Summary – Chapters Thirty Eight, Thirty Nine and Forty
The story of Jim’s fate begins proper in Chapter Thirty Eight as the narrative returns to Brown, who is described as a ‘latter day buccaneer’, and to the time when he has stolen the Spanish schooner. He is described as tired of life and unafraid of death, but is ‘in mortal fear of imprisonment’.
After the theft, he and his crew are short of food and water and board several craft to steal from them. Brown does not dare to put into a port as the authorities may arrest him; he plans to go to Madagascar, but needs provisions to do so. He visits Patusan for this very reason. They take a long boat up the river and a shout goes up and cannons are fired. Brown and his men land 900 yards from the stockade and the chapter ends with them out of their boat and lying behind felled trees. Everything around them is described as still, dark and silent.
In Chapter Thirty Nine, it is related that Jim is away in the interior at this point and Dain Waris leads the first repulse against these intruders. Jewel is in command of the Fort and cares for the refugees; she shows a ‘martial ardour’. Dain Waris comes to her at once at the first signs of danger as Jim has the only store of gunpowder (through Stein). The chief men are also there as they discuss what to do. They organize ways to get rid of Brown and messengers are sent to inform Jim of what is happening. In addition, Kassim opens up communications with Brown and takes Cornelius with him (as an interpreter). After talking to Cornelius for half an hour, Brown’s eyes are opened ‘as to the home affairs of Patusan’.
Kassim dislikes Doramin and the Bugis, ‘but he hated the new order of things still more’. He thinks these men, together with the Rajah’s followers, could attack and beat the Bugis before the return of Jim. Brown has only come to the area for food, rubber and some money, but after meeting Kassim he begins to think of stealing the whole country. Brown then pretends to have a big ship full of men at the mouth of the river. This chapter ends with Cornelius offering Brown what he calls ‘friend’s advice’ and tells him about Jim: he says he only has to kill him and he will be king here.
Brown tries to gain time ‘by fooling with Kassim’s diplomacy’ in Chapter Forty. In truth, he believes Jim (the white man) is the only one to work with. Brown sees himself as offering Jim the power to take full control and that they would share in it. He sees them working as brothers, ‘till the time came for a quarrel and a shot that would settle all accounts’. His machinations are clear when he orders one of his men to shoot at one of the Patusan inhabitants to put fear into the others and sends another of his men to the boat in order to draw the enemy’s fire.
People begin to feel like they should take sides and the social fabric is ready to collapse. Many in the upper classes think they should pay court to the Rajah and only Doramin keeps his countrymen together.
Brown tells Marlow later that he would have left that night if his boat had been afloat as his men were outnumbered 200 to one. One of his men is shot and Cornelius translates a message from the Bugis informing him that there ‘would be no faith, no compassion, no speech, no peace’ between the Bugis and the white men on the hill.
Towards dawn, drumbeat and cannon can be heard in town and Cornelius tells Brown that he (Jim) has come back. He then predicts Jim will come to Brown, as he is afraid of nothing. He also suggests Brown sends one of his men to kill Jim, as he will then have complete power.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty Eight, Thirty Nine and Forty
In Jim’s absence, the outsiders disturb the peace and fabric of Patusan society. This serves to emphasize Jim’s importance in the community, and is also a useful dramatic device for bringing about the novel’s climax. Because of his absence, it is also possible to highlight the extent of Cornelius’s treacherous impulses as he inveigles himself on Brown in order to enact revenge on Jim.