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Literature Study GuidesLord JimChapters 21 23 Summary

Lord Jim | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim | Chapters 21–23 | Summary



Chapter 21

Marlow asks his listening friends if they have heard of Patusan. As they have not, he explains it is a place that is known in the market city of Batavia, on the coast of Java, and to men in the mercantile business. Still, even these people have never been there. Stein arranges to send Jim to this remote island nation, knowing it will allow him to leave behind "his earthly failings." It will provide the clean slate he needs—"a totally new set of conditions for his imaginative faculty to work upon."

Marlow and Stein meet on the morning following their evening talk. In an offhand remark, Marlow repeats Captain Brierly's recommendation: Jim should "creep 20 feet underground and stay there." Stein replies, "This could be done," and suggests Patusan. Stein's trading post on the island is currently run by an agent named Cornelius, from the Portuguese colony of Malacca. However, his performance has been unsatisfactory, and Jim could replace him.

The chief settlement on the island is also named Patusan and lies up a river 40 miles from the sea. By the time Marlow visits, Jim is living there in a fine native-style house and has settled wonderfully into his new life. This situation pleases Marlow, who intends to go home soon and wants to leave with a clear conscience knowing he has done all he can for Jim. He is, after all, "one of us."

Marlow tells his listening friends his "last words about Jim shall be few." He affirms Jim achieves his desired greatness, though he fears that in the telling, its intensity and glamour will be diminished. Marlow distrusts his friends' imaginative ability to be amazed.

Chapter 22

In Patusan, utterly isolated from the outside world, Jim pursues his heroic dreams, triumphantly winning love, honor, and men's trust. However, he is not the first to chase a dream and find glory there. In the 17th century, Patusan was the destination of merchant-adventurers willing to risk disease, hunger, despair, and even death to obtain her valuable pepper. When the pepper trade fell off, Patusan fell back into obscurity.

At the time of Jim's arrival, the island is under the distant rule of a sultan who Stein describes as "an imbecile youth" surrounded by a number of greedy, dishonest uncles. The worst of these is Rajah Allang, the governor of the river. He is an evil, dried-up, opium addict who, in later years, receives Marlow and Jim on a ceremonial visit in a filthy, decrepit hall. The hall is packed with the rajah's downtrodden subjects, dark-faced native men dressed in rags. Among them, fair-haired and in his fine, white apparel, Jim appears like "a creature not only of another kind but of another essence."

Marlow recalls Jim's reaction when he first hears Stein and Marlow's Patusan scheme. In his joy and gratitude, he becomes clumsily inarticulate though sincere and boyishly eager to accept the proffered chance. Marlow assures him the thanks for this good turn really should go to an old Scot who died long ago. Stein is simply passing on to Jim "the help he had received in his own young days." The success or failure of this arrangement—this "experiment"—will be Jim's responsibility. For this reason, Marlow stresses, there is every chance for Jim to make life intolerable for himself. He will be going into a wilderness; Marlow remarks, Jim had shown a desire to disappear from the world—"to go out and shut the door after him." Patusan is just the place for this. Marlow avows, "It would be for the outside world as though he had never existed."

Chapter 23

Jim returns the next morning from his meeting with Stein full of enthusiasm for the upcoming venture. In his pocket is a letter for Cornelius, whom he is replacing. Stein also has given Jim a silver ring to present to Doramin—one of the principal natives. He is an old friend, a "war-comrade" who owes his life to Stein. When the two parted, Doramin gave Stein the ring as a token of eternal friendship. The ring will serve as Jim's introduction to Doramin and ensure he is well-treated. More importantly to Jim, it means he will have a friend.

As Jim shares this information with Marlow, his admiration for Stein is apparent. Stein has led a life of adventure, once saved a man's life and earned his eternal friendship, and now has granted Jim the fresh start he has been dreaming of. It's a "magnificent chance" to "slam the door" on the past.

For Marlow, Jim's elation is unsettling: "not a proper frame of mind to approach any undertaking." His reproach, however, leads Jim to retort that Marlow's doubts stem from knowing and remembering his past. It is no wonder, Jim asserts, "he wanted to get out, meant to get out, meant to stay out." He wants to forget everything and everyone—except Marlow.

Suddenly, Jim realizes he must pack; his ship is leaving for Patusan in just two hours. Marlow supplies him with a watertight tin trunk, a revolver, and two boxes of cartridges. Stein's brigantine (a two-masted vessel) will take Jim to the village of Batu Kring but no further. The town of Patusan is about 30 miles upriver from there, but recent attacks on vessels have made river travel quite dangerous. In fact, the ship's half-caste captain holds out little hope for Jim's survival if he continues up the river, judging him already "a corpse."

At the ship, the two men say goodbye. As Marlow is struck by the reality of the dangers Jim now faces, his resentment regarding the man's fate vanishes. He urges Jim to take care and not to take any risks, to which Jim replies he will not—he means to endure—and "wouldn't spoil such a magnificent chance!"

Then the brigantine is pulling away, and Jim calls back to Marlow, "You—shall—hear—of—me." Like a bad omen, the little half-caste captain appears at Jim's side and raises his arm "as if for a downward thrust."


These chapters set the stage for the second half of Jim's story, establishing the history of Patusan, current conditions on the island, and the danger of Jim's venture. They also provide a tantalizing glimpse of Jim's success.

Marlow notes Stein apparently knows more than most about Patusan. He has no doubt Stein has been to the remote island. He has visited most places in the Archipelago "in the original dusk of their being, before light ... had been carried into them for the sake of better morality and ... greater profit." This descriptive comment alludes to the expansion of European countries into the East Indies. The objective was to spread the benefits of civilization and morality as well as to make a handsome profit.

In describing the trade history of Patusan, Conrad offers insight into his view of the merchant-adventurers who in bygone days risked everything "for a slender reward." He describes how they defied death, dared to sail unknown seas, chanced hunger and disease, and "left their bones to lie bleaching on distant shores." More than "agents of trade," they became instruments of exploration, pioneers "pushing out into the unknown" and "ready for the wonderful."

These men have responded to the "spirit of the land" that rules "great enterprises"—the ideals calling men to adventure and acts of courage and heroism. Stories like theirs have shaped Jim's dreams, but he has fallen short of the ideals and become "a straggler," as Marlow terms it. Lagging behind the rest, Jim is struggling to catch up, yearning to take "his humble place in the ranks" of his heroes.

While weighing the benefits of sending Jim to Patusan, Stein makes a mysterious comment about the Dutch-Malay wife of the current trading post agent, Cornelius. "And the woman is dead now," he remarks cryptically. Why this should matter, Marlow can only surmise. He knows the woman was once wife to a European who then abandoned her and their daughter. While it's hard for him to believe Stein could be that European, it remains a possibility. The daughter, now stepchild to Cornelius, will play a vital role in Jim's new life and success.

Upon meeting Stein, Jim recognizes in him all the qualities he admires. He romanticizes his benefactor and attributes to him only the highest motives and finest characteristics of a hero. Jim is deeply grateful for the chance Stein has offered, which he labels "magnificent," and is determined to use well. Marlow drops several hints that Jim succeeds while making clear that success was far from easy. Jim has been given the chance he has been dreaming of but at the cost of real danger.

Marlow confides to his audience his primary goal in dropping Jim into Patusan was "to dispose of him" before going home to England. He wanted to return with a clear conscience, knowing he had done everything possible for Jim. In his view, when going home, individuals must render a full account of their activities while away. Only then can they receive their just rewards of kinship, love, opportunities, and pleasures that home represents. Figuratively speaking, individuals' hands must be clean to collect their rewards. Marlow wants to be sure his hands are clean with regard to Jim. Here again, Marlow's assessment of his motives indicates his shifting, ambivalent feelings toward Jim and his troubles.

Nevertheless, at Jim's moment of departure for the island, Marlow reveals his heart is "freed from that dull resentment which had existed side by side with interest in" Jim's fate. He is suddenly uneasy about that fate. Patusan is a wilderness. The journey will be dangerous, and Jim is on his own. The brigantine's captain has added his own dire predictions to Marlow's worry, describing Jim as already "a corpse." These hints of the "unwholesome situation" in Patusan foreshadow events Marlow soon will relate.

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