Summary and Analysis
Marlow now tells the dinner guests more about Jim's trial before the panel of inquiry. The trial, he says, became something of a public "event." Here was a handsome young man on trial for leaving almost a thousand poor and ragged religious pilgrims to almost certain death. Justice demanded punishment, and Jim, almost willingly it seemed, faced his judges alone and endured the grueling and exhausting inquisition. The trial, Marlow says, was ultimately unsatisfactory because it was an exercise in futility. Instead of trying to determine the philosophical why's of Jim's behavior, the inquiry focused entirely upon the factual and pragmatic how's of the affair.
At the end of the second day of Jim's trial, Marlow remembers that a very revealing incident occurred. An ugly, mangy dog was weaving in and out of the crowd, and a man laughed aloud, remarking, "Look at that wretched cur."
Instantaneously, Jim whirled and accused Marlow of calling him a cur, and it was only with great difficulty that Marlow was able to convince Jim that it was another man who had spoken and that he had referred to an actual dog.
Afterward, Jim was terribly humiliated. His face turned crimson, the clear blue of his eyes darkened, and he seemed to be on the verge of tears. For that single moment, Marlow says, he witnessed how "a single word had stripped [Jim] of his discretion." All of Jim's almost successfully disguised suffering during the trial surfaced; without meaning to, Jim had revealed an explosive, volatile side of his nature.
Jim turned away instantly, frightened to have revealed himself so nakedly, but Marlow was so thoroughly captivated by the young man that he followed him and invited him to dinner.
The inexplicability of human action is presented through the story of Captain Brierly. Here we have a man who has risen to the pinnacle of his profession by the age of thirty-two, has never made a mistake, nor had an accident or mishap. He has no debts, no entanglements, and yet, for no seeming reason, he goes about logically and systematically putting his ship into the hands of the chief mate, Mr. Jones, and then he commits suicide by diving into the sea with iron ballasts fastened to his body.
Ultimately Jim's actions, however, will seem as inexplicable as Captain Brierly's. Some critics even believe that the captain is so troubled by the actions of someone like Jim, who is such an outstanding gentleman . . . "one of us," that the analogy troubles Brierly too much; therefore, he calmly prepares his own suicide so that he won't have to live with the knowledge that he too might someday do the exact same thing.
Of course, it is also very significant that Brierly wants to furnish sufficient money (200 rupees) for Jim to disappear because the entire trial and inquiry and the "infernal publicity is too shocking"; by analogy, the trial is a reflection upon a fellow Englishman in an alien land.
Again, by the end of Chapter 6, Conrad has still not revealed Jim's full, actual predicament, and Brierly intrigues us further by asking, "Why are we tormenting that young chap?" We don't know; we are still in the dark as to the nature of Jim's torment.
Marlow's first meeting with Jim is charged with emotion as Jim mistakenly thinks that Marlow has referred to him as a "wretched cur." By the time the mistake is corrected, Marlow is able to persuade Jim to have dinner with him, and we now anticipate hearing more of Jim's story.