Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is one of the most autobiographical of Joseph Conrad’s sea stories, chronicling his own first voyage to the East and his first position as an officer. Conrad went to sea at the age of seventeen, but in 1881 he shipped in a freighter called the Palestine, for which the Judea is a pseudonym. The story probably reflects quite accurately the heartbreaking frustrations and failures, from the captain’s standpoint, that often plagued such overaged seagoing vessels. It also expresses the rare power of the romantic young man’s ability to convert an extremely painful, tedious, and dangerous experience into a glamorous test of his strength, courage, and ability. What must have been the most dismal failure to the old skipper on his first and probably only chance to be a captain was for the youthful mate a resounding success.

Even in the most dreadful and tedious circumstances, as when they are pumping frantically to stay afloat, the protagonist is enjoying even the misery of it all:And there was somewhere in me the thought: By Jove! this is the deuce of an adventure—something you read about; and it is my first voyage as second mate—and I am only twenty—and here I am lasting it out as well as any of these men, and keeping my chaps up to the mark. I was pleased. I would not have given up the experience for worlds. I had moments of exultation. Whenever the old dismantled craft pitched heavily with her counter high in the air, she seemed to me to throw up, like an...

(The entire section is 612 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The main theme of Conrad's story is the initiation experience of Marlow on his first voyage to the "Eastern waters." Since the story does not...

(The entire section is 480 words.)