illustration of a ship sailing on the ocean during a storm

The Secret Sharer

by Joseph Conrad

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What is the resolution of the conflict in "The Secret Sharer"?

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The resolution of the conflict in "The Secret Sharer" occurs when the captain, having navigated close to shore to allow Leggatt to swim to safety and freedom, turns his ship back around. As the ship heads out to sea, the captain feels a bond with his crew and the ship and wishes Leggatt the best.

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In Joseph Conrad's story "The Secret Sharer," the young captain who narrates the tale is faced with a tricky dilemma. He is out on his first voyage and must earn the trust of his crew and successfully bring his ship to the end of the journey, but along the way, he picks up a man swimming in the water, and his task becomes much more difficult.

The man identifies himself as Leggatt and explains that he has fled from his own ship after killing another sailor in order to save the ship during a storm. The captain accepts Leggatt's act as necessary under the circumstances, but he knows that the law would demand punishment, perhaps even death, for Leggatt. The captain now faces the choice of hiding Leggatt and trying to get him to safety or turning him in. He decides on the former.

To save Leggatt, the captain must take a major risk with his own ship. He will navigate close enough to the island of Koh-ring to give Leggatt a chance to swim to shore, yet this puts his ship in some danger of running aground. As the crew protests mightily, the captain holds the course toward the island, and Leggatt jumps overboard and begins to swim. The story has now reached its climax, the highest point of its action.

Just as it looks like the ship might be lost, the captain catches sight of the hat Leggatt was wearing. It is drifting in such a manner that the captain now knows how to direct the course of the ship. He gives the order, and the ship swings around to safety. As the story resolves, the captain's crew cheers, and the captain feels a strong connection to both his ship and his crew. He also looks out toward the island and wishes Leggatt all the best as he strikes out toward his "new destiny."

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The conflict in "The Secret Sharer" is primarily internal. It has to do with the captain's insecurities as a commander and his coming into his identity as a leader of men. Leggatt is an external representation of these internal doubts in that he had made a decision (to murder a crewmate in order to save the ship) that the captain, inexperienced as he is, instinctively understands as correct. Through Leggatt, the captain comes to understand that his responsibilities as commander require a different moral code than most men, one in which murder is sometimes justified.

The resolution of this conflict comes when the captain decides that he will not turn Leggatt over to the authorities to be hanged and instead will "exile" him in a foreign land. This decision is important for several reasons. First, it shows that the captain is aware of a personal moral code that is in opposition to what society requires. That is, he comes to realize that being in command requires a finer conception of right and wrong than is possible under conventional law. Second, in doing what he thinks is right, he risks his ship by coming close enough to shore for Leggatt to swim to safety; he recognizes that in order to be a commander, he must sometimes sacrifice the safety of his crew for a higher ideal. This sets him apart from the other crew members.

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