Summary – Chapters Three, Four and Five
In Chapter Three, the calm of the waters and the array of the sleeping passengers are described. Jim does not see ‘the shadow of the coming event’; the only shadow on the sea is that of the black smoke coming from the funnel. Jim thinks of how steady the ship goes and imagines valorous deeds: ‘He loved these dreams and the success of his imaginary achievements’; ‘they were the best parts of life, its secret truth, its hidden reality.’
The skipper comes over to him noiselessly in his pajamas and with his sleeping jacket flung open. The skipper looks over the charts sleepily and Jim responds with deference to a remark he makes, but this figure ‘fixed itself in his memory forever as the incarnation of everything vile and base that lurks in the world we love.’ The second engineer appears and complains about the heat below deck; he seems to be drunk. He has had a drink of the chief engineer’s brandy.
Jim has only ten minutes left of his watch and wants to go below deck. He thinks the skipper and second engineer ‘did not belong to the world of heroic adventure’, but they do not bother him as he thinks of himself as being different. As the second engineer explains he is not drunk, he tumbles and Jim and the skipper stagger too. The ship appears to rise a few inches throughout its whole length and then settles back to the smooth surface of the sea. The quivering stops and the faint noise of thunder ceases.
Chapter Four begins a month or so later at an official inquiry. Jim tries to tell the truth and says the ship ‘went over whatever it was as easy as a snake crawling over a stick’. He then tells the assessor he checked to see if the ship was damaged, on the skipper’s orders, and called to no one to avoid creating a panic. He explains how he opened the forepeak hatch and heard water splashing, so knew there was a big hole below the water line. The skipper then struck the engineer and told him to turn the engines off. Jim is anxious to make it clear that he wants to be precise and his mind ‘positively flew round and round the serried circle of facts that had surged up all about him to cut him off from the rest of his kind’. In the intervals between his answers, his eyes rest on a white man sitting apart from the others who occasionally looks at him as though he can see something past Jim’s shoulder. Jim thinks he recognizes him, but they have never spoken to each other; Jim has spoken to nobody for days, ‘like a wayfarer lost in the wilderness’. The man watching seems to be aware of Jim’s ‘hopeless difficulty’. The man, Marlow, shows himself willing to remember Jim, ‘later on, many times, in distant parts of the world’.
In Chapter Five, the focus moves to Marlow and how he thinks of himself as having a guardian angel and a familiar devil. It is the devil that lets him in for such things as going to the inquiry and is the cause of the effect he has of loosening men’s tongues. He tells his dinner companions about the inquiry and how everybody connected with working on the sea was there as ‘the affair had been notorious for days’.
The narrative moves back in time again (without a clear explanation or connection) as Marlow recounts standing outside the harbour offices one fine morning and sees four men walking towards him. He recognizes one as the skipper of the Patna. The skipper visits Captain Elliott and Marlow is able to hear the Captain shouting at him. Marlow sees the skipper come back outside and notes that one of the men (who appears to be Jim) makes no movement and just stares into the sunshine. Marlow wonders if he is silly or callous. The skipper talks to Marlow about how the Captain has just called him a hound and has taken his certificate (which means he cannot work as a skipper). Marlow looks at Jim again and notes his likeable appearance. He thinks of him as the sort of fellow one would leave in charge on deck. He should know this as he has ‘turned out enough youngsters’ to the craft of the sea. This thought of trusting him gives him the horrors, though, as this (he thinks then) would not be safe.
The skipper hails a ‘gharry’ (a carriage) and drives off. A clerk comes out for the men and the second engineer says he will not be bullied by ‘a cocky half-bred little quill-driver’ (one presumes he will not be ‘bullied’ into attending the inquiry). A few days later, Marlow visits one of his men in the hospital and encounters the chief engineer there. Marlow sits by his bed in the hope of finding out ‘some profound and redeeming cause’ for what happened, but sees now he was hoping for the impossible. He wants to find the shadow of an excuse for the young man (Jim), but thinks this is looking for a miracle. The engineer asks Marlow what he can see under the bed. Marlow replies ‘nothing’, but the engineer says if he were to look he would see a million pink toads. He then begins screaming and says they are trampling on him. As Marlow leaves, he is told the engineer has delirium tremens of the worst kind and will not be able to attend the inquiry.
Analysis – Chapters Three, Four and Five
Chapter Four recounts some of the events at the official inquiry as Jim is left to explain what has happened on the Patna. As well as shifting back and forth in time without any detailed exposition, Conrad also gives only small chunks of information as to the course of events that night on the Patna and the readers are teased into imagining disaster. In Chapter Five, for example, the readers are informed that Marlow wanted the ‘miracle’ of finding an excuse for Jim, as though he has committed an unforgiveable crime. This is made ambiguous, however, as it would be a miracle for the engineer to tell Marlow anything sensible considering the level of his delirium tremens.