Summary – Chapters Nineteen, Twenty and Twenty One
In Chapter Nineteen, the readers are told that these instances of Jim leaving his post are just two examples that Marlow can give. All of them are ‘equally tinged by a high-minded absurdity of intention which made their futility profound and touching’. He sees Jim as unfortunate, because ‘his recklessness could not carry him out from under the shadow’. Marlow cannot work out if his conduct ‘amounted to shirking his ghost or to facing him out’. It is ironic to Marlow that Jim becomes known as a rolling stone and is famous, even notorious, in the ‘circle of his wandering’ (which has a diameter of, say, three thousand miles).
Jim stays in Bangkok for six months until a first lieutenant of the Royal Siamese Navy makes a scornful remark at his expense. Jim turns up on Marlow’s ship at midnight saying everybody in the room seemed to know about him and he cannot keep his job now because he has reacted violently to the lieutenant. Marlow finds him a position with De Jongh; Jim works hard but there are few opportunities for him. Marlow then decides to consult Stein, who is a wealthy and respected merchant, for trustworthy advice. Stein is known to learned persons in Europe for his extensive insect collection and Marlow knows he is eminently suitable to receive his confidences about Jim.
Chapter Twenty begins with Marlow’s visit to Stein. The room where they talk is lined with shelves filled with his insect collection. His background is explained a little (for example, how he inherited his house and position from a Scotsman who had been the only white man to be allowed to live and trade in the Wajo States). After Stein’s wife and daughter died, he started a new life and acquired a fortune. He tells Marlow of how he caught one of his butterflies just after he killed some men who attacked him. Marlow says he has come to describe a specimen and relates the story of Jim. Stein says he understands ‘very well’ and calls Jim ‘romantic’. Stein is also romantic, but, as Marlow points out, when his dream (the butterfly) came his way he did not let it escape. Stein counters this by saying that he has lost many other dreams though. Before the two men go to sleep, they decide to do something practical for Jim the next day.
In Chapter Twenty One, the narrative returns to Marlow talking to his friends in the present and he asks them if they have heard of Patusan. It is a place known by the mercantile world, but no one present had been there. This is where Stein arranges for Jim to start again: ‘[Jim] left his earthly failings behind him and that sort of reputation he had and there was a totally new set of conditions for his imaginative faculty to work upon. Entirely new, entirely remarkable.’
The narrative shifts to Marlow and Stein again as they make these arrangements for Jim. Marlow tells Stein about Brierly saying, ‘let him creep twenty feet underground and stay there’. At this point, Stein suggests Patusan. Marlow is open to this idea for Jim’s sake and because of his own conscience. Marlow explains that Jim went on to stay at Patusan and ‘came on straight as a die’.
Analysis – Chapters Nineteen, Twenty and Twenty One
Chapter Nineteen highlights how Jim’s behavior since jumping from the ship has brought him notoriety rather than the sought for anonymity. As he attempts to remain unknown, he becomes infamous as a rolling stone and unwittingly draws attention to himself.
The beginning of his new life starts with the help of Marlow and Stein as they discuss his future. The choice of Patusan is based on its required isolation from white Western society and is figuratively comparable to Brierly’s idea of sending Jim ‘underground’. This is, of course, allowing Jim to continue to run away from what he sees as his shameful past.
In Chapter Twenty, Stein relates his story of when he caught a butterfly and goes on to interpret Jim as a romantic. This understanding may be seen as based on mutual concerns as Stein resembles an older version of Jim. This is because both take pleasure in the thought of attaining their dreams.