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The Secret Sharer
by Joseph Conrad, 1910
 

Main Characters

Narrator - A new, young captain assigned to a ship that encounters a murderer on the high seas.

Leggatt - The murderer from the Sephora who escapes to the Narrators ship and is harbored by the narrator allowing him to learn much about himself.

Archbold - The captain of the Sephora who comes aboard the narrators ship in search of Leggatt while providing a contrast to the new, inexperienced narrator.

Chief Mate - An old experienced sailor who looks down towards the new captain because of his inexperience.
 

Minor Characters

Second Mate - The only sailor on the ship younger than the caption; yet also looks down at the captain.

Achbold’s Wife - The wife of the captain of the Sephora who lives on the Sephora against common convention.
 

Settings

Captain’s cabin - A small L shaped room which contains a bed, a closet, a desk, a bathroom and little else.

Sephora - the ship which Leggatt came from.

Ship - the ship which the narrator pilots.
 

Plot

 The young narrator recently became the captain of a ship who’s crew had been together for at least 18 months.  He feels insecure about his position and is alienated by the rest of the crew because of his youth and inexperience.  One night, after ordering the rest of the crew to go to sleep, he wanders the deck and notices a man, nearly dead, floating besides his ship holding onto the rope ladder.  The narrator allows the man on board and takes the stranger to his room where he finds out that they are very much alike in many ways.  The stranger’s name is Leggatt and he was the first mate of the Sephora, a ship floating nearby, until he killed a crewman.  He was stripped of his position and held captive on the boat.  One night, he was able to escape and swim to the narrator’s boat.  Because of Leggatt’s precarious position, the narrator keeps silent about him and keeps Leggat in his room.  Later, the older, more experienced captain of the Sephora comes aboard the narrator’s ship in search of Leggatt, but leaves after not finding him.  Later, the narrator orders his ship near an island in order to allow Leggatt to swim away to that island.  The crew is miffed but they sail safely away after the narrator finds the hat which he gave Leggatt in the water serving as a marker of boats direction.
 

Symbols

Floppy hat - This is the gift that the narrator gives to Leggatt in order to protect him from the sun while on the island, but is dropped into the water as Leggatt leaves and serves as a marker to protect the narrator from crashing into the shore making this hat a symbol of mutual protection and the relationship between the narrator and Leggatt.

Darkness - This is the darkness in which Leggat was found serving as a symbol for the soul of the narrator in that he could not see what was in his own soul and did not know how to behave towards his new crew.  After this darkness is lifted, the narrator finds himself and is able to command his ship with confidence.
 

Style

Conrad uses a sophisticated form of writing which uses complex sentences and much imagery to paint a vivid story deep with philosophical and emotional meaning.  His writing is often poetic and serves to convey to the reader the feelings of the narrator and not merely the actions.
 

Philosophy

Conrad tells the readers that in order to life with direction and understanding of what is going on around you, one much understand and know what goes on inside himself.  Leggatt serves as a mirror to the narrator so that the narrator can learn about himself.
 
 
 

Quotations

“With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back immersed right up tot he neck in a greenish cadaverous glow.”  Page 24.  The captain describes his first impression of Leggatt as a corpse immersed in the water.

“I had become so connected in thoughts and impressions with the secret sharer of my cabin that I felt as if I, personally, were being given to understand that I, too, was not the sort that would have done for the chief mate of a ship like the Sephora.”  Page 42.  The narrator describes a connection that he begins to feel with Leggat by showing that he feels that he has the same characteristics with Leggatt that would make him unfit for the Sephora.

“The mental feeling of being in two places at once affected me physically as if the mood of secrecy had penetrated my very soul.”  Page 46.  The connection between Leggatt and the narrator heightened enough so that it seems to the narrator that he can actually feel Leggatt even while apart.

“Nothing!  No one in the world should stand now between us, throwing a shadow on the way of silent knowledge and mute affection, the perfect communion of a seaman with his first command.”  Page 61.  After Leggatt leaves, the captain finds himself and is in control of himself and feels confident to command the ship.