The Secret Sharer Questions and Answers
by Joseph Conrad

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What is meant by the narrator of The Secret Sharer when he says this quote? The quote is below: "I wondered how far I should turn out faithful to that ideal conception of one's own personality every man sets up for himself secretly".

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These lines from Part I of Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer" express the young captain's insecurities regarding his first command of a ship which has a crew that has been sailing together for eighteen months or more, but he does not know.  The captain remarks that he is "somewhat of a stranger to myself," and he wonders if he will measure up to what he has expected of himself as the commander of a ship. Observing the gestures and the facial expressions of the chief mate and other crew members, the captain realizes that the crew does not have a great deal of confidence in his abilities.  In fact, he astonishes the crew when, out of commiseration for the crew's fatigue, he takes the night watch on the ship himself.  He spends the solitary hours of the night "to get on terms with the ship of which I knew nothing..." 

Before Leggatt arrives on board, the captain looks to the crew for assurance that he is doing well, an action that perplexes the crew and worries them.  Once Leggatt is taken into the captain's confidence, the captain learns from Leggatt's tale and from watching his quiet assurance that being more assertive and commanding is a better way to lead a crew.  From his "secret sharer," then, comes meaning and the captain acquires confidence and a definition of self.  It is after his "second self" departs into the sea, leaving behind the captain's hat that directs him in steering the ship away from the shore that the captain receives the accolades of the crew.

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