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Lord Jim | Chapters 36–37 | Summary



Chapter 36

Marlow ends his narrative, and his audience drifts on the verandah deep in thought and without remark. However, Jim's story is incomplete. Two years later, one listener who seemed particularly interested in Jim's tale receives a packet from Marlow containing a written account of its ending. The contents of the packet include several pages pinned together, a single gray sheet in an unknown hand, an explanatory letter from Marlow, and another letter, "yellowed by time and frayed on the folds."

In his explanatory letter, Marlow tells this friend he recalls his statement that a life given up to "all of mankind with skins brown, yellow, or black in color" is only endurable on one condition: a belief in the necessity of such sacrifice. The belief must be shared with all who "fight in the ranks." Without the core belief, the sacrifice is pointless and the life doesn't count. Marlow continues, Jim had only himself against which to measure the worth of his actions. The question is: Did he ultimately live up to an ideal more splendid than the codes that govern society? He, himself, cannot say. Perhaps what happened to Jim was "that supreme opportunity, that last and satisfying test" for which he had been waiting.

The single gray sheet of paper, Marlow explains, was written by Jim—a last message to the outside world. Two lines in particular stand out. The first is "An awful thing has happened." The second reads, "I must now at once." Then it seems Jim gave up on it.

The old, yellowed letter is the last correspondence Jim received from his father, dated before the Patna affair. From the safety of his "quiet corner of the world," the parson advises Jim to remain faithful and virtuous at all times wherever he goes. "Virtue," he tells Jim, "is one all over the world, and there is only one faith, one conceivable conduct of life, one manner of dying." Marlow remarks that these ideas are held by people living free of danger or strife who will "never be taken unawares or be called upon to grapple with fate."

The pinned pages contain the last of Jim's story. It is "an astounding adventure" more romantic than Jim's wildest dreams could have imagined. Marlow explains he has pieced bits of information together "to make an intelligible picture" of the events. He wonders how Jim might have told the story himself, and finds it hard to believe he will never see Jim or hear his voice again.

Chapter 37

Marlow's letter continues, explaining the conclusion of Jim's story begins with a pirate and scoundrel named Brown—"Gentleman Brown." Marlow finds the man in Bangkok a few hours before Brown dies. Brown is eager to tell how he took revenge on Jim, "the stuck-up beggar," for letting him go free following an undisclosed event in Patusan. Brown's tale also reveals "unsuspected depths of cunning in the wretched Cornelius."

Marlow explains this information will fill the gaps in Jim's story—a story he has been piecing together for eight months, ever since paying Stein a visit in Samarang. While visiting Stein, Marlow is mystified to find a Malay man he recalls from Patusan. Then he discovers Jim's Malay servant Tamb' Itam at the door of Stein's room. When he greets the man and asks if Jim is inside, Tamb' Itam hangs his head and replies cryptically, "He would not fight. He would not fight."

Inside, Marlow knows something is terribly wrong. Stein explains the Malay men and Jewel arrived there two days ago. He asks Marlow to speak with Jewel. He himself is unable to help her. Stein then asks if Jim loved her very much. Marlow affirms this with a nod, and Stein urges him to do what he can to make her understand and make her forgive Jim.

Jewel sits gloomily at the end of a mahogany table in one of Stein's cavern-like rooms. She recognizes Marlow at once and says quietly, "He left me." She then tells him everything that has happened (which will be detailed later), bitterly asking, "What makes you so wicked?" Marlow sees she cannot grasp how Jim could be "torn out of her arms by the strength of a dream." She laments he became blind to her face and deaf to her grief, and went away from her as if she "had been worse than death." For this transgression, there can be no forgiveness.

While she judges Jim as unforgivably "false," Stein has assured her Jim has been "true." Still, she cannot understand, and her heart has been turned to stone. The two Malay men are also changed by the bewildering disaster that drove them all from Patusan. The inexpressible wonder and mystery of events have left them awestruck and humbled.


A sense of finality permeates this section as Conrad sets up a mystery to be revealed in the final chapters. Something has happened to Jim, but precisely what is not clear, except that it involves Jim and death.

Conrad uses the recipient of Marlow's packet to pose a key question for the reader. The "privileged man" has been a wanderer and adventurer like Marlow. His dwelling is described in terms of the sea. Though his wandering days are over, the opened packet recalls "the sounds, the visions, the very savor of the past." This man was among those who gathered to hear Marlow relate Jim's story. At that time, he had asserted Jim's apparent mastery of his fate was an illusion. Without the support of others who shared his European values, Jim was sure to weary of his self-appointed task on Patusan and grow disgusted with his acquired honor. From the man's very Eurocentric viewpoint, only working "in the ranks" with like-minded men can advance "the laws of order and progress" in remote places like Patusan. The question is: does the final stage of Jim's story contradict this theory? Has Jim not "confessed to a faith mightier than the laws of order and progress?" The answer, of course, remains to be seen and is up to the reader to decide.

The yellowed letter at last clarifies Jim's firm refusal to go home after the court hearing. He had told Marlow his father would never understand why he had failed and this letter offers proof. The old man writes from the "shelter of his book-lined, faded, comfortable study." His letter underscores Jim's belief: in a safe, ordered existence, such as a parsonage, the rules of morally correct behavior are perfectly adequate and applicable. Here, nothing untoward would ever come to the occupants; "they would never be taken unawares." However, as Jim's experience proves, these standards can be inadequate to the challenges outside that safe sphere. Jim's father represents all the "placid, colorless forms of men and women" sitting in judgment on Jim in their world "free of danger or strife as a tomb." He cannot bear to return in shame and see the uncomprehending reproach in his father's eyes.

Still, Jim's stubborn adherence to noble dreams and a moral code of behavior seems to have brought about another form of disaster on Patusan. When Marlow discovers Jewel at Stein's home, she says Jim "had been driven away from her by a dream." Whatever Jim has done, Jewel believes it stems from some "curse of cruelty and madness ... within him." Jim had promised to never leave her but has proved himself to be "false."

Overhearing Jewel's accusation, "He was false," Stein exclaims, "No! no! Not false! True! true! true!" The two see Jim from opposing perspectives. For Jewel, it is personal. "The strength of a dream" has torn Jim from her arms, and he has betrayed her trust. In contrast, Stein understands Jim has behaved honorably in true accord with his beliefs and his vision. Jewel can neither grasp nor respect these values. Jim's actions are, from her perspective, unforgivable.

This ends Marlow's explanatory letter, preparing his friend and the reader for the closing chapters of Jim's life.

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