Summary and Analysis
Marlow ends his story. The men drift off the verandah quietly, without queries or comments about Marlow's incomplete story of a white man who chose to go into a dark, savage jungle in order to regain his self-worth.
The question, however, remains: what was the ultimate fate of someone who was "one of them," and yet who was someone who chose to achieve greatness in an alien world, and yet in a world of his own making, a world in which he had accepted enormous responsibility for peace, and for life and death. Only one man of those on the verandah is ever to hear the last of the story.
More than two years later, this man received a thick packet, addressed in Marlow's handwriting. It arrived in the midst of a driving rainstorm on a winter's evening. Inside the packet were four separate enclosures: (1) several pages of close handwriting, pinned together; (2) a loose sheet of paper with a few words in handwriting that the man was not familiar with; (3) a letter from Marlow; and (4) another letter, yellow and frayed.
The man turned first to Marlow's letter. Marlow tells the man who is reading the letter that he (the letter reader) was always reluctant to admit that Jim had indeed "mastered his fate." Moreover, Marlow says, you prophesied that one day Jim would feel disgust with the honor which he had acquired in his "new world." According to Marlow, this man (who now reads Marlow's letter) said long ago that Jim had, in effect, sold his soul for a clean, pure slate that was granted to him by some "brutes" — meaning the brown, and yellow, and black Malay natives.
Marlow writes that Jim himself said two years ago that he had no message for "home"; however, it is clear that Jim did make an attempt to send a "message." It is Jim's writing, Marlow says, on the gray sheet of "foolscap" paper.
Marlow says that one of the first things that Jim did after he, Marlow, left Patusan was to carry out a plan of defense for "his people." He had a deep ditch dug and surrounded it with a strong, spiked fence, with Doramin's cannons positioned at its four corners. This fortress was a place of safety, a place where "every faithful partisan could rally in case of some sudden danger." Jim called this structure "The Fort, Patusan." Those words are on the sheet of foolscap, along with fragments of two messages that Jim had attempted to write: "An awful thing has happened" and "I must now at once . . ." And then there is a blotch, as if Jim's pen sputtered.
In the packet, there is also a letter to Jim from his father, the parson, who writes about what each member of the family is doing. It is a comfortable letter, the father talking easily about faith and virtue and cautioning his son "not to give way to temptation." At the moment of "giving way," his father says, one succumbs to "total depravity and everlasting ruin." He admonishes Jim never "to do anything which you believe to be wrong." The letter arrived just before Jim sailed aboard the Patna.
The last document is another letter from Marlow; it is the story of Jim's last days, pieced together from fragments which Marlow learned. It reveals what happened to Jim after Marlow left him on the beach. There is pain in Marlow's words as he writes about Jim's fate. He says that he can scarcely believe that he will never again hear Jim's voice, never see "his smooth tan-and-pink face . . . the youthful eyes darkened by excitement to a profound, unfathomable blue."
The key figure in Jim's tragic end was named Brown, "Gentleman Brown," as he called himself, even though he had a fierce reputation as an immoral and dangerous buccaneer. Marlow listened to Brown's story as Brown lay dying of asthma in a shack in Bangkok. Jim, Brown said, was nothing more than a "hollow sham," adding that Jim didn't have "enough devil in him" to fight like a man. Brown bragged about having made an end of Lord Jim. Later that night, Brown died.
Marlow says that he learned even more about Jim when he returned some eight months earlier to see his old friend Stein. At Stein's, he saw a Malay native, one from Patusan. It was Jim's "morose shadow of darkness," his bodyguard, Tamb' Itam. Startled at seeing Marlow, Tamb' Itam. hung his head, and then he blurted out, "He would not fight. He would not fight."
Marlow found Stein studying his butterfly collection, and Stein asked Marlow to come and talk to Jewel. In particular, he asked Marlow to ask her to forgive Jim.
Jewel was sitting in Stein's big reception room, dressed in white. The crystals of Stein's chandelier above her twinkled like icicles. Marlow sensed Jewel's remote, icy despair. Seemingly, she was "frozen" with unforgiving anger toward Jim. Despite Jim's promises, he did leave her. He could have fought for his life; he could have fled. But he did neither. He chose, deliberately, to die. Thus, according to Jewel's logic, Jim chose to leave her. "He was like the others. He was false," she says.
At this point, Marlow's letter ends, and the story continues on the sheets of paper that Marlow included, piecing together information which he gathered from Brown, from Jewel, and from Tamb' Itam.
This chapter presents a type of transition from the earlier narration by Marlow to a type of narration presented through documents and letters, "pieced together by" Marlow and sent to one of the men on the verandah who listened to Marlow's story. The time of the receipt of the packet is some two years after the events of the last chapter.
Conrad's use of these narrative devices and the introduction of an anonymous recipient of this material is perhaps the most awkward and unaesthetic aspect of the novel. This method of bringing the novel to a climax is, for the modern reader, terribly distracting and unjustified as a narrative technique, and the introduction of the anonymous recipient of the letter is totally unwarranted — we simply don't care about this person. The whole chapter is out of place.
In Chapter 37, as is typical of this novel, Conrad jumps forward in his narration, and we hear about the death of Jim before we hear about the events surrounding Jim's death. We are also introduced to Gentleman Brown, the instrument of Jim's death.
In Gentleman Brown, we meet the epitome of Jim's nemesis — a person who reeks of pure evil. At this point, we are not prepared for someone who thoroughly and irrationally hates Jim for no other reason than the fact that Jim is a good and honorable man. Had Jim screamed at Brown, "Hands off my plunder," Brown would have respected him as another pirate or as another mercenary, but Brown has never before encountered so perfect and so honorable a gentleman. Thus, Brown can only respond to Jim with disgust. On his deathbed, Brown is ultimately pleased that he "paid out the fellow" and that finally he did "make an end of him after all."
Conrad gives us this information before we see the encounter between Jim and Brown in order to let us know that Jim should have handled Brown in an entirely different manner. In other words, the reader thoroughly dislikes Brown after this introduction to him, and he wishes futilely that Jim would have followed the advice of his associates who wanted him to destroy Brown.
This chapter also confirms Jewel's earlier fear that Jim eventually would, like all the other white men, finally leave Patusan. But note that before meeting Jewel at Stein's house, Marlow meets Tamb' Itam, who cries out to Marlow that Jim "would not fight. He would not fight."
To the incredibly loyal native, Jim's refusal to fight was totally incomprehensible and therefore unforgivable. The same is also true for Jewel: upon seeing Marlow, she immediately cries out that "He has left me . . . you always leave us — for your own ends." She also feels that "It would have been easy to die with him." Jim's death confirms her earlier statements and fears. She could have accepted anything that Jim might have decided to do — if his decision had been made with survival being uppermost in his mind. Jewel wanted Jim to save his own life, to fight for survival. She could have forgiven Jim anything — except one unalterable fact: Jim deliberately chose death over a life with her. Because of this decision, she can never forgive him. The shock and horror of Jim's choice of death and honor over life and love is unfathomable to Jewel. Not surprisingly, it has changed her nature. Jewel has changed from "passion into stone." She has been betrayed by Jim, and she will never understand or ever recover from his betrayal of her.