Summary – Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen
Marlow pleads with Jim to accept his help in Chapter Seventeen. Jim refuses to take the remaining wages he is owed from working on the Patna and Marlow asks him where he will turn. He informs Jim he has written to a man for a favor (on Jim’s behalf) and has referred to Jim as an intimate friend. Jim gasps at this exhibition of trust and says it is noble of him. Marlow is ‘almost alarmed by this display of feeling’. Jim goes on to say that Marlow has done him an immeasurable amount of good already by listening to him the night before. He has given him confidence as well as the chance to begin again with a ‘clean slate’. Alone, Marlow feels as though he is the unenlightened one and questions the idea of being able to begin afresh: ‘As if the initial word of each of our destiny were not graven in imperishable characters upon the face of a rock.’
Chapter Eighteen begins six months later and Marlow has received a letter from his friend informing him of Jim’s progress. This friend is pleased with Jim; he presumes Jim has been in a scrape and thinks he will one day have to ask Marlow about it.
The next letter Marlow receives from this friend says Jim has left leaving only ‘a formal little note of apology’. He then informs Marlow he has now ‘shut up shop’ and does not want him to send anyone else. Jim has also sent a letter to Marlow in order to explain that the second engineer from the Patna turned up to work at the same place and he could not stand the, ‘familiarity of the little beast’. Jim is writing from a seaport 700 miles south of his former position and is now a runner for a ship’s chandler and has put Marlow down for a reference.
Before the end of the year, Marlow has to leave for a new charter and this gives him the opportunity of seeing Jim again. He discovers the second engineer had been ‘infernally fawning and familiar’ with Jim and he told him he had hopes that Jim would keep him on in the job. Jim preferred to leave rather than stay and explain his past (which he wants ‘buried’). On his next trip in the area, Marlow returns to Jim’s latest place of work and is told that he has left this post too. He is told Jim left the day a steamer came with pilgrims who had been to the Red Sea. There were some men in the chandler’s discussing the Patna. A man called Captain O’Brien had said the crew on this ship were a disgrace to human nature and he should hate to be in the same room as they. Jim left immediately after this and his employer, Egström, presumed it was because he wanted more money. Egström asks Marlow how he knows Jim and he tells him he was the mate of the Patna on that voyage. Egström replies, ‘and who the devil cares about that’ and says the earth is not big enough ‘to hold his (Jim’s) caper’.
Analysis – Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen
In these two chapters, clear evidence of Jim’s pride and shame are given. He is reluctant to take the wages owed to him and leaves two positions because of his connection to the ‘incident’ on the Patna. These early examples of Jim’s sense of shame are balanced by Egström’s reaction when he says the world is not big enough for Jim (to hold his caper) whilst he continues to behave in this way. The implication is that Jim cannot run away from his past, as it will catch up with him, and, furthermore, ‘who the devil cares’.