Summary and Analysis Chapters 15-17



Marlow finally found Jim gazing emptily off the quay, and he told him to come to his room. Jim followed him, seemingly still in a daze. Marlow led him into his bedroom and began writing letters immediately, so that Jim could feel that he was not totally alone, but that he was sufficiently alone so that he could confront his unhappiness and despair during this darkest moment of his life.

Marlow tells us that throughout that afternoon and into the evening, he, Marlow, filled sheet after sheet of fresh paper, stopping only momentarily to notice Jim's convulsive shoulders and his struggling for breath as he stood rooted in front of a glass door. Then, suddenly, Jim opened the glass door and lurched onto the upstairs verandah, as if to throw himself off. Marlow noted his straight, resolute outline. Symbolically, it seemed as though Jim were alone, abandoned on the brink of a dark and hopeless ocean.

What would have happened if Marlow had offered Jim the job as Chester's overseer? He felt, at that moment, that he had saved Jim from what would probably have been a living death on the Guano Island. But, at the same time, Marlow felt that "to bury him would have been such an easy kindness." What had he saved Jim for? Marlow was aware of a sense of deep responsibility for Jim, a sense of kinship and responsibility that he could no longer ignore.

Marlow breaks the suspense and tells us that eventually Jim became "loved, trusted, [and] admired." He became a "legend of strength and prowess . . . the stuff of a hero." In short, Marlow says, Jim "captured much honour," meaning that Jim became a hero in the eyes of himself and others. This is what Jim desired so desperately and what he thought was denied to him because of his actions aboard the Patna. Jim's future, then, was not as black as he believed it was; eventually, he would perform an act of bravery that would balance and cancel out the enormous guilt that he had carried after jumping from the Patna and leaving 800 Moslems to what he believed was certain death.

At that moment, a violent tropical rainstorm suddenly ruptured the stillness, and Jim stepped back into the room. At last, he seemed ready to talk. Desperately, he said that a person was "bound to come upon some sort of a chance to get it all back — must!" He was determined to convince himself that he would someday have a chance to redeem himself in his own eyes, a chance to do something that would erase the blot of guilt on his character.

Marlow tried to force Jim to talk about the future — how he planned to earn money, and how he planned to pay for food and lodging. But Jim refused to talk about practical matters. "That isn't the thing," he said, and he added that it was useless for Marlow to try and convince him to accept the back pay that was still due him from the Patna.

Marlow found Jim's torturous soul-searching to be blindly melodramatic; he couldn't understand why Jim seemed determined to dwell on "some deep idea." He sensed intuitively that he himself could probably never heal the agony in Jim's "wounded spirit."

Nevertheless, Marlow told Jim that he had written a letter of recommendation to a man who would give Jim a second chance. He stressed that he, Marlow, had faith in Jim's goodness and promise even if Jim did not; he was making himself "unreservedly responsible" for Jim.

After awhile, the rain stopped and Jim leapt up. "It is noble of you!" he shouted. Marlow was so stunned that he wondered if Jim were mocking him. Jim seemed madly exhilarated. But the young man was not mocking Marlow's offer. His eyes were bright, and his voice was a stammer of half-sentences. He was agitated and seemingly wild with newfound confidence. "You have given me a clean slate," he announced to Marlow.


After showing Jim at his lowest point in the preceding chapter, Marlow tells us that he lived to see Jim "loved, trusted, admired, with a legend of strength and prowess forming round his name as though he had been the stuff of a hero." It is as though Marlow is telling us to wait — because his evaluation of Jim is correct. That is, Jim is indeed one of us. He also lets us know that had he not interceded between Chester and Jim, then he would never have seen Jim again because he learns later that the men on Chester's guano enterprise disappeared.

And yet, Chester, and all that pertains to him, is important because it shows Marlow's development. Marlow still feels that Jim is concerned not so much with his guilt as he is with the humiliating and treacherous "Jump" and its shameful consequences. Jim is seen here writhing in the agonies of romantic melancholy with his "refined sensibilities and his fine feelings, fine longings — a sort of sublimated, idealized selfishness"; that is, Jim is too "fine a fellow" to throw over to Chester and his kind.

These descriptions of Jim prepare us for Stein's firm statement that Jim is a romantic. And certainly in the romantic tradition, Jim's raging emotions within are symbolically reflected in the raging storm outside. Throughout these scenes, Marlow watches Jim writhe and squirm in agony like one of Stein's impaled beetles, but then Marlow is also impaled on the sharp point of his own new affection for Jim and the sense of his responsibility for Jim.

Since the trial is now over, Marlow turns to practical matters (Jim won't consider the horror of accepting his back pay from the Patna), and when Marlow volunteers to help, Jim responds by saying, "You can't." Of course, Marlow meant "help with practical matters," but Jim means help in an entirely different sense — in assuaging his feelings of disgrace and guilt. Thus, when Marlow tells Jim that he is writing to a man in Jim's behalf, Jim's appreciation is immense — mainly because he now realizes that there is someone who still cares for him, or believes in him, a fact which gives Jim a new confidence in himself. Jim's soaring gratitude and unbounded delight as Marlow unfolds his plan indicate a relief and a deliverance from an alternative so forbidding as to suggest nothing short of death itself.