Secret Sharer

Secret Sharer Summary and Analysis of Part II


The second part of the book begins with the captain of the Sephora, Captain Archbold, coming aboard. The narrator describes the other skipper as having thin red whiskers, and being almost afraid of what he was requesting. Refusing the captain's offer of liquor, he accepts water and tells the captain "it's been tiring work - searching the islands around my ship." Politely and inquisitively, the captain inquires why. The other skipper answers him, but in a muted voice and in order for his double to hear every word, the captain of the nameless ship tells his visitor that he is hard of hearing. After Captain Archbold recounts the details of the murder, the captain tries to justify the action, claiming that maybe the sea killed the man. In response, Captain Archbold sticks his tongue out at his host and claimed that if he had seen the sight, he would never forget it as long as he lived. Trying to justify his doubles action, the captain volunteers "that reefed foresail save you." While the opposing captain concedes this, he also claims that it was not Leggatt's work but God's hand that helped him put the sail in the morning.

Trying once more, from a different angle, the captain volunteers that "you were very anxious to give up your mate to the shore people, I believe?" Indeed, Captain Archbold claimed, he was, to the law, after 37 virtuous years at sea he had some obligation. The captain then volunteers even more information, that he was not responsible for engaging the murderer and he never did like him. The captain then concedes that he must report a suicide, because there is no possible that the man could have reached land.

From this point, Captain Archbold increased his questioning, pointing out that it was only approximately a two mile swim to the captain's boat. At this point in the two men's conversation, the captain takes Captain Archbold on a detailed search of the ship, staring with the bathroom and including every room on board. Disappointed, the captain leaves the ship and as he is going down the same ladder that Laggard ascended he stops, questions again, but then returns to his own ship. After he leaves, the mates tell the captain that they have heard of the horrid affair, it is worse than things they hear happen on Yankee ships. With the conclusion of this conversation, the captain realizes that he can confide in no one on his ship.

Before the captain can find out much more from the stranger, a mate comes to tell him that there is enough wind for the ship to set sail. Excitedly, the captain rushes upstairs and launches the boat. From there, during the sail there were certain scares on board. One day, the steward was surprised to see the captain near the pantry because he was sure that he had just heard him in his cabin. For the most part, the "double" stayed in the captain's bathroom, dressed in the gray sleeping suit, for the majority of the day, because the two determined that this was the safest place. Discovery, however, hung like "swords above their heads" at all times, the biggest threat being the steward. One day, the steward went to the captain's room to hang up his coat in the bathroom. The captain, naturally, is terrified of the steward's discovering the secret man in his quarters but because Leggatt was able to duck far enough into the bath tub to escape detection. After this close call, approximately the fourth day the man had been on board, the double tells the captain that he must end this and he wishes to be marooned on the islands near the ship. At first, the captain protests him leaving but realizes that this is merely selfish desire to have his double there. In the end, he agrees but he argues that he should not leave until the night after because he will be able to get closer to the land. After settling on this course of events, the double proclaims that it is very nice that someone finally understands him.

At midnight, the captain turned the ship around and headed towards land, much to his mate's surprise. As they get closer and closer to the rocky islands, the crew is surprised by the captain's decision but the captain attributes it to trying to take advantage of the land breezes. Finding Koh-ring, what the captain believes to be an inhabited island, he sets the ship to come as close to the island as possible in order to give his double the best chance possible. The captain then orders that the quarter-deck ports be opened, in order to eventually smuggle his secret self into a sail locker, which communicates with the lobby of the boat. In the lobby, there is an opening that connects directly with the quarter-deck and which is never closed in good weather. When the ship is still, Leggatt will have ample opportunity to escape from the port using a rope to lower himself into the water, thereby avoiding a splash.

After supper, the captain returns to his quarters nad pronounces it dark enough to begin the plan. Exchanging their last whispers, the captain gives him most of the money he has onboard (only keeping enough to buy fruit and vegetable for the crew from native boats in the Sunda Straits). Telling the steward to retrieve hot water from the galley, the captain buys time for Leggatt to sneak past the stairs and into the sail locker. As the double enters the sail locker, the captain retired his floppy hat from his head and gave it to his other self. The crew is extremely worried as the captain tries to get the ship as close as possible to land. As the captain is trying desperately to keep his ship from sailing too close to the rocks, he seeks something to throw into the water to see which way the ship is moving. Suddenly, he sees something white on the black water, his floppy hat. As the narrator related "And I watched the hat - the expression of my sudden pity for his mere flesh. It has been meant to save his homeless head from the dangers of the sun. And no‹behold‹it was saving the ship, by serving me for a mark to help[ out the ignorance of my strangeness." In the end, the captain saves the ship and steers he on the proper direction, and he watches his hat, something that marks the place that "a free man, a proud swimmer," begins "striking out for a new destiny."


At the beginning of Part II, the theme of duality is once again continued, as menaces continue to plague the captain, his secret sharer, and the ship. The attack from within - the disabling awareness of duality in the captain's cabin, the sanctum of command - is intensified by the invasion from outside the ship. The skipper of the Sephora comes aboard in a suspicious and doubting mood. In this role, he is the dramatic projection of the chief mate of the ship who "liked to account to himself' for any departure from normal ship life. Such a quality menaces the not only the status, but also the sanity, of the captain. Captain Archbold joins the hostile officers aboard and prowls through the ship; even searching the cabin, in vain. His actions, however, are not fruitless but serve to widen the area of stress. The entire ship is now aware of the situation - a larger society has become involved. The third and most insidious menace invades the captain when, after Captain Archbold has been shown off of the ship, the ship begins to move. The awareness of the double in his cabin interferes with the commands he must give in order for the ship to operate safely. His seaman's reflexes desert him and he is self-consciously aware that he has no "feel" for the ship. His secretive habits in the cabin carry overtly to relationships with the crew; he catches himself several times reaching up to the mate to whisper a command, to the mate's utter astonishment.

The opening scene of Part II, in which the captain plays host to Archbold with Leggatt hiding a few feet away, also further strengthens loyalties already established. Archbold, skittish and easily out of temper, is a foil to Leggatt and to the captain as well. Throughout the interview, he gives off an air of fussy distraction, and in his most authoritative act sticks out his tongue to imitate the death mask of Leggatt's victim. Archbold's solemnity is contrasted with the playfulness of the captain, who fakes being deaf and happily leads his guest on a futile search of the ship. For a man quick to confess his dislocation, the captain is remarkably self-assured. In a revealing exchange, he catches Archbold distorting his own action during the crisis, claiming more credit than he was due. According the values of the captain, Archbold is clearly the villain of "The Secret Sharer." Personally inadequate against the pressure of the storm, he refuses to admit Leggatt's heroic role and retraces to an unthinking reliance on Providence. Instead of responding flexibly to the exceptional circumstances of the murder, he becomes increasingly more rigid and more mystical. Archbod's failure of imagination, his inability to see that the moment called for charity not intransigence, testifies to the correctness and decency of the captain's response.

Clearly, the person of Leggatt is central to the story, and extremely symbolic. In one reading of "The Secret Sharer," Leggatt represents a lawless, subrational side of the self which may lie dormant until some moment of moral stress, and then must somehow be encountered. This is revealed to the reader through many ways. The first point that emphasizes this is Leggatt's utter lack of rationality (contrary to the Captain's descriptions of him as Œintelligent' and Œsane'). In his own element, the fishlike Leggatt loses even the appearance of rationality: "With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back immersed right up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow . .. He was complete but for the head. A headless corpse!" If Leggatt symbolically lacks a head, as this description and his name imply, then there is little surprise in his finding the narrator's hat useless when at the end of the story he returns to his native element.

The notion of subrationality is confirmed by other imagery throughout the short story - not only is Leggatt "fish-like;" he is also like a terrier or its jungle counterpart ("I had him by the throat,'" Leggatt tells the narrator, "'and went on shaking him like a rat'") and a "wild beast." The notion of a regressive animalism, for example, is implied both in Leggatt's unflagging appetite and in his instinctive alertness; "I had to shake him for a solid minute, but when at last he opened his eyes it was in the full possession of his senses." His processes of decision are distinctly subrational: "I just took it not my own hands and went away from him, boiling'"; and the narrator formulates a significant distinction in his description of Leggatt's Œthinking out" his escape from the Sephora: a stubborn if not a steadfast operation." Leggatt himself recognizes the impulsive qualities of his motives: "I strolled out on the quarterdeck. I don't know that I meant to do anything . . .Then a sudden temptation came over me. I kicked off my slippers and was in the water before I had made up my mind fairly." When Leggatt finally makes his departure, he returns to the two archetypal life sources standard in all of Conrad's fiction: the sea, and the heart of darkness (Koh-ring, a "towering fragment of the everlasting night" among islands "unknown to trade, to travel, almost to geography").

There are two or three details within the text that support the above reading of Leggatt as subrational. Leggatt's language, as the narrator descries it, relates him to a deep primitive (such as the finally inarticulate Kurtz in Heart of Darkness): "He told me the story roughly in brusque, disconnected sentences." On his first appearance, Leggatt too, of course, is "mute." This subrational and even subconceptual status explains Leggatt's resistance to the anxiety that grips the narrator; since insanity is by definition a disruption of rationality, Leggatt cannot be susceptible to it; there was "something unyielding in his character," the narrator reports, "there was no agitation in his whisper." Leggatt is "sane" and "intelligent" - or appears so, to the distracted narrator - only because the opposites of these terms have no meaning when applied to him.

The subrational interpretation, however, is distinct from saying that Leggatt is merely a "criminal" self and a predominantly negative influence on the captain, something that distorts Leggatt's significance. He demonstrates, as noted above, the irrational or instinctive elements in human nature but they can be a source of strength as well as weakness, good as well as evil. Recognizing this ambiguity, the captain understands how "the same strung-up force which had given twenty-four men a chance, at least, for their lives, had, in a sort of recoil, crushed an unworthy mutinous existence." Leggatt's effect on the captain is similarly ambiguous, but ultimately, probably more positive than negative.

In this reading, therefore, in the end, the "Secret Sharer" is a story of integration, rather than conflict and repression. To "subdue" Leggatt would be a mistake; the narrator must instead fuse Leggatt's subrational personality with his own rational and civilized one, to emerge as a conceptually imperfect but effective moral agent. It is not that the Captain cannot be commander of his ship until Leggatt has left it, but rather that until he has made his full and active practical commitment to Leggatt - risked everything to guarantee Leggatt's freedom and survival, instead of his repression - he cannot feel the self-assurance and practical force necessary to command either himself or his ship. In the conclusion of the story, therefore, the Captain fuses his dual nature, and in so doing so makes the destructive part of himself serve his ideal ends.

The more common reading of Leggatt, however, is discussed and analyzed in part 1. This theory holds that the presence of Leggatt is nightmarish not because he makes the captain aware of any inadequacy or wrongness in his ideas and beliefs, but rather because the relationship between them is itself an objective correlative so such knowledge. In "The Secret Sharer," unlike in Heart of Darkness, the whole of the narrator's strangeness has been so completely embodied in the person of Leggatt that it can seemingly be gotten rid of.

Leggatt can, in fact, be marooned on one of the islands that fringe the Gulf of Siam. But the captain feels that he cannot do this easily, thus representing that he cannot be rid of Leggatt easily. Although he knows that he may be endangering his ship by taking such a risk, he feels that, as he says, "It was now a matter of conscience to have the land as close as possible." Clearly, it is not physical considerations alone which determine this need; Leggatt can obviously swim very well. It seems, rather, that the captain feels that to exorcise his other self he must ran as close to disaster as possible, knowing all the time, as he says that "all my future, the only future for which I was fit, would perhaps go irretrievably to pieces in any mishap to my first command." Thus, finally the narrator and Leggatt are separated; even the hat which the captain thrusts on the fugitive's head falls off in the water and acts as a mark by which he can gauge the progress of the ship.

After the captain leaves the ship, but before Leggatt leaves the ship, the self-division within the captain is significant, but not as significant as many critics write. The comic quality of this action is also important to note. The adventures that throw the Captain into fits of nervous anxiety are hardly sinister. He startles the steward who thought he had been below and then sends him around the ship on incomprehensible errands. These actions, far from life and death, almost remind one of a horror movie and not the dreaded actions that the narrator describes.

The symbol of the white hat at the end of the book is obviously extremely important and powerful, as alluded to above. The hat itself is a symbol of good, of the captain's pity and mercy for "his other self." The item also represents the physical parting of the two men, who have throughout the story fused into one (even the grammar eventually refers to Leggatt and the captain as one person, and the name Leggatt is used very infrequently throughout the book). The hat was the pinnacle of this language and the captain's identification with his secret self: when he justifies giving the hat to Leggatt he says "I saw myself wandering barefooted, bareheaded, the sun beating on my dark poll. I snatched off my floppy had and tried hurriedly in the dark to ram it on my other self." That he leaves the hat is significant, because it symbolizes the parting between the two. More significantly, and ironically, however, the hat literally points the way to the Captain's successful maneuvering of his ship to a safe place, an act that insures his acceptance and the salvation of himself, his ship, and all those aboard the ship. The implication, then, could be that by pitying our "dark selves," by accepting and helping them to grow, we help ourselves, forgive ourselves, and enable ourselves to escape their reaches.

After the captain rids himself of his secret sharer, he is a changed man. His feeling of inadequacy has entirely vanished and he takes charge of his ship and crew in full confidence that he can body forth in his own person the full authority that he position he occupies demands. It is as though before the young captain could convincingly exercise authority to himself and to his men, he first had to take the law into his own hands and symbolically flout the authority of those above him before he could exert authority over those under him. In this reading of the book, it is as if symbolically, the captain-narrator stands for the official group while Leggatt stands for the deviant individual. By protecting him from the other members of his group, the narrator takes Leggatt's sin on his own shoulders and thereby admits not only his own moral complicity but that of society as well.]