Secret Sharer in Joseph Conrad's Short Story Essay

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Secret Sharer

In Joseph Conrad's short story "The Secret Sharer," a young unnamed captain strives to prove to both his crew and to himself that he is that both the physical and mental strength to lead them and keep them alive. At the heart of the story is this internal conflict. The captain holds a high opinion of the title to which he has been promoted and yet he is uncertain whether or not he has earned that title. He knows that being the captain of a vessel requires a man to become the best version of himself: intelligent, disciplined, forthright, and dedicated to the fulfillment of duty and to the protection of his men. In his encounter with the fugitive Leggatt, the captain shows himself willing to commit acts that are counter to the code of ethics of the high seas so long as they happen to agree with his own set of personal ethics. This proves him to be an effective captain because he shows that he is capable of acts of extreme bravery and is also willing to abandon the rules of the naval fleet if they do not agree with what he believes to be the right or wrong things to do.

Early on in the story, the captain defines himself as both young and inexperienced. He says the he is "the youngest man on board (barring the second mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest responsibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of the others for granted" (Conrad 7). This illustrates that not only is the captain inexperienced in terms of his performance on the sea, he is inexperienced in life. He has not yet faced the types of challenges of his older counterparts. From the outset, the reader expects the captain to be ill-equipped to accept the challenges of a life at sea.

The first step the captain takes towards achieving individual perspective and leadership skills is when he makes the decision to allow Leggatt aboard the ship, despite his misgivings and the fact that the man is nude. He feels that this was the right decision and Leggatt functions as a turning point for the captain. Here he not only decides to take an action which is against the strict code of conduct of the navy, but also makes the first of the steps towards an individualized system of ethics. For example, of Leggatt the narrator says, "The self-possession of that man had somehow induced a corresponding state in myself" (Conrad 17). Thus, by choosing to save Leggatt, the captain actually saves himself.

The captain makes the executive decision to hide Leggatt, first from his crew and then from Captain Archibald. Leggatt is legally guilty of a murder. During a raucous storm, one of the other members of the crew behaved insubordinately. In an unfortunate set of circumstances, Leggatt killed the insubordinate man and was immediately set upon by the other men aboard the ship for his actions. Leggatt tells the captain, and thus the reader that had his captain, Captain Archibald, done a better job of leading his men and in instilling in them the knowledge of right and wrong, then the death would not have happened. Through this language, the death of the man becomes far more the fault of Captain Archibald than the responsibility of Leggatt. This serves to put the reader on the side of the narrator captain and of Leggatt and firmly adverse to Captain Archibald. The reader does not want to see Leggatt punished for doing something that was out of his control and so the reader applauds the narrator for protecting him. His decision was moral rather than legal and this is what turns the narrator into an effective and benevolent leader.

Through his interactions both with Leggatt and because of Leggatt's presence, the narrator begins to create his identity as a leader. He is more authoritative with his crew, such as when he encounters a man in the pantry. His orders, instead of being marginally followed become iron-clad and eventually none of his crew members would dare defy him, even when his orders seem likely to lead them to…[continue]

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