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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel opens with a detailed description of Jim. He is an inch or two short of six feet, is powerfully built, and has a slight stoop. He walks with his head forward and looks with a stare, almost like a charging bull. He is intense by nature, and his voice is deep and loud. He is very neat and clean and always dresses in absolute white from his shoes to his hat. In the beginning of the novel, he is a water-clerk. His job is to greet the captain of an incoming vessel and persuade him to come to a supply store that provides for a ship's needs. During the captain's stay, Jim is expected to entertain him and become his friend, so the captain will want to spend a lot of money in the store. Jim displays good manners and patience in carrying out his duties. As a result, he is very popular with the various captains. Jim, however, is a restless young man. He never stays in one port for very long. When people begin to know him too well or mention his past, he leaves very quickly.
Jim is from a parsonage, one of five sons. At an early age, he decides he wants to make a living on the sea. He is sent to a ship for training, where he proves that he is calm and clever. On the boat, Jim feels himself to be an outstanding sailor and is confident about dealing with storms and winds in the high sea. He dreams of rescuing people from sinking ships and becoming a hero. One day while on board ship, a schooner collides with a coaster nearby. The other boys immediately jump overboard to help in the rescue effort. Jim, however, hesitates. When he finally gains enough courage to go and help, he is stopped by the captain who tells him he is too late. When the other boys return from their rescue efforts as heroes, Jim is forced to think about his hesitation, his failure. He promises himself that next time hewill act faster.
The first chapter is an introduction to Jim, the protagonist of the novel. He is described in almost perfect terms. He is handsome, well built, clever, self-confident, neat, clean, and popular. He is always dressed in white, a symbol of cleanliness and purity. He is also a romantic thinker, whose love of the sea has come from reading tales of adventure. Conrad hints that his romanticism is a negative trait for him. As a young man, Jim imagines himself becoming a hero capable of managing the high seas and rescuing people from sinking ships. Ironically, while in training to become a sailor, there is a shipwreck nearby. Jim does not immediately jump overboard to help in the rescue effort like the other boys; he does not have the courage to act. When he finally decides to join them, it is too late. He is perplexed by his hesitation and tries to excuse it by saying that the next mishap will be worthy of his efforts and he will perform heroically. Unfortunately, such never happens in the course of the novel. Jim's first reaction to a tragic event foreshadows his future reactions. Until the very end of the novel, he never has the correct response; he never lives up to the noble image presented of him in this first chapter of the book and he miserably fails to act like a hero on most occasions.
There is another incongruity about Jim presented in this chapter. As a water-clerk, he earns good wages and is well liked by the captains of the ships that he must entertain. In spite of his occupational success, he never stays in one place too long. If anyone finds out about his past or even calls him by his last name, he leaves town immediately. This lack of stability creates an aura of mystery about Jim; he seems to be hiding from something in his past.
Conrad writes with vivid descriptions throughout the novel. As a lover of the sea, he brings the ocean to life. In this opening chapter, he descries the "trembling tide" and "the driving mist." Through his imagery, he makes the reader see, hear, and feel the setting. He also alternates the use of light and darkness in the chapter.