Summary and Analysis
Brown pretended to be interested in Kassim's and Cornelius' proposals, but, in actuality, he was waiting for Jim to return. He was intrigued by the idea of a weak man ruling Patusan. He was also more than a little interested in the reality of "a fort," readymade and waiting for him. He felt sure that he and Jim could work out some kind of arrangement, some kind of plan in which they could "work like brothers." Then, at the proper time, Brown would put an end to Jim, and the land would be his "to tear to pieces, squeeze and throw away."
Marlow tells us that Brown had an "undisguised ruthlessness of purpose." For an example of Brown's loathsome nature, note that he ordered one of his men to shoot a Malay native in cold blood. He wanted the man shot for no other reason than wanting to "strike terror . . . terror, terror, I tell you."
That night, Brown's spirits fell; escape seemed impossible. He knew that his men were outnumbered two hundred to one, and they too were growing restless and fearful. One of them asked permission to get some tobacco. Brown told him to go. But just as the man cried out in delight that he had found some tobacco, a shot rang out and the night air was filled, again and again, with the groans of the wounded man. Six hours later, the incoming tide silenced the moans of the wounded man.
That night, in the stillness, a sonorous voice proclaimed that "between the men of the Bugis nation living in Patusan and the white men on the hill . . . there would be no faith, no compassion, no speech, no peace."
At dawn, a cannon barked briefly. Jim was coming back, Cornelius told Brown. Lord Jim was returning; the cannon was a salute to welcome him. Brown was anxious to talk to Jim, and Cornelius assured him that it would be no problem. Jim, he said, was not afraid of anything. He was like a child; he was a fool. Jim would simply tell Brown to leave "his people" alone, and Brown could easily kill Jim. Then Brown could do "anything you like."
Brown spotted Jim almost immediately. Jim was dressed all in white and was surrounded by "a knot of coloured figures." A contempt, a wish to "try for one more chance — for some other grave" pulsed within Brown when he saw Jim. He waved wildly, and the two men began advancing toward one another until they stood facing each other across the creek. Then Brown jumped the creek. With steady eyes, each man tried to understand the other one before either one spoke.
Marlow is sure that Brown detested Jim at that moment. He is certain that Brown inwardly cursed Jim for his youth, his assurance, his clear eyes, and his untroubled bearing. Jim was the antithesis of Brown's sunken, sun-blackened body and soul. Moreover, Jim had a sense of possession, security, and power. He was not hungry, and he was not desperate; his clothing was pressed and his shoes were whitened.
But Brown knew that Jim must have something in his past which caused him to come here, and so when he asked Jim why he came to Patusan, he was elated to see Jim tremble slightly. He had tapped Jim's weakness. Thus, he told Jim that they both probably had shady pasts, that they both were no doubt running away from something, and that they both shared a common guilt.
In effect, he slapped Jim in the face with his taunts, challenging Jim to let him go free and starve, or else to shoot him immediately. This moment, Brown recalled to Marlow, was wondrous; Brown had cornered Jim psychologically. The memory of that moment was sufficient to warm Brown's dying moments. He remembered feeling intensely joyous. He had discovered that he could rattle the "twopenny soul" of Jim, that "confounded, immaculate, don't-you-touch-me sort of fellow."
Chapter 40 continues to blacken the picture of Brown, showing him as one of the most detestable characters in fiction, possessing absolutely no redeeming traits. He uses everyone in order to achieve his evil purposes merely for the sake of evil. Like Shakespeare's Iago, he seems to dwell upon evil merely for the sake of evil. For example, he is delighted that there is a fort already built so that he will be able to crush the people of Patusan more efficiently.
At the end of Chapter 40, he is told by Cornelius that Jim is like a child — that he has no fear of anything and that it will be very easy to take anything from him.
Not surprisingly, in Chapter 41, Jim goes to see Brown. From the very first meeting, Brown despises Jim because Jim is clearly loved and trusted by the people of Patusan and because Jim's looks and assurance and youth are in total contrast to Brown's blackened body and his dark, evil soul. Furthermore, Jim displays no sense of fear; he seems entirely self-possessed and confident.
However, as the two men talk, Brown, who is evil but no fool, is soon able to worm his way into the inner nature of Jim. Brown reminds Jim that they are both here because of some guilty thing that happened to them in the past, and that they both must have done things in the past of which they are ashamed. As Brown says, "I am here because I was afraid once in my life." This, of course, is a terrifying parallel to why Jim is here — that is, once in his life, Jim, possibly out of fear, jumped. And ever since, to the public and to himself, Jim has been convinced that he is indelibly branded as a "coward."
Note that Brown uses the same imagery associated with Jim's jump from the Patna — "I am sick of my infernal luck. . . . There are men in the same boat — and by God, I am not the sort to jump out of trouble and leave them in a d — d lurch." These words and illusions serve to remind Jim that a man should not be judged by a single act performed under stress and duress. These comments, as we will see, will lead Jim astray in his judgment of Brown's basically evil nature and will render Jim incapable of acting as a free agent. Jim's inability to see through Brown's evil nature and treachery simply because Brown makes such a parallel analogy to their mutual pasts causes Jim to feel a compassion for Brown which will, in turn, bring about the tragic deaths of Dain Waris and others, including Jim himself.