Summary and Analysis Chapter 14



The day of Jim's sentencing arrived. Marlow imagined Jim on a scaffolding, ready to be beheaded. But Jim's punishment was not that romantic; still, however, it was every bit as cruel. Jim's certificate to be a British naval officer was canceled. He could never again serve aboard a ship — except as a common sailor. Jim's dream of being a ship's officer and performing all sorts of heroic deeds had been shattered. He had planned to live forever on the sea; now he had to begin a new life, with the knowledge that he had been judged unfit to be responsible for other people.

Marlow tried to talk with Jim after the sentencing, but he was too upset and dazed, and he pulled away. "Let no man . . . " he said thickly.

Marlow stared after him for only a moment; then he turned his attention to "Chester," an old, well-known roustabout sailor, who seemed anxious to talk. Chester asked Marlow if he would try to convince Jim that he had a future ahead of him if he would agree to be the chief overseer of forty coolies on a guano island that Chester planned to develop. Marlow could not imagine a worse future for Jim; he refused to even mention the job. He would not sentence Jim to such a fate.


This chapter presents the final, "official" verdict about Jim's jumping ship, and Conrad builds up suspense for it by having the court ask a series of unimportant questions. Then we hear the final verdict: "Certificate cancelled."

Having been branded as a coward and his certificate cancelled, what worse fate could befall Jim? Conrad hints at one possible "worse" fate in the episode concerning Chester and Robinson, who are two of the most disreputable men of the South Seas — in fact, one of them, Robinson, has long been suspected of cannibalism. These two horrible creatures typify the dark powers that wait to swallow a discouraged and rejected man. They are introduced to show the change that is taking place within Marlow because Chester's suggestion fills Marlow with utter loathing.

These two unsavory men need a kind of non-person to do their dirty work — overseeing coolie labor in digging and sacking bird manure — and they feel that the horribly disgraced Jim is just such a person, or non-person. Marlow, horrified at this completely decadent, immoral proposition, will not intervene. His view of Jim does not include such depraved labors or even working with such depraved men. Marlow is clearly so deeply involved with Jim that he cannot abandon him to such degradation.