1. Construct a six-part plot diagram for the novel.The plot of The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad can be neatly divided into six sections: the setting of the scene, the arrival of Leggatt, the narrator’s attempts at hiding him, the confrontation with the skipper of Sephora, the deepening of the crisis and finally Leggatt’s escape.The first part sets the scene and establishes the narrator’s loneliness, insecurities and uncertainties aboard a ship as the Captain for the first time. The ship poised in the Gulf of Siam ready to begin a long and arduous journey to an unknown destination seems to reflect the Captain’s state of being, poised to open a new chapter in his life and set out on a journey that will define his career. However, the Captain is full of misgivings, is unsure of himself, is weary of his Crew to whom he is a stranger, having been appointed as the Captain of the ship only a fortnight ago. The journey that awaits him thus has all the potential of becoming a journey of self-discovery.The second part deals with the arrival of Leggatt from the dark sea seeking refuge.
The captain immediately recognizes an instinctive connection between him and the fugitive, both of them strangers in the ship. He feels that Leggatt is his ‘double’ and arranges to hide him in his own Cabin. Leggatt narrates his own story – the murder and the escape from Sephora – but the Captain only half-listens for he feels that he knew all of it intimately and has in fact experienced it along with Leggatt.The third section of the narrative presents a deepening of the bond between Leggatt and the Captain. The threat of discovery hangs over the narrator like a Damocles’ sword. His nerves are frayed even as the ship, finding favorable wind, begins its journey into the sea. This part ends with the announcement of the approach of a search party for Leggatt from Sephora.The fourth part begins as the first serious threat of discovery threatens the Captain and his ‘double’.
It involves a long and stressful confrontation with the Captain of Sephora, the ship from which Leggatt had escaped. The reader also gets an alternative version of events that took place in Sephora from the ship’s Captain’s perspective.The fifth part intensifies the crisis, for now that the crew of his ship knows about Leggatt, there is all the more chance of the fugitive being discovered on board thereby ruining the Captain’s future. At times crisis seems eminent, especially when once the steward enters the Captain’s cabin unexpectedly, reducing the Captain to a nervous mess.
The Captain, though his identification with his ‘double’ is now complete, realizes that such an arrangement cannot go on forever and they must prepare for Leggatt’s departure.The fifth part is the climax where the Captain and his ‘double’ plan the departure and takes unaccountable risks threatening the safety of his ship. Leggatt finally escapes in the dark sea amidst the darkness where he came from heading for the island of Koh-ring.
The Captain having successfully dealt with this crisis gains in stature that allows him to exercise his authority over the ship and his crew for the first time with confidence.2. List at least three of the major themes of the novel and discuss each one.
The Loneliness of Man: One of the recurring themes in Conrad’s work deals with the loneliness of man. The persistence of this theme in his other works like Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim points to the fact that the issue was one close to Conrad’s heart. The novella opens stressing the Captain-narrator’s loneliness and alienation in a strange ship.
The rest of the crew had been with the ship for eighteen months, while the narrator had taken charge of the vessel only a fortnight ago. A stranger in his own ship, unsure of his authority over the crew, full of misgivings about his skills as a Captain, he roams the ship alone on the fateful night just before the arrival of Leggatt from the dark sea hoping “in those solitary hours of the night to get on terms with the ship of which (he) knew nothing, manned by men of whom (he) knew very little more.” In fact, the Captain’s unquestioning acceptance of Leggatt and his identification with this fugitive seeking shelter might be rooted in his loneliness in the ship. Providing shelter to Leggatt might be motivated by his need for a companion to talk with. As he himself points out to Leggatt that he “was almost as much of a stranger on board as himself (Leggatt).”The Question of Right and Wrong: Another issue that Conrad explores through the story of Leggatt, as well as through the course of the action that the Captain chooses (viz. that of sheltering a man accused of murder and facilitating his escape in the end) is the question of moral conduct. The author seems to ask how far a moral code tailored for a normal society under sane conditions is applicable to such extreme situations like the one the crew of Sephora faced in the sea.
Leggatt killed a man in a fit of rage on board Sephora when the man refused to yield to Leggatt’s authority. Leggatt did so when he was desperately attempting to set up the foresail in a final bid to save the ship. The condition of the sea was insane to say the least and this fact is common in both Leggatt’s and the Captain of Sephora’s narration and beyond doubt it was Leggatt’s inspired actions and commands at that moment of crisis that saved the ship and the life of the rest of the crew. The question is whether Leggatt should be hailed as a savior or sent to the gallows as a cruel murderer.
Furthermore, given the fact that Leggatt committed murder, was it ethically proper of the narrator to provide him shelter and facilitate his escape? In this way Conrad deftly problematizes the issues of ethical conduct in The Secret Sharer.Journey to Self-knowledge: The third, and perhaps the most important theme of the story is the journey of the narrator’s self-discovery. The psychological journey to greater self-knowledge in Conrad often coincides with a physical course of action as has been seen in Heart of Darkness where Marlow, the narrator, undertakes a long journey to the heart of Africa to meet Kurtz, who turns out to be his ‘Other Self’. In The Secret Sharer too, self-knowledge comes with the narrator’s confrontation with his ‘Other Self’, Leggatt.
On the literal level, the Captain of a ship provides refuge to a murder accused in his own cabin and later helps him to escape. On the psychological level however, the story explores the depths of the human unconscious for, as the Captain, openly acknowledges during the course of his narration, he sees Leggatt as his double, his alter ego. On this level, the Captain, racked with self-doubt, meets his own alter ego, an emanation from his Unconscious. He successfully hides this Unconscious from the world and after realizing the depths of his own mind emerges a stronger and more confident human being.3. List at least three of the major symbols in the novel and discuss each one .Conrad’s narratives are intended to be read on a symbolic level.
The literal story is just a structure for the interplay of the symbols. It is the symbolic content that infuses the narrative with a richness of meaning and significance. The dominant symbols in The Secret Sharer are the Sea, the interplay of Light and Darkness, and of course Leggatt, the narrator’s ‘double’.
The Sea assumes symbolic significance in the course of the narration partly because of its inherent symbolic significance and partly because the narrator infuses the seascape with meaning in keeping with his state of mind. Firstly, the Sea has always been a traditional symbol for the human unconscious and the narrator’s finding in the sea a singleness of purpose and meaning is thus highly symbolic. Racked with self-doubt, walking the decks of a strange ship in the darkness of the night, the narrator rejoices “in the great security of the sea as compared with the unrest of the land….” In other words, tired of the confusions of his Consciousness, he seeks solace in his Unconscious that he finds “invested with an elementary moral beauty by the absolute straightforwardness of its appeal and by the singleness of its purpose.”But before he can find solace and stability in the Unconscious depths, he must confront whatever lurks beneath it. Thus the emergence of Leggatt from the dark sea immediately invests him with symbolic significance. He is the narrator’s alter ego, an emanation from the Unconscious depths of the mind. The fact that the narrator at first thinks that it is a “headless corpse” is significant: he is afraid of the monsters of his own mind.
The facts that Leggatt arrives naked, a fugitive from law, completely vulnerable, are also significant for thereby he calls for the narrator’s protection and care. The narrator hides Leggatt from the world with great difficulty and in the process learns to hide his Unconscious from the world thereby gaining in confidence and becoming the authority figure the Captain of a ship should be.Light and Darkness play symbolic roles in the narrative suitably coloring the mood of the narration.
Significantly, Leggatt comes from darkness, remains confined in the Captain’s Cabin or in his bathroom in darkness and finally escapes into the dark landmass of Koh-ring, thereby underlining his symbolic nature. Most of the narrator’s communication with Leggatt takes place as whispers in darkness as they lay side by side. In fact, the approach to Koh-ring is explicitly likened by the narrator to the gates of Erebus, the dark place under the earth according to Greek mythology. On the other hand it is the ‘evanescent glimpse of (the) white hat’ that helps the narrator to steer the ship to the world of light.4. Discuss the major characters in the novel and elaborate on Conrad’s method of characterization.
The major characters in Conrad’s novella include the Captain/narrator, Leggatt, Captain Archbold, the First Mate, the Second Mate and the Steward. The Captain/narrator is a young seaman recently given the command of a ship. As the story opens, we find in the narrator a man full of misgivings and given to self-doubt. He is unsure of his authority over the ship and its crew who has been with the ship for the past eighteen months. Being young, he is afraid of being looked down upon by those more experienced than him. His cynical attitude towards his crew is perhaps a mode of self-defense for he fears failure to live up to the idea of a Captain in their eyes. The Captain is also a deeply introspective man and is aware of his inadequacies.
Through sheltering and aiding Leggatt, he resolves his inadequacies for in the process he gains greater self-knowledge.Leggatt has all the gifts of personality, courage and command that the Captain lacks. It is his presence of mind and sailing skills that had shaped Sephora from doom.
He has committed murder and is now an escaped criminal. But even in such circumstances he does not loose his head or the steadiness of his nerves. His resolution to swim on till he sinks feels the reader with awe.
In all these he functions as a mirror for the Captain facilitating his journey of self-realization. However, the character of Leggatt is shrouded in mystery for his role in the story is symbolically potent. He is the Captain’s ‘double’ and at times he seems to exist only in the Captain’s mind.Captain Archbold is a weakling when placed beside Leggatt.
The reader learns that he was whimpering in fear when his ship was in crisis. He thinks it is divine intervention that saved its ship denying Leggatt the due appreciation. His interest in seeing Leggatt punished for the crime might be motivated by his need to hide his failure as a Captain of Sephora.The Chief-mate of the narrator’s ship is a hardened sailor who looks down upon the narrator for his lack of experience.
The narrator is weary of him and he is referred to as “terrible whiskers”, “frightful whiskers” and “terrific whiskers” etc. The Second-mate is the only man in the ship younger than the Captain and yet he is unsure of the narrator’s sailing skills. The narrator has to overcome the opposition and gain the respect of these two characters in order to establish his authority on the ship.The Stewards main function in the narrative is to threaten the narrator with discovery. The narrator is rude and surly towards him because he feels threatened by him.Conrad’s art of characterization is completely indirect. There are no authorial intervention or third-person commentary in the narrative. The reader becomes acquainted with the narrator through his own words and to the other characters as and when the narrator encounters them.
The characterization is therefore completely subjective as we only have the narrator’s impressions and since the narrator’s impressions are ruled by the kind of relationship he has with others.5. In a developed response, state whether or not you think Leggatt committed murder.Although, both the narrator and Leggatt, under different circumstances tries to hint at the possibility that the death of Leggatt’s mate might be the consequence of the storm that was raging, or might simply be an accident, there is not enough evidence in the story to pin down on such an interpretation. On the other hand, there are ample statements made to support the fact that it is Leggatt’s hands that has killed the man. Leggatt himself says “It’s clear that I meant business, because I was holding him by the throat still when they picked us up.
He was black in the face.” The Captain of Sephora affirms, “No man killed by the sea ever looked like that.” In fact, even Leggatt does not make any comment countering this statement although he insists that it was he who had set up the foresail and thereby saved the ship.
Thus, given that it is Leggatt, who had killed the mate, another question poses itself: committed under such unusual circumstances, whether the act amounts to a murder. Leggatt killed the man under unusual circumstances in a fit of rage. He is not a killer in cold blood. Moreover, his actions under the unusual circumstances saved the ship and the life of all its crew. All these go in favor of Leggatt. On the other hand however, we find that Leggatt has no repentance for his act.
He almost claims that the man deserved to die for his insolence: “Miserable devils that have no business to live at all”. This aspect of his character makes him a dangerous man, a man who is capable of committing murder again. Though the narrator is too ready to forgive him and thinks Leggatt is “no homicidal ruffian”, from simply an ethical point of view one must admit that Leggatt did commit murder.
Thus, despite all his skills as a sailor, Leggatt is a murderer.6. Who or what is the secret sharer as it relates to the narrator-captain?It is Leggatt who is the Captain’s secret sharer referred to in the title. On the literal level, it is simply because he and the Captain shares a secret among them that no one else know.
On the deeper psychological level the two share between them much more than a secret; they share each other’s thoughts, experiences, each other’s mind in fact. As the narrator says in the concluding line of the novella, Leggatt is the “secret sharer of (his) cabin and of (his) thoughts, as though he were (his) second self…”. This instinctive connection between the two, the Captain and Leggatt, is apparent from the very beginning of their encounter. Even before any secret is shared, the Captain feels “a mysterious communication is established” between them, and as Leggatt puts on the Captain’s clothes, he sees in Leggatt his own ‘double’. He has no need to listen to Leggatt’s story, feeling instinctively that he knew the other man’s experience intimately: “I saw it going on as though I were myself inside that other sleeping suit.
” This mysterious connection between these two men only deepens as the narrative progresses, and as they spend time in the cabin together communicating in whispers in the darkness, the Captain thinks, “Anybody would have taken him for me.” Leggatt, thus shares with the Captain, not only a secret, or the cabin, or the identical sleeping suit, or the white cap or the three guineas, but also his very mind. Leggatt is the Captain’s alter ego.7.
In a “reaction” essay, state whether or not you consider “The Secret Sharer” a great work of literature.Great literature, apart from satisfying us with its aesthetic splendor, opens us up to new thoughts, new ideas and experiences through an imaginative exploration of the world around us. Great literature arouses the mind to new knowledge about our world as well as ourselves. Conrad’s novella, The Secret Sharer meets all these criteria of great literature, for in addition to being aesthetically brilliant, it takes us on a veritable journey into the dark depths of the human Unconscious.By narrating the complexity of the relationship between the Captain and Leggatt, Conrad problematizes any simplified understanding of the alter ego as the direct opposite of the ego, or the Unconscious as the polar opposite of the Conscious mind.
Thereby he provides fresh perspectives into that genre of literature that was inspired by the advances in the field of psychoanalysis. Furthermore, through the tale, Conrad also questions the validity of our moral and ethical norms and tests the very boundaries of their applicability. Leggatt’s story as well as the course of the action the narrator chooses opens up the reader’s mind to new thoughts by providing the reader with an experience that is not so easy to pass judgment on.Last but not the least, Conrad’s novella is an artistic masterpiece if only because of the author’s brilliant prose. Conrad is deft at the art of creating moods through his narrative technique. In this particular work, Conrad’s prose aptly communicates the narrator’s state of mind at every point in the tale thereby making the experience all the more powerful for the reader. Conrad displays his magical ability to evoke the mood of a tempest-tossed psyche, a mood in which even the deepest symbolic significances of his tale can rise to the surface with ease and without threatening the verisimilitude.
At the beginning of the story the reader almost physically feels the oppressive mood that makes the narrator restless; later on in the tale one can sense through the style of narration the nervous frenzy that grips the narrator every time his secret is threatened with discovery. If all these are taken into account Conrad’s The Secret Sharer surely joins the ranks of the great works of literature.Works Cited:Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990.—. Lord Jim. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.
—. The Secret Sharer. Project Gutenberg. January 9, 2006. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/220/220.txt March 6, 2009.