served long and well, but without particular note, and will retire without fanfare. Still, he is a steady, trustworthy sort with whom Marlow feels he can share Jim's dark secret. Upon hearing the story, the lieutenant pinpoints the essence of Jim's disgrace: he ran away with the others.

The French lieutenant expresses sympathy for any individual who experiences fear. He says there is a point for even the bravest man when fear comes and "you let everything go." Though some may believe such a point does not exist for them, "there is fear all the same—fear of themselves." In other words, these men fear an undetected weakness. The lieutenant seems to know what he talking about. He begins to share a personal story but reconsiders and breaks off. The truth of his observations point back to Captain Brierly and adds another layer to the mystery of the impeccable captain's suicide. Did he fear himself? Did he see in Jim the potential for failure?

Hearing Jim's version of the Patna story from Marlow, the French lieutenant concludes that, surrounded by cowards, Jim could not help giving in to his fear. However, in his view, Jim's moment of fear is not the issue. "Man is born a coward," he says and explains this very human impulse is held in check by habit, necessity, or the example of others. Jim's situation was devoid of those influences of training and discipline, leaving him vulnerable to failure. "One does not die ... of being afraid," he observes. On the other hand, the shame of losing one's honor may be too much to overcome, and Jim chooses life over honor. For this choice, the lieutenant can offer Marlow no advice, for he is an honorable man and, lacking Jim's imagination, cannot conceive of acting dishonorably.

Marlow next recalls Jim's rejection of Brierly's plan to run away from the court inquiry. Marlow admits it is an ignoble plan, made more so by Jim's refusal to engage in it. He is resolved to face the consequences of his actions and inaction during the Patna incident. "I may have jumped," he tells Marlow, "but I don't run away." Jim is still guided by the moral sense he has managed to retain.

As expected, the court strips Jim of his officer's license. As Marlow listens to the proceeding, he forms the opinion there was a particular malevolence behind the Patna's collision; "an utterly aimless piece of devilry" aimed at destroying Jim. He describes things of the sea seemingly intent on causing mischief—maritime ghouls "on the prowl to kill ships in the dark." It is likely Jim would have agreed with Marlow's assessment. Time and again, he feels certain dark forces in the universe have conspired to catch him unaware and bring about his doom.

Finally, the character of Chester provides yet another perspective on Jim. Like Jim, Chester is a dreamer. However, his dreams are unprincipled. He is always looking for the next scheme and is not above some shady dealing. Marlow suspects Chester's latest guano scheme is little more than a pipe dream, and the ship he claims to have purchased is only the ghost of a steamer. Chester judges Jim as damaged goods and an excellent candidate for his plan. However, he indignantly asks Marlow why Jim should take the loss of his license to heart—it's only a bit of "ass's skin," or parchment. By Chester's own questionable moral code, Jim is overreacting. Personally, he is indifferent to Jim's crime. Interestingly, like Brierly or Marlow, Chester belongs to the world that Jim feels cannot forgive or forget his failure. Chester is the first of many who will be indifferent or ready to forgive, yet Jim's inability to forgive himself will blind him to their mercy.

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