Summary and Analysis Chapter 9



Watching the other officers battle to free the lifeboats, Jim was so maddened by the sudden "black, black" squall and the impending disaster that he grabbed his knife and sliced the ropes holding the lifeboats; then he gazed on the almost comical struggling scene below "of four men fighting like mad with a stubborn lifeboat." All their efforts were futile. He hated these insect-like men. He told Marlow that had he, Marlow, been on board, he too "would have leaped" overboard, as Jim did when he heard the captain yelling from a lifeboat to jump!

Jim recalled the black rain squall that "sneaked up" and loomed overhead, eating up "a third of the sky" before it broke over the ship and began to awaken the Moslems. The threat of drowning during a furious storm from heaven, lost among a frenzied mob of screaming natives, filled Jim with such alarm that it seemed as though life itself were pounding against him, beating on him "like the sea upon a rock."

It was pitch black. Jim could not see. He could hear only the skipper and an engineer yelling for a comrade who died suddenly of a heart attack. The Patna seemed to slip, then go into a slow, downward plunge and at that moment, Jim jumped. He jumped without thought and without realizing that he had jumped. He no longer felt as if he were in control of his actions. Something else — something larger and more powerful than he — was now controlling him; all that he could do was passively accept the unknown. He felt that he was a hopeless victim, lost at the bottom "of an everlasting deep hole."


Chapter 9 finally presents Jim's jump from the presumably sinking ship. But the jump is surrounded by so many real and so many impressionistic details that it is difficult to separate the real from the impressionistic. From a distance, Jim wants to laugh at the tragic-comic frantic actions of the captain and the crew: "It was funny enough to make angels weep." Then suddenly a squall came up and the crew was sure that the squall would immediately sink the ship: "In absolute stillness there was some chance for the ship to keep afloat a few minutes longer, [but] the least disturbance of the sea would make an end of her instantly." At this, the others "displayed their extreme aversion to die."

Jim soon realizes "that there was nothing in common between him and these men," and when Jim expresses his anger at them for their cowardly actions, the entire crew here (and later) turns against him, calling him a fool and pointing out that he wouldn't have a ghost of a chance if they awaken "that lot of brutes [the pilgrims]. They will batter your head for you."

Consequently, after the captain and the crew are safely in the water, they call for George, the third engineer (who, unknown to them, is dead from a heart attack) to jump into the lifeboat, but they do not call for Jim to jump. And later, Jim's life is endangered by the hatred of these cowards.

Amidst the confusion, the oncoming squall, the definite sensation of the ship sinking, the terrified and desperate activities of the captain and the crew, and the sudden dipping of the bow of the ship, Jim is completely lost in confusion. Again he aligns Marlow and the readers by asking "What would you have done? You are sure of yourself — aren't you? What would you do if you felt now — this minute the house here move, just move a little under your chair? Leap! By heavens! You would take one spring from where you sit and land in that clump of bushes yonder."

The answer, of course, is that almost every one of us, amid such confusion and confronted with certain death, would also have jumped. Even Marlow admits how uncomfortable it made him feel, and he was careful not to answer because of his fear of being "drawn into a fatal admission about myself." And furthermore, Marlow reiterates that "really he [Jim] was too much like one of us . . ."

Thus, amidst all the confusion, with the captain and the crew calling for George (the dead third engineer) to jump, and with Jim feeling that the ship "was going down, down, head first under me. . ." he apparently jumped. Jim puts his actions in the past: "I had jumped . . . it seems." He doesn't actually remember the jump, only the painful landing in the boat and then he feels regretfully that he "had jumped into a well — into an everlasting deep hole." The rest of his life will hereafter be determined by this one act, and later, his every job and his every act until, finally, his tragic decision concerning Gentleman Brown will be determined by this tragic jump.