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In the sixth chapter, Marlow shifts his emphasis to Jim's trial. He tells the dinner guests that the inquiry has become a public event, for everyone wants to see the handsome young sailor; they want to hear his explanation for deserting 800 pilgrims, leaving them to sink and drown upon the floundering Patna; they want him to be appropriately punished. Marlow judges the inquiry as disappointing, for Jim is not made to reveal why he deserted the sinking ship. The assessors simply ask him about the facts surrounding the incident. One of the assessors, Big Brierly, is the thirty-two year old captain of a ship; he supposedly has never committed any mistakes and has saved many lives at sea. During the inquiry, Brierly secretly offers Jim to suddenly disappear, like the Patna's captain, so that the shocking trial will not drag on. Jim, of course, refuses the offer. Later Marlow learns that Brierly has committed suicide. He turned his ship over to his first mate, weighted down his body, and jumped overboard.
Marlow also relates an interesting event during the second day of the trial. An old dog wanders into the courtroom as people are leaving for the day. One of the spectators says, "Look at that wretched cur." Not seeing the dog, Jim thinks that Marlow has said these words about him and confronts him. Marlow is surprised and truthfully claims that he has not said anything. Jim does not believe him and grows agitated and angry. He asks Marlow why he has been staring at him the whole day and why he has called him a cur. Now Marlow understands and explains what has really happened with the dog. Jim feels humiliated and asks for forgiveness for his false accusation; Marlow asks him to have dinner with him in Malabar House.
In this chapter, Marlow, the narrator, gives more details about the court inquiry, tells about Brierly, and explains the first interaction between Jim and himself. Brierly is intentionally puzzling. He is described as a perfect ship captain, who is brave, exact, careful, and systematic. In spite of his self-control, Jim's trial makes him very uncomfortable. In fact, he offers Jim money to disappear and end the inquiry. After the trial is over, Brierly commits suicide, a rather shocking and troubling act in total contrast to his appearance of great self-confidence and seeming perfection. Conrad suggests that Brierly has compared himself to Jim and cannot face the possibility of his own cowardice. His death foreshadows Jim's eventual death; both deaths force the reader to again question what he would do in Jim's circumstances.
Jim is also seen acting out of character in this chapter. As he answers questions in the courtroom, he is nervous, but in control. However, when someone shouts "wretched cur" at a dog, Jim falsely assumes that Marlow has said the words to him. He is infuriated and screams at Marlow, who has trouble making Jim believe that the words were shouted by someone else and not directed at him. When Jim finally grasps what has actually occurred, he is humiliated and begs forgiveness. Marlow invites the young man to dinner, hinting at a future friendship between the two men. At this point in the story, it is not clear why Marlow is sympathetic to Jim and why Jim finds an ally in Marlow. Both men appear somewhat mysterious, and Marlow has still not made it clear exactly what Jim has done to cause such a stir.