Joseph Conrads novella, The Secret Sharer, centers on the character of a young sea captain. Its title and opening paragraphs display a story of mystery, isolation, darkness and silence. A young and inexperienced captain grows and explores himself and the world around him. The story begins when the young narrator recently became the captain of an English ship whose 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. Leggatt a man who was found floating naked near the captains ship, was once a crewman on a boat called the Sephora. He was held captive on the boat until he escaped and swam towards the captains boat. The captain hides Leggatt, and puts himself under a lot of stress because the rest of the crew is ignorant of the mysterious fugitive. The captain talks with the skipper about this fugitive and tricks him into talking loud so that Leggatt hears their conversation and he runs to a hiding place. The crew begins to see certain awkwardness by captain at this time and he nearly goes insane because of this secret sharer. Finally, the crew found out about Leggatt. They were quite offended by what the captain did, but they all worked together to get past this hindrance, and the captain was glad to be victorious in his first command of the ship.
A major theme of this novella was the thought of meeting ones identical personality unknown to others. In order to tell the way a person acts they can look at themselves in a different aspect, such as the way the captain looked at the fugitive. Throughout the story, the captain constantly refers to Leggatt as his double due to the fact that they have many things in common, physically and mentally. One image generated by the title could be that of a gossip. Since a gossip is someone who tells people’s secrets, or in other words is a secret sharer, it is a possibility that this image might come to mind. Another theme of this novel is A secret will never remain a secret if one tells someone else. The captain never told the crew until the end, when the fugitive got away, thus giving great value to the theme. Another image is that of a person who shares in secrecy, therefore becoming a secret sharer. A secret sharer could also be an imaginary friend, one that a person can share their inner thoughts and personal feelings with. The captain shared his gold with Leggatt without anyone knowing and they both shared their thoughts with each other. This represents another theme of friendship, when two people just connect without knowing each other for a long while. Finally the theme of good vs. evil arises in that the word secret has an evil connotation, whereas the word shares shows generosity and purity of a persons heart.
The captain describes a connection that he begins to feel with Leggatt by showing that he feels that he has the same characteristics with Leggatt that would make him unfit for the Sephora. When Captain meets Leggatt in the water, he is “glimmering white in the darkness.” A shadowy, dark head, like mine,” is used to describe Leggatt, suggesting that they both have similar physical features. He also said, after Leggatt put on his sleeping suit, In a moment he had concealed his damp body in a sleeping suit of the same gray-stripe pattern as the one I was wearing and followed me like my double on the poop. After the captain briefly talks with Leggatt in the water he says, The voice was calm and resolute, a good voice. The self-possession of that man had somehow induced a corresponding state in myself.” This soothing effect is what allows the two men to continue to develop their close bond. The captain used phrases like “double,” “other self,” and “secret sharer” to identify himself with Leggatt nearly forty times during the course of the novella.
One of the main similarities is that both men have very similar physical appearances and the captain said this quite often when he looked at Leggatt while he was resting in the captains bed. Another obvious similarity is that both men are seamen and love to sail and be around boats. Leggatt shows his loyalty by risking his life in order to save his ship from sinking by setting the foresail. The captain’s loyalties lie with Leggatt, rather than his ship, because he risks his ship and crew to make sure Leggatt arrives safely at Koh-ring. A more important similarity between the two is that they both considered themselves strangers aboard the ship. The captain was a stranger because he was ignorant about the crew and Leggatt was a stranger because he was not supposed to be on the ship. The crew does not know their captain, and the captain does not know his crew, nor do they know about Leggatt being aboard the ship. These facts, along with many others, add a mysterious pattern to the novella, and it continues to appear throughout it.
The feelings of isolation between the two men are also a great similarity. Leggatt and the captain are both isolated from the crew throughout the whole story, and they are isolated from themselves for a while. Leggatt says, “It’s a great satisfaction to have got somebody to understand.” Thus, Leggatt breaks the feeling of isolation for both the captain and himself. While he is hiding Leggatt, he puts himself under an enormous amount of stress. He tells the reader how unbearable it is to be separated from his double. The captain needs to have Leggatt in his room to make him feel less alienated from others, but at the same time, he cannot deal with the stress of hiding a fugitive. Although the captain and Leggatt had many similarities, they also had some differences. The biggest differences was that Leggatt was more violent then the captain. He had already killed one of his mates on the Sophia and he tried to control himself while in captivity so he would not do it again. Another difference is that Leggatt is a fugitive while the captain isnt.
This theme on meeting ones double played a major role in the development of the story. It allowed readers to completely understand what Conrad was implying in his novella. I feel that this theme, along with the other themes of journey, both physical and mental, will have a lasting affect on me in that, I am now in search of my double, or my secret sharer. Through my observations, the captain is in the shadow with his crew signifying that he is able to control both his private and the public world. He also makes good decisions that save himself and the crew, showing significant growth as a leader. This growth was a result of the daringness and courageousness of the captain, especially when he took on the risk of hiding a fugitive on his ship. After Leggatt leaves the captain is finally able to find and control himself, and he now feels confident to command the ship. Although this novella was short, it explained many things and added another look towards life for its readers.