An Analysis of "The Secret Sharer" by Joseph Conrad
For the purpose of clarity I will define Alienation as being transferred from within to without, or no longer being a part. Joseph Conrad, in his short story "The Secret Sharer," uses the relationship between the characters of the Captain and Legatt to emphasize the theme of alienation.
The Captain uses Legatt's alienation to help cure his own feelings of alienation from his new ship and crew. The Captain's cure fits into a neat little recipe, the ingredients include a dash of identification with Legatt, a tad of carrying Legatt's burden, and a pinch of laying his own burden upon Legatt.
The Captain knew from the beginning that he was a stranger to the ship and the crew. He also knew that such isolation could lead to complications at sea.
He offered to take the first night watch to familiarize himself with the ship. During his watch he found Legatt hanging on a ladder.
From the moment that Legatt stood on the deck, the Captain's instincts told him that he could use Legatt to heal himself from his own alienation by identifying with Legatt's alienation.
The Captain did not consciously organize his cure, he was simply following his instincts of survival.
First, the Captain begins to relate to Legatt as his double.
"It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a sombre and immense mirror."
He also states that, "He appealed to me as if our experiences had been identical as our clothes."
The Captain distorts his relationship with Legatt, as if Legatt was his twin brother.
After hearing Legatt's tale, the Captain hides Legatt in his chambers and offers him clothing and a chance to wash.
"...He would think he was seeing double, or imagine himself come upone a scene of weird witchcraft; the strange captain hacing a quiet confabulationby the wheel with his own grey ghost."
Tha Captain insists that Legatt is his double and even though Legatt is a stranger the Captain identifies himself with Legatt's alienation to the point of absurdity.
This bond that was formed between the two men helped the Captain deal with his own alienation. The captain then began to carry Legatt's burden.
The initial burden that the Captain takes on is that of hiding Legatt from the authorities and the crew. This act could have cost him his command and a possible court-marshall.
Conrad does not mention that the Captain was hiding Legatt on principle. He describes to the reader that the Captain was actually helping Legatt to make himself feel better about his own position in the ship.
"But on the whole I felt less torn in two when I was with him. There was no one in the whole ship whom I dared to take into my confidences...everything was against us in our secret partnership."
The Captain's crew begin to become afraid of him and his strange behaviour. They do not understand why he spends so much time in his cabin and why he is so secretive.
"There were the scares. On the second day out, for instance...He was doing something there with his back to me. At the sound of my voice he nearly jumped out of his skin..."
He then explains the terror he felt when the steward demanded to put away his coat in the bathing room where Legatt was supposedly hiding.
He experiences negative reactions from the crew, yet he continues.
The Captain risks his life, his ship, and the lives of his fellow shipmates by freeing Legatt.
He almost careens the ship into the rocks on the shoreline of Cambodia, so Legatt would only have to swim a few miles to shore.
With a good gust of wind the ship could have been thrown up against the rocks or stranded. He forces his crew to continue to bring the ship closer to the Cambodian shore.
The First-Mate cracks under the pressure, yet the Captain stands strong and Legatt is freed.
He poured his alienation onto the shoulders of Legatt by symbolically handing over his hat to him, and turning the ship around without any casualities.
Now that Legatt is gone, Conrad shows the reader that the Captain has a sudden awareness of the process he had undergone with Legatt and this helps him to find a firm hold on his position with the crew.
The transfer of the hat from the Captain to Legatt is described by the Captain as an emotional transfer.
"I saw myself wandering bare-footed, bare-headed, the sun beating on my dark poll. I snatched off my floppy hat and tried hurriedly in the dark to ram it on my other self."
Legatt accepts the hat after this transaction.
The Captain describes the hat as being needed for protection against the environment. He no longer needed the protection provided by the hat since he had cured himself from his alienation through Legatt.
He had given all his isolation and loneliness to Legatt with the hat.
The Captain then saves the ship from the shores of Cambodia.
This last act solidifies his position on the ship, and also solidifies the respect of his crew.
"And I was alone with her. Nothing! No one in the world should stand now between us, throwing a shadow on the way of silent knowledge and mute affection, the perfect communion of a seamen with his first command."
Joseph Conrad in his short story "The Secret Sharer" tackles the problem of alienation by showing how the Captain uses Legatt to conquer his own feeling of alienation.
The Captain realized how the threat of alienation, to command a vessel out at sea, starts his drive for survival.
The Captains instincts concoct a cure by identifying with Legatt's alienation, carrying the burden of Legatt's alienation, and then giving Legatt his own burden of alienation.
In the end the Captain has found himself free from his worry. He compares himself to Legatt by saying...
"...a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for a new destiny."
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