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Lord Jim | Chapters 8–9 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 8

Marlow resumes Jim's tale of the growing crisis aboard the Patna. Desperate to save lives, Jim decides to cut the restraining ropes on the lifeboats, so, when the ship goes down, the boats will float free. Running toward the bridge where the boats are secured, he is stopped by a hand catching hold of his coat. A pilgrim repeats the word "water" several times in his own language, but Jim misunderstands and thinks the man is going to start trouble. After a brief scuffle, Jim realizes the man only wants water for his sick child, gives him his own water bottle, and continues to the bridge.

By now, the captain and three engineers are lowering a boat. One attacks Jim, thinking he is a passenger, but Jim fights him off. Then Captain Gustav sees Jim and growls, "Ah! it's you. Lend a hand quick." Jim soon realizes the captain means to save himself and abandon the passengers. Hopeless plans for shoring up the rusty bulkhead flit through Jim's mind. Recalling this idea to Marlow, Jim insists "to do a thing like that you must believe there is a chance. "He is certain "nobody would have believed" and helped him. Alone, he could save nothing and no one. "What would you have me do?" he asks Marlow.

As Marlow listens, he understands Jim is speaking of moral issues beyond the limitations of the court inquiry. Within himself, Jim is wrestling with an essential question of life and engaging Marlow in the process as "an ally, a helper, an accomplice." To Marlow, it seems the answer to this question could "affect mankind's conception of itself."

Briefly, Marlow halts his tale to relight his cigar and measure the interest level of his audience. Encouraged to continue, he fleshes out what he had gleaned of Jim's character. He is especially amazed at Jim's unaltered belief: "he wouldn't be afraid to face anything." In fact, Jim insists confidently, "there was nothing he couldn't meet." He has been preparing since childhood, "expecting the worst, rehearsing his best." He blames his failure to act heroically aboard the Patna on having been taken unawares and betrayed by everything.

Jim scornfully describes his shipmates' struggle to release a lifeboat though he swears to Marlow he never even glanced at them. His attention was riveted on the threatening slant of the ship. Once again, imagination takes hold, and Jim pictures precisely how it will be to die when the ship goes down.

However, as Marlow reveals, the ship did not go down, as if some supreme power had intervened. The rusted bulkhead held, and two Malay helmsmen steadfastly manned the ship's wheel. At the trial, the two men testify their trust in the white men never wavered during the crisis. They believed they would not desert the ship in fear but might have had secret reasons for leaving.

As for Jim, he was determined to go down honorably with the ship. He tells Marlow that he hit the first engineer when the man pushed him to help get the lifeboat into the sea.

Chapter 9

While all attention has been on the lifeboat, a squall has sneaked up from the southwest. Already its darkness has eaten up a third of the sky. The Patna is still afloat but lying aslant on a sea that is "still as a pond." Once the squall hits, she seems sure to go down.

Remembering the reason he first ran to the bridge, Jim quickly cuts the restraining ropes on the other lifeboats. He then stands apart from the others, refusing to help as they try desperately to make their escape. There is an appalling element of mockery about their repeated attempts and failures to release the boat. To Jim, it seemed like mocking the approaching death and dishonor with comic faces. Marlow notes that these are the things Jim could never explain to the court.

Preparing for the end, Jim closes his eyes, but then the ship moves. Her bow dips and then rises slowly with the first storm-triggered ocean swell. The movement "knocks over" something in Jim's mind though his feet remain "glued to the planks." His eyes fly open, and he sees an engineer named George collapse from a weak heart. Then Jim is assailed by "a tumult of events and sensations": the grinding jar of the lifeboat at last swinging free; a heavier swell lifting the Patna as the squall approaches; panic-stricken screams of the crew as the lifeboat drops; the rising yelps of the passengers as they at last awaken to their danger. Jim stumbles toward the ship's rail while calls for George, the dead man, float up from the freed lifeboat. The men call for George to jump. With no recollection of having done so, Jim finds himself in the boat looking up at the ship "loom[ing] like a cliff." Jim realizes he has jumped, and there is no going back.

Analysis

In these chapters, Jim describes in detail events aboard the Patna, including his own personal crisis and ultimate life-changing disgrace. As Marlow listens to Jim, he detects the subtle unsoundness of Jim's character. Jim is overly anxious to be believed and for Marlow to know his readiness to meet a crisis.

Jim's encounter with the pilgrim wanting water for his child demonstrates how Jim's imagination distorts his understanding of the world. Having fully imagined the outcome for the growing crisis aboard the ship, Jim assumes the word "water" means the man is aware of the situation and will soon raise an alarm. He interprets the man's plea in the context of his own fearful imaginings rather than in the context of the reality outside his mind. This mistake is similar to his interpretation of the "cur" comment outside the courthouse. Jim imagines every white man holds him in contempt and interprets the comment in the context of that belief. Even after he realizes his mistake and takes Marlow into his confidence, he cannot help bringing up the "cur" reference—"You think me a cur for standing there"—showing how deeply it has worked its way into his mind.

As for saving the sleeping passengers, Jim describes his dilemma: He could wake them, making them crazy with fright, or let them sleep, blissfully unaware of the danger they were in. Either way, he alone could save no one. He pleads with Marlow, "What would you have done? What would you have me do?"

Marlow realizes Jim is not speaking to him but debating with some "antagonistic and inseparable partner of his existence—another possessor of his soul." Jim had made a conscious decision not to join the others, to cling to his moral code as they prepare to abandon the ship. Remaining separate from men he despises was a valiant effort, yet Jim's instincts and the moral code by which he tries to live are at odds with reality. The situation with which he grapples is not black and white. In listening to Jim, Marlow admits, "I was made to look at the convention that lurks in all truth and on the essential sincerity of falsehood." In other words, truth and falsehood are no longer starkly separate. The reality of Jim's dilemma blurs the line, bringing to light the idea of moral relativism in which circumstances create moral shades of gray.

Abruptly, this line of thought makes Marlow uncomfortable. He suddenly distances himself from its examination, saying, "one has no business really to get interested." A following break in Marlow's narration reminds readers he is telling a story to a gathering of friends.

As the narrative resumes, Jim once again blames forces outside of himself for his inability to act. He claims to have been "taken unawares"—echoing his excuse for the training ship failure. It seems as if he was the victim of "a malevolent practical joke." Even the squall was an infernal thing that had sneaked up in the night. However, the two Malay helmsmen who remain at the ship's wheel provide a different and unflattering perspective on Jim's performance. The two men remain at their post, bravely performing their duty without conscious thought of being heroic. In contrast, Jim holds an unwavering belief in his potential to be heroic, but his failure to act reflects a baser quality to his nature.

The close of Chapter 9 reveals how Jim comes to jump from the Patna and the heart of his disgrace. In a bewildering moment of cowardice, Jim violates the moral code he aspires to live by. In describing it to Marlow, he seems "dumbfounded and hurt" by this self-betrayal. Jim's leap becomes the "everlasting deep hole" out of which he tries to crawl for the rest of his life.

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