Summary – Chapters Twelve andThirteen
In Chapter Twelve, Jim recounts how the Avondale picked them up the next day just before sunset. The other men told ‘their’ story and Jim said nothing. He felt he had to live down the fact he jumped; the story did not matter. Marlow reveals for the first time that no one died on the Patna when Jim implies that ‘having a story’ was like cheating the dead. Jim had been relieved when he discovered the ship did not sink after all and must have imagined the shouts for help whilst in the boat. He insists the lights did go out and says he would have swum back if they had stayed on. Brierly believed this perception of the lights going out and suggested the ship’s movement made it appear so.
The Patna survived the open sea to end her days in a breaker’s yard. At 9 am the next day, a French gunboat found her and the report of the commander in charge is public property. This affair has been remembered for an extremely long time. It ‘had an extraordinary power of defying the shortness of memories and the length of time: it seemed to live, with a sort of uncanny vitality, in the minds of men, on the tips of their tongue.’ A long time after the event, Marlow encounters a French lieutenant who had been on the gunboat. He tells Marlow that they towed the ship away and took care not to damage the bulkhead. All the time it was being towed, two men were ready with axes to cut them clear in case it sank. This man stayed on the Patna whilst it was being towed and this took 30 hours. Marlow expresses surprise at his decision to stay on the ship, but the officer explains that measures were taken (it is implied these unexplained measures were for ensuring his safety). When they reached land, it took 25 minutes for all the passengers to disembark.
Chapter Thirteen begins with the French officer asking Marlow what was at the bottom of this affair. Marlow explains and the officer is sympathetic towards Jim and says that all men suffer from fear. He adds that, ‘man is born a coward’. Marlow has seen Jim only recently in Samarang where he worked at this point as a water-clerk (as referred to in Chapter One). He does not know how Jim is coping with this new life, but is, ‘pretty certain his adventurous fancy was suffering all the pangs of starvation’. He thinks of Jim’s new life as a punishment ‘for the heroics of his fancy’.
The narrative shifts back again as Marlow remembers the night they talked before returning to the inquiry and how it was like ‘a last vigil with a condemned man’. He offers to help him with Brierly’s plan of evasion and to find work for him elsewhere, but Jim refuses to ‘clear out’. Marlow tells him this business is bitter enough ‘for a man of your kind’ and Jim whispers his agreement. However, he adds that he may have jumped, but he does not run away. When they part company that night, he thinks of Jim as having nowhere to go, ‘and he was not yet four-and-twenty’.
Analysis – Chapters Twelve and Thirteen
Chapter Twelve reveals explicitly for the first time that nobody died on board the Patna. Jim’s guilt for jumping remains, though, as he punishes himself for desertion. When the French officer hears from Marlow about Jim’s decision, he reasons that all men feel fear and counters the notion that this was an act of cowardice. Ironically, he stayed on the ship as it was being towed away, but his understanding of Jim’s decision demonstrates an awareness of the need for self-survival. He took measures to ensure his own safety.