The Secret Sharer Analysis
by Joseph Conrad

The Secret Sharer book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Secret Sharer Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Secret Sharer

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

The Captain

The Captain, the narrator and protagonist of the story, a young man who is beginning his first command. The nameless young Captain not only feels like a stranger to his ship but also feels like a stranger to himself. Being the youngest man on board, with the exception of the second mate, he doubts his abilities, and he wonders if on this first voyage he will turn out to be faithful to his own ideal conception of his personality, something that he believes all men secretly set up for themselves. His first real challenge comes with the arrival of the escaped murderer, Leggatt. He believes Leggatt’s story of a justified and accidental killing and makes every effort to conceal him from the rest of the crew, even though this leads his men to suspect his abilities even more than they might have ordinarily. At the end of the story, he ignores the warnings of his chief mate and takes the ship dangerously close to shore to allow Leggatt to escape. Through his concealment of Leggatt, he gains the authority and confidence necessary for command.

Leggatt

Leggatt, the chief mate of the Sephora, who has killed a man aboard his own ship and has swum to the young Captain’s ship to escape being taken back home to face trial. The character of Leggatt is not as clear-cut as those of the other characters in the story. For one thing, the only person who sees him in the story is the narrator. For another, he not only looks very much like the Captain but also went to the same school. Throughout the story, the narrator continually refers to him as his “double,” his “secret self,” his “secret sharer,” and other terms that suggest that Leggatt is not so much a real person as he is a psychological reflection of the Captain himself. This does not mean that Leggatt does not exist, for it seems quite clear that he actually did kill a man aboard his own ship, one who would not do his duty and who was endangering the lives of others. Because Leggatt has dared to act on his own individual initiative in spite of authority, however, he seems to represent in some ways the “ideal conception” that the Captain has in mind of himself. Furthermore, he provides the opportunity for the Captain himself to act independently and to assert his own authority to his crew.

The chief mate

The chief mate, an elderly man, simple in his perceptions. He is a painstaking sort who likes to “account” for everything. He has little confidence in the Captain and challenges him at the crucial climactic point of the story, when he is afraid that the Captain will crash the ship into the rocks.

The second mate

The second mate, a taciturn young man who is younger than the Captain but who is given to sneering at him.

Archbold

Archbold, the captain of the Sephora, the ship on which Leggatt was chief mate. His treatment of Leggatt makes it clear that he is not only obstinate but also that he is a stickler for a strict interpretation of rules. When he comes aboard the narrator’s ship looking for Leggatt, it is clear that he is timid and fearful and that he can make no decisions on his own without the backing of the law and of the authorities.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story shows Conrad’s finest use of the doppelganger, or double, a symbolic figure who serves to show the true character of the protagonist by exhibiting the darker, more unsavory sides of his nature. Thus, Leggatt, who shares the middle-class background, naval training, morals, and assumptions of the young captain, forces the captain to admit that he, too, is a potential murderer and therefore less than the perfect hero that he originally hoped to be. In other words, Leggatt and the captain are alter egos, dark and light sides of the one self. In fact, the impression that the two of them together form a single complete person, both good and evil, is reinforced by the fact that only one of them has a name.

Conrad’s style is also very rich in pictorial description. He masterfully uses setting to suggest the...

(The entire section is 2,528 words.)