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Lord Jim | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim | Chapters 38–40 | Summary



Chapter 38

Marlow begins his narrative with a description of the man called Brown, whose life will intersect Jim's. Brown is the rumored son of a low-ranking English baronet. Early in life, he jumped ship in Australia during the gold-mining days and, in a few years, became known as the terror of the neighboring island groups collectively called Polynesia. He became a modern-day buccaneer, kidnapping natives, robbing traders, and murdering for sport. He had "a vehement scorn for mankind at large and for his victims in particular." In time, Brown's luck went sour and he was driven from the South Seas toward the Philippines to eventually "sail into Jim's history."

Captured by a Spanish patrol cutter off the coast of the large Philippine island of Mindanao, Brown faces certain imprisonment—something he fears more than death. In desperation, he pulls off a daring escape with the help of 15 loyal men, steals a schooner, and heads through the Straits of Macassar. Brown's idea is to reach Madagascar, where he can sell the stolen schooner, "no questions asked." However, the ship is short on provisions, especially water, and something must be done as the crew is becoming mutinous.

Marlow supposes Brown chose Patusan as a safe place to get provisions because of its remoteness and the fact it is not under the rule of a European power. Brown anchors his ship at the river's mouth, within pistol range of the fishing village, Batu Kring. Two men remain with the schooner while the rest paddle a longboat up the river to the village of Patusan, intending to take the villagers by surprise. Passing Rajah Allang's stockade, they see no sign of life and "a profound silence reigns." Then Brown's surprise plan is turned on its head. The longboat is suddenly bombarded with cannon shot and gunfire from all sides. A din of war cries, clanging gongs, drums, and yells of rage add to the confusion. It seems the head villager from Batu Kring had sent a timely warning ahead.

Eventually, the invaders are driven up a stream where they land their boat and retreat to safety on a little knoll about 900 yards from the rajah's stockade. When night falls, the men are left curiously alone, though boats belonging to the rajah are now strung across the stream, blocking that route of escape. The invaders seem forgotten, "as if they had been dead already."

Chapter 39

It is Dain Waris, son of Doramin, who directs the resistance to Brown's invasion. Jim is away in the island's interior. Jewel has been Dain Waris's ally, taking charge of the women and children to keep them safe, and releasing Jim's store of gunpowder to the men. During the war council following the invaders' retreat, she backs Waris's advice for "immediate and vigorous action." However, the council, led by Doramin, decides against driving the intruders out at once. They will be watched from the houses nearest the stream and the longboat. Only if the invaders move to escape, will they be shot. In the meantime, Dain Waris is to take an armed party of Bugis down the river ten miles below Patusan and block the waterway with canoes. Messengers are dispatched to locate Jim.

The situation remains unchanged until Jim's return. Meanwhile, a conspiracy against Jim is being hatched involving Cornelius, Brown, and Kassim, Rajah Allang's representative and confidant. Using Cornelius as his interpreter, Kassim opens negotiations with Brown, whom he assumes commands a big ship with many guns and men. On the basis of this assumption, Kassim proposes to assist Brown and his men in ridding the island of Jim and taking control. Brown grimly enjoys Kassim's ignorance of his real situation. Privately he plans to double-cross Kassim, join forces with Jim, and squeeze the country dry before moving on. Patusan will become his prey.

Meanwhile, Kassim deliberately neglects to tell Brown about the blockade set up by Dain Waris and his warriors. He strongly urges Brown to send a messenger ordering his ship to come up the river. To keep Kassim happy and buy some time, Brown allows a note to be sent revealing, "We are getting on. Big job. Detain the man."

Chapter 40

Though Brown's plan to plunder Patusan includes Jim, he has "already settled in his own mind the fate of the white man." He intends to use Jim and then kill him. Brown's deeper desire, however, is to inflict havoc on the people who had the gall to defy him and defend themselves. He means "to tear to pieces, squeeze, and throw away" their land.

Brown is impatient to start his takeover of the island. "Images of murder and rapine" fill his head. When an unfortunate native shows himself in the distance, Brown tells Cornelius, who is armed with a rifle, to shoot him. Cornelius grins and complies, and the man falls dead. To Marlow, Brown says, "That showed them what we could do."

Thanks to Kassim's scheming, Jim's carefully constructed "social fabric of orderly peaceful life" on the island is on the brink of disintegrating. The restless, fearful men are beginning to take sides: Brown and the rajah's men against Jim and Doramin's forces. When darkness falls, an uneasy silence falls over Patusan. Then one of Brown's men foolishly decides to retrieve some tobacco from the longboat and is shot for his effort. Moments later, a messenger from Doramin calls out in the darkness, telling the invaders they can expect "no faith, no compassion, no speech, no peace" from the Bugis nation living on Patusan. The messenger is a relation of the native murdered earlier that day.

However, just as all seems lost from Brown's point of view, the "bark" of a brass cannon, a "muffled roaring shout," and the pulsating sound of drums signal Jim's return. Cornelius assures Brown that Jim will come straight to talk to him. "Just kill him," Cornelius eagerly advises, "and you shall frighten everybody so much that you can do anything you like with them."


Brown's invasion of Patusan threatens the peace and order Jim has worked to establish on the island. These chapters reveal how deep the hatred and resentment of men like Cornelius and the Rajah Allang runs. To bring Jim down, they are willing to ally with the treacherous pirate and destroy the island's peace. They want power at any price.

Though Marlow was unaware of it, by the time he last saw Jim, the stage had been set for the tragedy to come. Jim, in the name of fairness, had allowed Rajah Allang to stay on as governor of the river. Nevertheless, three years later, the man still yearns to see Jim dead and to regain his lost power. Ambitious Kassim, in service to the Rajah Allang, seeks to return the rajah's power, which he has vicariously enjoyed. During the war council to decide what to do with Brown and his men, Kassim smiles and listens, but he offers no help. He in fact announces the rajah's boats must be removed from the stream. Last but not least, Cornelius continues to feel cheated, nursing a poisonous grudge.

For his part, Brown is a cunning student of men and their weaknesses. Once he is approached by Cornelius and Kassim, he sees how to use this situation to his advantage. The ease with which he formulates his sly, double-crossing plan illustrates the shrewd thinking that has served him well in his vocation.

Brown's fury over being thwarted in his plans to plunder Patusan exemplifies his arrogant temper. From his perspective, the native people had no right to defend themselves. Brown's utter scorn "for mankind at large and for his victims in particular" is evident in his plan to squeeze the country dry before moving on. However, he misjudges the person called Tuan Jim. With no clear picture of the man, Brown assumes he is much like himself, though not as effective in taking over the island. He is sure Jim will eagerly work with him to exploit Patusan to the fullest extent. At this point, what he desires most is "to play havoc with that jungle town which had defied him." This desire will change once he has met Jim.

Marlow describes Cornelius's visit to the pirates' encampment on the knoll in terms of beetle-like movements. He sidles up to the knoll. He clambers clumsily over a downed tree trunk. He creeps sluggishly back down the hill after the meeting. Everything, from his physical dirtiness to his insectile movements, reflects a weak but sinister and darkly dangerous man.

Years ago, the Patna incident threw Jim's inner world into chaos, destroying his self-illusions and confidence. It seemed dark forces had conspired to catch Jim off-guard, denying him the chance to act honorably and prove his heroism. Now, through these three men—Brown, Kassim, and Cornelius—those dark forces once again seem to target Jim. Like the mysterious submerged wreckage that harmed the Patna and turned Jim's inner world upside down, another "floating derelict" is slyly preparing to destroy Jim's outer world.

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