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Lord Jim | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Lord Jim | Chapters 6–7 | Summary



Chapter 6

The court inquiry begins as scheduled but not with the goal of solving how the Patna came to be damaged. That would be impossible. The goal is to discover how the subsequent events occurred. The court ignores the psychological aspect of why they occurred as they are interested in only the consequences.

However, the judge—Captain Brierly—appears deeply disturbed by the proceedings. Also known as Big Brierly, he is captain of the Ossa, the top ship of the Blue Star line. Brierly has a sterling reputation and has risen steadily in the ranks of his seafaring profession. He's never been known to make a mistake, fail in his duty, or suffer from indecision. In recognition of his excellent seamanship, he was once awarded a gold chronometer, a valuable watch-like device used at sea to determine the longitude of the ship at all times. It is a gift he prizes.

Brierly has contempt for Jim yet feels tormented by the inquiry. Captain Gustav and the other crewmates have disappeared, leaving Jim to face accusations and punishment alone. "Why eat all that dirt?" Brierly demands while speaking privately with Marlow. He then offers to put up some money so Jim can run away. Brierly places no value on Jim's courage in facing the charges against him, saying, "That sort of courage is of no use to keep a man straight."

Barely a week after the Patna inquiry concludes, Brierly jumps overboard while at sea. He leaves his prized gold chronometer hanging under the rail by its chain.

Marlow tries to piece together why Jim's case would affect Brierly so. The man had exhibited only scorn for Jim during the examination. Nevertheless, as Marlow speculates, Brierly may have been silently weighing Jim's case against some event in his professional past. Reaching a verdict of guilty, he was unable to go on living.

In a conversation two years later, Brierly's first mate, Mr. Jones, fills Marlow in on the details of the captain's suicide. The suicide was carefully planned and executed. Brierly made sure the ship was safely on course and his much-loved dog kept in the chart room before he disappeared into the sea. He left two letters—one to the Company and one to Mr. Jones. Neither explained why he had jumped. Marlow surmises Captain Brierly had left the world before "belief in his own splendor" could be destroyed.

Marlow accidentally makes Jim's acquaintance on the second day of the hearing. Upon leaving the courtroom, a man next to Marlow, stumbling over a dog, exclaims, "Look at that wretched cur." Jim, standing nearby, assumes the comment is directed at him, since, in addition to a mongrel dog, the term "cur" may refer to a contemptible human. He turns angrily to confront Marlow while the actual speaker gets jostled away by the crowds. The two nearly come to blows before the misunderstanding comes to light. Realizing no insult was spoken or intended, Jim is mortified and "blushes to the roots of his curly hair." Then recovering his composure, he is deeply apologetic. "I can't put up with this kind of thing," he explains. Thus thrown together, the two men go to dine at the Malabar House, where Marlow is staying.

Chapter 7

While dining with Jim, Marlow observes once again that Jim "[is] one of us." Something in the young man's demeanor stirs Marlow's sympathies. As talk turns to the trial, Jim states he can never go home to face his father afterward. Even so, he is terribly anxious to convince Marlow—and himself—he is not like the other deserters; he is not "one of them." Jim is desperate "to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be."

In Marlow, Jim finds someone to whom he can describe events on the Patna in a way the court's facts-only questions prohibit. He begins by explaining that the captain, first and second engineers, and he were picked up by the Dale Line steamer Avondale. The Avondale crew initially accepts Captain Gustav's lie to account for their predicament as castaways, but they soon begin to suspect "something fishy" about the tale. Once ashore, Jim spends a fortnight (two weeks) in the Sailors' Home, keeping to himself and awaiting the inquiry.

For a moment, Jim mulls over the chance he has missed to be the hero of his visions. Marlow notes that Jim mourns the glory he failed to obtain instead of regretting what he has lost. He still believes in his "impossible world of romantic achievements."

Since abandonment of the Patna, Jim has been struggling to come to terms with his actions. He insists to Marlow his evaluation of the ship's damaged bulkhead was correct. Knowing it could have given way to the sea at any minute, his fear for the crowd of sleeping passengers had been paralyzing.

As he listens, Marlow concludes Jim was not afraid of death, but "afraid of the emergency." There were only seven lifeboats for 800 people. Horrific visions "of panic, the trampling rush, the pitiful screams, boats swamped" filled Jim's head as he "imagined what would happen perfectly." Standing on the upper deck and looking at the sleeping pilgrims, Jim believes nothing can save them. "They were dead [already,]" he says.


In these two chapters, more of the Patna incident and its aftermath arise, in particular the suicide of Captain Brierly. Also appearing is the chance meeting that brings Marlow into Jim's life.

Like Marlow, many who attend the inquiry hope to learn the "why" of the situation—to glimpse "the strength, the power, the horror of human emotions" that caused Jim and the other officers to desert the Patna. However, the inquiry's intent is to gather only facts, which can never reveal the heart of the disaster. Marlow likens the inquiry to "tapping with a hammer on an iron box" to find out what's inside.

Captain Brierly, the nautical magistrate at the hearing, represents everything Jim aspires to be. Like Jim, he considers himself "vastly superior" to others and is "acutely aware of his merits and of his rewards." Unlike Jim, however, he has never had a moment of doubt, hesitation, or dishonorable failure to act. His record has been impeccable, and by all accounts, he has lived up to the moral code of his profession.

The gold chronometer Brierly carries memorializes his history of saving lives at sea and rescuing ships in distress. This heroism is the stuff of Jim's dreams. The device also represents a world in which a man like Jim would not exist. In this ordered world, desertion of the Patna would never happen, and men could never act ignobly. Jim's case causes Brierly to question the certainty of such a world and shakes his "belief in his own splendor."

Marlow suggests Brierly's outer contempt for Jim masks an inner "silent inquiry into his own case." In other words, there may be an undiscovered failing in the captain's past. Forced to review his failure, Brierly may fear it will somehow come to light.

In keeping with this line of thought, Brierly's disdain for Jim's courage in facing his accusers seems at odds with the captain's upright character. Unlike the other Patna officers, Jim doesn't run from justice; he faces it alone—a brave and noble act. However, Brierly mocks Jim's courage as worthless. It has led to the public airing of his crime, which Brierly finds "too shocking." It would be better if Jim simply runs away. Here, Brierly seems to have experience with "disappearing" without money, which suggests Brierly has a skeleton in his past that he fears will catch up with him.

The manner in which Jim meets Marlow reveals a key aspect of Jim's character. In his reaction to the comment, "Look at that wretched cur," Jim exposes his deepest doubts about his actions during the Patna incident. The single misunderstood word "cur" strips him of his good judgment and carefulness. Jim loses his temper. Paradoxically, he has to be honest with himself, acknowledging the possible truth to hammer Marlow into denying it.

In Chapter 7, as Jim settles into telling Marlow his version of events on the Patna, he says, "I would like somebody to understand ... one person at least." This sentiment echoes the epigraph: "It is certain my Conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe in it." Jim deeply desires to be understood and senses in Marlow a sympathetic listener. He needs the older man to know that, while he abandoned the ship, he is not "one of them" in the lifeboat. Marlow has already decided Jim is "one of us," and repeats this idea as he describes the setting for their talk and the young man who sits before him. Jim still appears to be "the right sort."

At this point, exactly what has happened aboard the Patna is still unclear. The reader knows the ship was somehow damaged, Jim and the others abandoned her and were picked up in a lifeboat, and something is wrong with the explanation Captain Gustav offers. In addition, Jim clearly has discovered something about himself with which he is trying to cope. Moreover, his concern is something more than abandoning a sinking ship. Jim doesn't try to minimize the importance of this self-discovery, but, as Marlow remarks, Jim spends a great deal of time trying to justify it to the one person—himself—who can appreciate "all its tremendous magnitude."

At one point, Jim describes his stubborn refusal to speak to anyone before the hearing. Marlow comments sarcastically on Jim's success in keeping silent: "So that bulkhead held out after all." Marlow uses verbal irony here to draw a parallel between Jim's unbroken silence and the damaged bulkhead on the Patna. This comment is the first hint the Patna did not sink as the crew had predicted.

On a more sympathetic note, Marlow points out the curse of Jim's imagination as he envisions the dreadful death awaiting the Patna passengers on that fateful night. Marlow states Jim "imagined what would happen perfectly" and believes even in telling the story, Jim relives the horror of it. As it has twice before, Jim's imagination has betrayed him. This time, however, the consequences appear to be far more devastating.

In describing the conditions on the ship the night of the crisis, Jim says the crew kept Kalashee watch. A Kalashee is a Malay seaman. Kalashee watch is scheduled rotation of watch times delegated to a small group instead of to the general crew. This description of the watch underscores the lack of vigilance and complacency of the Patna's crew due to the sea's deceptive calm and the uneventfulness of the voyage.

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