Summary and Analysis
Patusan, we are told, was often used by adventurers to satisfy either their greed or their need to perform heroic deeds. It was savage country, shut off from the rest of the world. A man could feel as though he were a "hero" if he went there to go "into the bush" — that is, to ravage Patusan's treasure, which was pepper. Men had often died in Patusan attempting a perilous quest for pepper, for at one time, pepper was almost as valuable as pearls. One day, however, pepper lost its aura of rarity, and as the narrator says, "Nobody cares for it now." Today, wealth is no longer flowing out of Patusan, and the bones of its anonymous "heroes" are lying in scattered heaps, bleaching on sunlit beaches. Marlow marvels at the bizarre, absurd lengths to which some men will go to achieve money and transient glory.
When Jim went to Patusan, Marlow says, the only people fighting over Patusan were the diverse uncles of the Sultan, himself "an imbecile youth with two thumbs on his left hand." The worst of the uncles was Rajah Allang, a "dirty little used-up old man with evil eyes and a weak mouth."
Marlow remembers Jim's reaction when he first told him about Patusan. Initially, Jim had felt a kind of "weary resignation," but that attitude was gradually replaced by "surprise, interest, wonder, and by boyish eagerness." This was the chance Jim had been dreaming of!
Marlow emphasized to Jim that this venture would be "his [Jim's] own doing." Jim would be wholly responsible. The young man was filled with impulsive and inarticulate joy. He didn't mind going into a wilderness. He was eager to do so! The outside world would never know that he had ever existed. At last, he would finally have "nothing but the soles of his two feet to stand on." Marlow cautioned Jim to use prudence in this new venture, but Jim was filled with so much exuberance that he flung himself out of the room before Marlow could finish speaking.
Jim stated that he never wanted to go back to England, a desire that Marlow found unimaginable. Never? he asked him. Never, Jim emphasized. He was adamant about his decision: "'Never,' he repeated dreamily . . . and then flew into sudden activity."
With Marlow's help, Jim finally got packed. Then, at the last moment before Jim's rowers had cast off, Marlow clamored onto Jim's ship and talked briefly to Jim's half-caste captain, who seemed to be a lunatic. The man said that he intended to take Jim to the mouth of the river leading into Patusan, but that he had no intention of going any farther upriver. Patusan was too dangerous; it was like a "cage of beasts made ravenous by long impenitence," he said, and in a mock pantomime, he dramatically stabbed himself in the back.
Behind the captain, Marlow saw Jim suddenly appear, smiling silently and raising a hand to check Marlow's horror of the adventure that was about to begin. Then a heavy boom swung around, and Jim and Marlow clasped each other's hands. Marlow awkwardly called Jim "dear boy," and Jim half-uttered "old man."
Yet, Marlow says, there was in their embarrassed goodbyes, "a moment of real and profound intimacy, unexpected and short-lived like a glimpse of some everlasting, saving truth." The ship cast off, and Jim raised his cap above his head and waved it broadly to Marlow, calling out indistinctly, "You — shall — hear — of — me."
Again, Conrad (and Marlow) lets us know that at an earlier time, Patusan was famous for its vast treasure of pepper, but now that pepper is not so important, Patusan has lost much of its influence as an important trading center. In fact, the reader often wonders (and is never told precisely) what it is that justifies Stein's still retaining a trading post there.
In this chapter, we also hear of the immense danger for strangers to travel to Patusan; the "wary captain" who is to take Jim to Patusan refuses to go any farther than the mouth of the river; he explains to Marlow that he already sees Jim as a dead man. Part of the danger is a man named Rajah Allang (an evil man who will capture Jim upon his arrival and who will be a force for Jim to contend with for a long time).
Jim, however, welcomes to the point of ecstasy the opportunity to simply fade from civilization, to enter Patusan and let the veil of civilization forever close behind him. He welcomes the opportunity to "jump into the unknown" and "achieve his disappearance" from all of the known world.
Thus, Conrad continues his metaphor of "jumping" — that is, just as Jim's jump from the Patna was a jump into an unknown part of himself, his "Jump" here, into an unknown part of the world (into Patusan), is an equivalent jump into the unknown. "Once he got in, it would be for the outside world as though he had never existed. He would have nothing but the soles of his two feet to stand upon."
We further see Stein as the complete romantic, and his romantic nature is further revealed in the generous provisions that he is ready to make for this youth, whose story has captured his own romantic imagination to the point that he is ready to bestow much of his fortune on Jim.
In Chapter 23, we are told about the ring which old Doramin gave to Stein as a parting symbol of their eternal friendship. Jim is to take Stein's ring to Doramin, and it will insure him protection by the great chief ("The ring was a sort of credential"). This, of course, is the ring which will figure so prominently in Jim's tragic death at the end of the narrative.
Although Jim is wildly enthusiastic about his future fortunes — to Marlow, Jim seems filled with romantic posturing to the point of being melodramatic. But even now, Marlow doesn't fully understand the nature of the weight that Jim feels, a weight so heavy that Marlow doesn't understand Jim when Jim mentions that once he is in Patusan, he will never want to come out again. When Marlow asserts that "if you only live long enough, you will want to come back," Jim virtually ignores him and dismisses Marlow's comment with the remark, "Come back to what?" For Jim, the civilized world has no hold on him. He is no longer a part of the civilized world. For Jim, this is his "magnificent chance" to prove his own worth to himself.