The Secret Sharer Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

The Secret Sharer book cover
Start Your Free Trial

I need to write a critical analysis on "The Secret Sharer" by Joseph Conrad, and I'm having a hard time coming up with a topic.  What are some suggestions?  

Expert Answers info

mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

bookM.A. from The University of Alabama

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,150 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Since a critical analysis of fiction determines how effectively a work makes its argument (theme), or utilizes its techniques (characterization, atmosphere, symbolism, point of view, etc.), the student may wish to peruse the story again and write a short summary afterwards. Then, she will be able to determine which element strikes her, based upon what is emphasized in this summary. Here are a couple ideas:

1. Certainly, the title directs many a reader to an examination of character from, perhaps, the aspect of symbolism. For, according to one critic, "the two men are virtually the same person." As an alter-ego, Leggatt is first perceived by the captain, 

He was complete but for the head. A headless corpse!

Then the captain narrates,

And I knew well enough also that my double there was no homicidal ruffian. I did not think of asking him for details, and he told me the story roughly.... I needed no more. I saw it all going on as though I were myself inside that other sleeping suit.

Thus, Leggatt is the emotional, passionate part if the captain, a side that is more aggressive and assertive, two characteristics of which the neophyte captain is sorely in need. Legatt and the captain are doppelgangers of each other, two sides of one person. In fact the word double is employed nineteen times in the narrative.

Once the captain gains confidence and can be more assertive, he can release Legatt back into the sea to be like him, "a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for a new destiny."

2. The motif of sailing and handling a ship is metaphoric for the psychological states of the captain and Leggatt as well as their final acts, their rites of passage. When, for instance, the neophyte captain stands on deck of the ship, he observes that he and the ship both seem

to be measuring our fitness for a long and arduous enterprise, the appointed task of both of our existences to be carried out.

After the rescue of Legatt, both men find meaning being together and in the sharing of secrets. At one point, the captain remarks,

The self possession of that man had somehow induced a corresponding state in myself....A mysterious communication was established already between us two....I was almost as much of a stranger on board as myself.

However, as the narrative progresses, the captain becomes "no longer a stranger to myself," and he asserts himself by releasing his double into the sea. Confidently, he ponders how no one or nothing will

...stand now between us...the perfect communion of a seaman with his first command.

The captain has taken full command of his ship, and Leggatt is baptized anew by the sea and, reborn, he heads for the islands.


Whichever topic is chosen for critical analysis depends, of course, upon the writer's ability to convince the reader that her judgments of the work are valid ones.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial