The Shadow Line

The Mark of Maturity in Conrad's Shadow Line

A succession of men had sat in that chair. I became aware of that thought suddenly, vividly, ...as if a sort of composite soul, the soul of command, had whispered suddenly to mine of long days at sea and of anxious moments. âYou, too!â? it seemed to say, âyou, too, shall taste of that peace and that unrest in a searching intimacy with your own self...â? Deep within the tarnished ormolu frame...I saw my own face propped between my hands. And I stared back at myself with the perfect detachment of distance, rather with curiosity than with any other feeling, except of some sympathy for this latest representative of what...was a dynasty; continuous not in blood, indeed, but in its experience, in its training, in its conception of duty, and in the blessed simplicity of its traditional point of view on life. p. 52-53

The narrator here, just aboard his first command, understands fully the magnitude of his position as captain. He is not merely a man responsible for the safe passage of a ship through the Eastern seas; he is the embodiment of a tradition, a representative of a long line of like men whose sole purpose was to uphold that tradition. It is only through self-reflection, a major theme of this work, that the narrator can...

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