Summary – Chapters Six, Seven and Eight
The authorities allow the inquiry to go ahead with just hearing Jim’s account of events. It is impossible to find out now what damaged the ship, but nobody there wants to know this anyway. Whether those attending know it or not, they are drawn by psychological interests. There is the expectation ‘of some essential disclosure as to the strength, the power, the horror, of human emotions’, but of course ‘nothing of the kind could be disclosed’. An official inquiry could not be expected ‘to inquire into the state of a man’s soul’.
One of the assessors, Brierly, is described by Marlow as aloof and superior. Marlow also admits to admiring his apparent complacency. He presents a surface ‘as hard as granite’, but committed suicide barely a week after the inquiry finished. Brierly’s mate, Mr Jones, tells Marlow that Brierly charted their position at sea and left a letter of instructions for him and a letter for the ship owners. The narrative deviates further as Jones describes his new captain. After arguing with him, Jones left his ship and is still looking after Brierly’s dog.
The narrative then returns to the inquiry and the last time Brierly spoke to Marlow. At this time, Marlow notes with surprise that Brierly is in a state of irritation about the inquiry and tells Marlow he feels like a fool. He wonders why they are tormenting Jim and he replies he does not know, ‘unless it be that he lets you’. Brierly also wonders why Jim cannot see that he is ‘done for’ now the skipper has fled and tells Marlow he would have done so too. He says he does not care for Jim’s sort of courage and will put up 200 rupees if Marlow will give another 100 for Jim to run away. Brierly says that his ‘people’ know Jim’s and will give Marlow 200 rupees now to pass on to Jim. Marlow does not do as he is asked and attends the inquiry the next day instead. On the way out, a man walking with Marlow trips over a dog and calls it a ‘wretched cur’. Jim spins around and bars Marlow’s way. Jim accuses him of saying something to him, which Marlow denies, and then asks why he has been staring at him; he also asks who is a ‘cur’ now. Marlow realizes the mistake and points to the dog and Jim flushes with embarrassment. The chapter ends with Marlow inviting Jim to dinner.
At dinner, in Chapter Seven, Jim relaxes a little and Marlow sees him as being of ‘the right sort’ and ‘one of us’. He appears to be self-controlled until Marlow asks him about the inquiry and Jim clutches his hand and tells him it is hell. He adds that he cannot go home now and face his father as he will have read about the incident by now. Jim is not sure what to do after the inquiry as his certificate has been taken and he also has no money.
The discussion turns to the events on the Patna and Jim asks Marlow if he knows what he would have done. Jim says it was all about him not being ready and looks ahead as he speaks. He tells Marlow that afterwards, he and the other crew had been picked up by a steamer and had been ‘looked askance upon’ from that day. Marlow takes pity on him, and then Jim suddenly blazes out, ‘what a chance missed’. It is implied that he has missed the chance of being heroic.
Jim explains that he saw the bulkhead bulge (but hold) and noticed rust as large as the palm of his hand come off it. He also explains that there were many more times the amount of people on board than there were lifeboats. He confesses his legs wobbled as he stood on the foredeck looking at the sleeping crowd. He believed the ship would go down at any moment and that the rusted ship plates would give way like a dam. Jim saw clearly that he could do nothing about it and this seemed to take the life out of his limbs. He kept thinking of the 800 people and seven boats. He also swears to Marlow that he was not frightened of death. Marlow thinks he was not afraid of death perhaps, but he was afraid of the emergency: Jim’s ‘confounded imagination’ had evoked all the ‘horrors of panic, the trampling rush, the pitiful screams ....’
In Chapter Eight, Marlow describes how he thinks Jim stood ‘stock-still’ for a couple of minutes. He decided to cut the boats so they would not go down with the ship and tells Marlow he knew his duty. Whilst Jim ran to do this, a beggar stopped him to ask for water. He thought the man would begin shouting and start a panic, and so he hit him with his lamp. He half-throttled him before he realized he wanted water for his sick child. There was confusion in the dark and Jim questioned the skipper if he was going to do anything. He replied, yes, ‘clear out’. Jim thought of shoring up the bulkhead, but asks Marlow where would he have got the men to do it and would he (Marlow) have had the courage to swing the maul to strike the first blow. Jim also says he could not save those people singlehandedly.
Marlow tells his listeners of his mixed emotions and that Jim wanted him to ‘comprehend the Inconceivable’. Jim has told him how he has been preparing himself since a child, ‘for all the difficulties that can beset one on land and water’. Marlow feels that everything betrayed Jim and he had been tricked into ‘that sort of high-minded resignation’ which prevented him from doing anything. The other three men saw clearly that they had to release a boat and sweated and struggled to do so. Two Malay men continued to hold on to the wheel. We are told that at the inquiry Brierly asked one of them what he thought about it and he said he thought nothing. On the ship, Jim continued to stand still and one of the engineers asked him to help release the boat. Jim hit him and the engineer called him a coward for not wanting to save his own life.
Analysis – Chapters Six, Seven and Eight
The events on the Patna are revealed only gradually to the readers in these chapters, but it is evident that Jim continues to torment himself for his inadequacy long after the event. He is the only witness of the four main crewmen who is willing or able to stand and even gains the sympathy of Brierly (who is one of the assessors). He demonstrates a loyalty to the truth and it is as though he wants the chance to explain his actions to clear himself of feelings of guilt.
The fate of the ship and the people on it has still not been made explicit and the readers are drawn into the narrative web as Marlow deviates from the inquiry, to Brierly’s suicide and then on to Jim’s ‘confession’ at dinner. Hints are made to various outcomes – as it is clear the Malay men working on the ship survived to attend the inquiry (but are not considered the same as the white crew men) – and this has the effect of tantalizing the reader to guess about the devastation that may have occurred.