Summary and Analysis
During dinner, the wine loosened Jim's tongue, and he began his painful story. Now, he has no money, no job, no future as a sailor, and he has shamed his pastor father, who is incapable of understanding what has happened. Impulsively, Jim asks Marlow if he can understand it all. What would Marlow have done?
Jim said that after he and his fellow officers were picked up and taken ashore, he learned that the Patna did not sink. The news seemed impossible to believe; the Patna had been doomed. Jim recalled in detail how he himself examined the bulkhead of the ship; he remembered how it had bulged, ready to crack momentarily. There were seven lifeboats and 800 passengers. If Jim had alerted the passengers, their panic would have caused virtual chaos. He was surrounded by a sea ready to swallow him up, and he was surrounded by 800 sleeping natives who would soon be drowning, screaming like frightened, panicking animals. "They were dead. Nothing could save them!"
Jim swore to Marlow that he was not afraid of death, even as they were talking; nor was he afraid of death then, and Marlow was inclined to believe him — simply because Jim's mind dwelled not on death, but on his fear of unleashed panic. Marlow realized also that Jim never tried to suggest that what the crewmen did was not terribly wrong, and "therein lies his distinction."
In anguish, Jim moaned, "What a chance missed!" What should he have done? Even now, he didn't know. All he could do was remember what he did do.
Chapter 7 allows the reader to know more about Jim's predicament, but not before Marlow again lets us know that Jim "was of the right sort; he was one of us." The repetition of this phrase functions to remind us again and again that we are like Jim and would probably have reacted the same way that he did, especially since Jim states his case directly to Marlow in such a way that aligns all of us to Jim. "Do you know what you would have done? Do you? and you don't think yourself . . . you don't think yourself a — a — cur?"
When Jim maintains that after this terrible event, "this . . . hell," he can never go home again, and after he explains further that with his "certificate gone, career broken, no money . . . no work that he could obtain," that he is, in essence, ruined, the reader's interest in Jim's disgrace is intensified.
The reason for the narrative of Jim's exploits lies simply in his statement to Marlow: "It is all in being ready. I wasn't; not — not then. I don't want to excuse myself, but I would like to explain — I would like somebody to understand — somebody — one person at least! You! Why not you?" Thus Marlow, through his initial empathy for this young and handsome man, is chosen by him to be the recipient of this horrible experience.
Our first real intimation as to what really happened comes when Marlow says: "So that bulkhead held out after all," and then a second hint comes when Jim murmurs: "Ali! What a chance missed! My God! what a chance missed."
It is then after some contemplation that Marlow finally reacts and says, "If you had stuck to the ship, you mean." Still, even the most sensitive readers might miss this clue or not come to the full implication of its meaning. For many readers, it will not be clear what happened until much later, when we hear that the Patna was towed to Aden. Some readers, of course, will not be fully aware of what has happened until they hear the French lieutenant's story. But nevertheless, most readers, by now, are forming some definite impressions about the character of Jim and the character of Marlow, as well as some of the other characters.
When Jim maintains that there was nothing that he could do for the pilgrims ("They were dead! Nothing could save them! There weren't boats enough for half of them, but there was not time! No time! No time!"), he also protests that he was not thinking of saving himself, that he was not afraid of death.
At this point, Marlow interprets for the reader by saying that Jim was not afraid of death, but . . . he was afraid of the emergency." Marlow then interprets for us that Jim "might have been resigned to die, but I suspect he wanted to die without added terrors, quietly, in a sort of peaceful trance." Marlow will continue to interpret for the reader, but we should always remember that we are still free to disagree with his viewpoint.