Summary and Analysis Chapter 8



Marlow now recounts more of what Jim told him. On that fateful night, Jim could recall that he was running along the deck, stepping with difficulty over the sleeping Moslems. One man asked for water, and Jim hit him, then thrust his own water bottle at him. Later, on the bridge, Jim again felt alone and doomed. He stood frozen, unable to decide what action to take. He was not afraid to die, but he was paralyzed by the possibility of his dying anonymously among hundreds of screaming natives, disappearing forever beneath the exploding ship.

Marlow admits that had he been aboard ship, he probably would not have "given a counterfeit farthing" for the possibility that the Patna would not sink. Then he recalls that as he was listening to Jim, he realized that Jim was not speaking to him as a person, but as a symbol — someone who would justify what Jim had done, as though Marlow were "an inseparable partner . . . another possessor of his soul." For Marlow, this was additional proof that Jim was "one of us."

Marlow reminded Jim that a man couldn't continually "be prepared" for any and all preconceived emergencies. It was the unexpected which always happened, Marlow told him, never what one expected to happen. Jim scoffed and began to sulk. The Patna, his fellow officers, and even the sea had tricked him. It had all been a cruel, unfair, and tragic joke.

Then Jim returned to the events that happened the night he deserted the Patna. One of the officers, he said, pleaded with him to help free a lifeboat, but he refused, and later he slugged the officer. Then the officer shouted out that Jim was a coward. Remembering that moment, Jim laughed with such a savage bitterness that the hotel guests stopped talking and turned to look at Jim in bewilderment.


Chapter 8 continues in an indirect manner, further unraveling the mysterious catastrophe connected with the Patna. Conrad, through Marlow, continues to approach the incident indirectly (by circumlocution). For example, instead of attacking the narrative directly, he gives us the reactions of the various members of the crew.

He examines Jim first because as first mate, Jim has all of the lifeboats ready for use in spite of the fact that there are not enough to save even half of the pilgrims. Then we see Jim panicking when one of the pilgrims asks for some drinking water for his sick child; Jim interprets the request as a threat and reacts with hostility.

Further panicking is seen when Jim feels a "heavy blow on [his] shoulder" only to discover that it is the second engineer, and the captain himself charges against Jim until he realizes that it is actually Jim. Then Jim hears the captain say that he is going to "clear out" — a horribly shocking statement. Throughout this narration, Conrad (Marlow) is conveying the confusion and horror of the situation which creates the panic and confusion, causing Jim to jump without ever really knowing why he jumped.

Again in this chapter, Marlow and the reader are reinvolved in the mystery when Jim once again cries out: "You think me a cur for standing there, but what would you have done? What! You can't tell nobody can tell." And then in the very next paragraph, Marlow reinforces this idea and again repeats it: "The occasion was obscure, insignificant — what you will: a lost youngster, one of a million — but then he was one of us," and thus each of us might have done exactly as Jim did.

Later in the novel, Stein will categorize Jim as being an extreme romantic. Here in this chapter, Conrad is already preparing us for this scene as he emphasizes Jim's simplicity and his innocence — two qualities most often associated with the romantic.

It is Jim's innocence which makes it so hard for him to deal with the deviousness of the other members of the crew, especially when the first engineer attacks Jim and then cries out: "Won't you save your own life — you infernal coward?" Jim cannot react to this except to laugh bitterly over the irony of it, especially now that he has been internationally branded as a coward because he did save his life by jumping.

Even though the reader is still not informed precisely as to the true nature of the Patna episode, this chapter does provide a final clue: "And still she floated! These sleeping pilgrims were destined to accomplish their whole pilgrimage to the bitterness of some other end." By now there should be enough clues for the reader to form a very definite viewthat the crew, thinking that the ship would sink, abandoned the ship and yet the ship miraculously did not sink.