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“The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad Essay

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021

Introduction

The premier theme that is analyzed in ‘The Secret Sharer’ is the connection between the sea and the land, a fact that Conrad also examines in other areas of the story. On one side, he extols the beauty, calmness and vastness of the seas, while on the other side he characterizes the land as shabby, nervous and agitated. Despite this, the land contributes liveliness and forcefulness that allocates significance to the climate of the seas, resulting in the fact that complementary nature of the geographical in the end give rise to the complementary nature of the self.

Following this line of thinking, the story starts with a lovely scene of the sea and shore, before moving on to other psychological and political dual elements that the Captain should experience as well as understand. At the beginning of the story, as the Captain observes the “straight lines of the flat shore joined to the stable area” (Conrad, p. 17), it is apparent that he is unable to properly understand where the sea ends and the land begins, just as he is unable to properly distinguish between landsmen and seamen and between maturity and immaturity. In effect, the Captain is unfamiliar with the ship as well as with himself.

Main body

The story also deals with the problems to be solved in the series of actions involving maturation. On the part of the Captain, his shortcomings include insufficient trust in his own abilities, the anxiety about being inadequate, and the worry of failing in the end. Even before the Captain’s doubt appearance on the scene , Conrad creates the scene, once more underlined by the significant description that starts in the story, noticing “two small clumps of trees, one on each side of the only fault in the impeccable joint, marked the mouth of the River Meinam we had just left on the preparatory stage of our homeward journey” (Conrad, p. 17). This observation displays his lack of trust in himself and his capabilities, and his timid fear and dread of the ship. It is this feeling of insecurity, the difference between what he knows he can become and when he dreads he had become, that the Captain needed to banish, instead progressing to the “large and loftier mass, the grove surrounding the forest of the great Pakham pagoda” (Conrad, p. 17).

The striking progress of the story starts when Leggatt first embarks, a progress that shifts from the danger of intruded privacy in the Captain’s cabin, to the danger of this dual self being found by the ship’s crew, to the strain of probable discovery by another Captain, and lastly the danger of the unknown as the Captain uses his newly acquired authority. The Captain does not specifically want to give shelter to the fugitive and is not bothered about the crime committed by Leggatt who was “prepared to accept the ‘brand of Cain’ and go wandering on the face of the earth” (Conrad, p. 31). The rest of Part I of the story deals with the social and political anxiety of coming to terms with the doubt self himself {“all the time the dual working of my mind distracted me almost to the point of insanity” (Conrad, p. 36)} as well as hiding him from the rest of the crew.

Part II begins with the dual theme that goes on troubling the Captain, his secret sharer and the ship’s crew. The situation is exacerbated when the captain of the ‘Sephora,’ who has a ‘thin red whisker all around his face’ (Conrad, p. 38) boards the ship in a suspicious frame of mind, while the Captain plays host to him while Leggatt is concealed a little distance away, and even feigns deafness as he jauntily accompanies him in a fruitless search of the ship. Leggatt is the central symbolic figure in the story, who even forgets to appear rational, considering himself a ‘headless corpse’ and says: “With a gasp I saw revealed in my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back immersed right up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow” (Conrad, p. 23). His irrationality is reinforced by other scenes in the story such as when he informs the Captain/narrator: “I had to shake him for a solid minute but when at last he opened his eyes it was in the full possession of his senses” (Conrad, p. 37). He goes on to justify his action by irrationally saying: “I just look at my hands and went away from, boiling” (Conrad, p. 45). When Leggatt finally departs, he returns to the archetypal life source – the sea.

Conclusion

In the end, ‘The Secret Sharer’ is a tale of societal acceptance, rather than opposition and suppression. To repress Leggatt would have been erroneous, and the narrator instead had to merge Leggatt’s irrationality with his own rational and civilized nature, to come out as an imaginarily imperfect but result-oriented moral agent. It is not that the Captain cannot effectively retain command of his ship as long as it harbored Leggatt, but he cannot experienced the self-confidence and practical force required to be an effective commander both of himself as well as his ship. At the end, the Captain merges his dual nature, thereby forcing the destructive element within him to contribute to his ideal objectives. As he leaves the ship , the self-derision in the Captain’s personality is important. This is symbolized by the white hat, which represents the good pity and mercy of the Captain for his other self.

The Captain has effectively safeguarded Leggatt from other persons, thereby taking personal blame for Leggatt’s crime and therefore admitting not only his own involvement, but that of society too. The departure of his secret sharer makes the Captain a different person – one who is no longer insecure, but who commands his ship and crew with total faith that he can confront any situation – favorable or adverse.

References

Conrad, Joseph. “Heart of Darkness and the Secret Sharer.” New York: Signet Classics. 1997.

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