Summary and Analysis
Six months later, while Marlow was in Hong Kong, he received a letter from a Mr. Denver, the owner of a rice mill, the friend to whom he recommended Jim. Denver, an eccentric, middle-aged bachelor, wrote quietly but glowingly about Jim; he was especially fond of Jim's quality of "freshness" — his quiet, naive, generous nature.
Marlow smiled to himself. He was right to send Jim to his friend. Perhaps, he speculated, Jim might inherit a good sum of money from the old bachelor.
Marlow then made a trip northward, and when he returned to Hong Kong, another letter from Denver was awaiting him. Denver was furious: Jim had vanished.
Also in the pile of letters, there was a note from Jim. He was working in a seaport town seven hundred miles south, and he wrote that he had no choice; he had to leave Denver's rice mill. The second engineer from the Patna unexpectedly turned up at Denver's mill and was given temporary employment. Shortly thereafter, this man began making insinuations about Jim's past, threatening blackmail unless he were put on full-time at the mill. Jim said that he could "no longer stand the familiarity of the little beast," so he left. He asked Marlow for another letter of recommendation. He had found temporary work as a "runner," or a water-clerk, for a ship-chandler, and he wanted permanence as soon as possible.
Some months later, Marlow was in port and met Jim. He seemed to be happy and busy and popular. Marlow had a good feeling about the future of the young man. Then, six months afterward, Marlow was again in port and inquired about Jim at Egstrom & Blake, the ship-chandlers who employed him. Egstrom told Marlow that suddenly one day, Jim left — without an explanation. Jim was his best runner, he says; there was no better water-clerk in port than Jim. He told Marlow that he offered Jim more money, emphasizing that business was exceptionally good: "This business ain't going to sink," Egstrom told Jim.
Marlow asked pointedly if anyone mentioned anything about the Patna just prior to Jim's disappearance. Egstrom remembered that one of the old sea captains had expounded on the whole disgraceful business of the Patna. Marlow told the ship-chandler that that explained it: Jim was the first mate of the Patna on the night of "the incident." The ship-chandler was puzzled. "Who the devil cares about that?" he asked. Then he added that if Jim were that sensitive about his past, then even the earth itself "wouldn't be big enough" for him to hide in.
Jim continued running, and it was not long before he became known as "a rolling stone," Marlow says. In fact, Jim even became "notorious" within the sphere of about three thousand miles that he traversed. All around that area, people recognized his name and knew all about the secret that he considered so shameful. Jim, of course, never dreamed that so many people knew so many details about the secret that he kept so tightly hidden within his breast.
One night, however, during a brawl in a hotel billiards room, Jim got an inkling that a lot of people knew a great deal more about him than he cared for them to know. He was playing billiards with a Navy officer, a cross-eyed Dane who was employed by the Royal Siamese Navy. The fellow had drunk too much, and he made a slurring reference to Jim's part in the Patna fiasco.
Jim reacted like a madman. He broke a billiard cue in half and then threw the naval officer off the verandah and into the Menam River.
Marlow realized that after that incident, Jim was no doubt beginning to think that all jobs would eventually be dead ends for him. There would be money paid to him for a job well done, but the situation itself would never be satisfying. What Jim needed was a challenge for his soul, not a job for his hands.
Marlow, therefore, went to see "the most trustworthy man" he knew — a Mr. Stein. Stein was very wealthy and very respected, and he had trading posts all over the world. Moreover, he was a learned man — in particular, an internationally known expert on beetles and butterflies. Marlow felt that it was time to discuss Jim's problems with another person, someone who could see the enormous guilt that Jim insisted on living with. Marlow was looking for someone who could offer Jim a job that would be entirely different from the sort of menial laboring that might lend itself to ridicule and third-class status.
In these two chapters, Marlow relates three episodes involving Jim, and the episodes occurred at immense geographical distances from each other. In each case where some connection or comment was made about the Patna episode, Jim would literally flee. For example, in his first job where he had earned the respect of his employer, Mr. Denver stood to reap great financial rewards; the happenstance appearance of the second mate was bad enough, but when this second mate tried to become intimate with Jim, Jim could not "stand the familiarity of the little beast."
After all, Jim was a gentleman, and furthermore, after the sinking of the Patna, the second mate and his fellow officers had considered killing Jim. Likewise, at Jim's next job — one in which he was extremely successful and well liked — he fled immediately when someone began discussing the Patna episode, and his final adventure was with the Dane in the Siamese Navy. All three of these episodes represent what must have been dozens more (as Marlow says, "More than I could count on the fingers of my two hands"), and thus Jim's almost obsessive, almost pathological sense of guilt has made him known over thousands of miles all through the South Pacific.
It is ironic that Jim feels his guilt more than other people. His innate sensitivity makes him feel that everyone condemns him, and then we hear that Egstrom did not care at all. Egstrom says, "And who the devil cares about that?" Furthermore, the physical attack on the Dane represents the one time that Jim did not behave as though he was "one of us."
After one episode when Marlow brings Jim aboard his ship, Jim constantly remains below deck and is quiet and reticent. Note that when Marlow asks him if he would like to go to California, Jim responds, "What difference would it make?" In other words, Jim cannot escape from himself even if it be across continents and oceans; instead, he is looking for an opportunity to prove himself to himself.