The symbol of the white hat, at the end of the book, 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 captain and Leggatt, 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.
These suits, which both the captain and the "secret self" wear, represent the place where the "dark self" and the self communicate. Their color, gray, further emphasizes the gray area where the conscious and the subconscious meet. Furthermore, these symbolic pieces of clothing are important because they clothe the two different men identically. That they are associated with sleeping and the night, adds to the dream-like effect of the captain's encounter with "the secret self." The association with the night also emphasizes the "darker self" or the subconscious that Leggatt represents.
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. Another similar reading holds that Leggatt represents the subconscious that is buried deep within all. This function 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 intelligent' and sane'). 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. Also, the fact that he was a naked swimmer when he was discovered, is of importance, because that symbolizes that he is stripped to his basic substance, in his native element, the water. However, because his color is "pale" and he is immersed in " a greenish cadaverous glow," in Conrad's terms means that he is generally an evil person (the pale' and lack of color), however, the light coming from him indicates the possibility of something good evolving from him in the end, that is, the captain's maturation.
One of the important, but subtle, symbols within the first part of the story is the scorpion that the chief mate finds in his cabin. In the story, the mysterious creature causes the mate much speculation as why it chose his particular cabin and drowned itself in his inkwell. As the story progresses, the same questions can be applied to Leggatt, as the scorpion in the mate's cabin and Leggatt in the Captain's cabin are similar - they are dangerous, they come from places that are far removed from the boat, and they hide in cabins. The scorpion, therefore, symbolizes the future intrusion of Leggatt on the ship and within the captain's cabin. The mate's speculation concerning the scorpion, however, can also be applied to Leggatt - it is not that he has chosen specifically the captain, but he is a more universal symbol of the subconscious and "darker self" that plagues everyone, everywhere.
Captain Archbold, as discussed in the character summaries, represents the law and the irony between doing what is right and obey the law. His unwillingness to be flexible concerning the extenuating circumstances around the murder that Leggatt commits shows the difference between the law and doing what is right.
Nameless captain and ship
The nameless captain and ship is surprising in this story is surprising, given the fact that they are the central figures on the book. They, therefore, are symbolic of the universality of the tale. The captain is every man and the ship is the journey that every man must make. By leaving these key elements of the story nameless, Conrad emphasizes that each of us has a dark side that we must confront at sometime on life's path.
Secret Sharer Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Secret Sharer is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.