Secret Sharer

Secret Sharer Study Guide

In 1909, ten years after the publication of Heart of Darkness, except for the revision of his first story, "The Black Mate," Joseph Conrad had not written a short work since the spring of 1907. Without warning, he received a visit from Captain C. M. Marris, recently returned from the Malay Seas. As Conrad explained to Pinker,

"It was like the raising of a lot of dead - dead to me, because most of them live out there and even read my books and wonder who the devil has been around taking notes. My visitor told me that Johsua Lingard made the guess: "It must have been the follow was mate in the Vidar with Craig." That's me right enough. And the best of it is that all these men of 22 years ago feel kindly to the Chronicler of their lives and adventures. They shall have some more of the stories they like.

This liberating moment forced Conrad to write about his personal memories for the first time since he finished another story. Conrad claims, however, that the incident that he based The Secret Sharer on is true, happening on a vessel cruising in the Far East. Going further, in letters about the story, he claimed he often saw the Captain when he was ashore in an English seaport.

Like much of Conrad's other work, "The Secret Sharer" is deeply interpersonal. Because both of Conrad's parents died during his childhood, he was a sad child, something that plagued his adult life. His works, therefore, often deal with a lonely person who is cut off from his fellow man, as the captain is in "The Secret Sharer." Obviously, the story belongs in the nature of the interests displayed and in some similarities of treatment to the same phase of writing as "Heart of Darkness,' Lord Jim and Nostromo. This story, however, marks the end of this period. The previous works show the central character confronted by some ?deadly incubus.' From this knowledge or from these relationships there is no escape; in the nature of the case that no solution of the problems is possible. The narrator of ?the Secret Sharer' is similarly faced by the realization of a bond between him and Leggatt, but he finds a solution; at the end of the story he frees himself from the haunting presence of his ?other self.' Among critics, the story has stimulated much controversy, especially regarding the meaning of the obvious symbols in the book. Perhaps unlike any of Joseph Conrad's other works, The Secret Sharer is definitely a work that has elements of modernity. The language, especially the use of dialogue that is cut off from the rest of the paragraph and the clear concise sentences is unlike his other works, especially Heart of Darkness.

The scenario in The Secret Sharer should be viewed in the context of the late-Victorian preoccupation with the "true self," "the better self," or the "higher self." Although Freud and Jung had made psychoanalysis an important concept by the time Conrad wrote "The Secret Sharer" in 1909, Western psychology had long been promulgating ?the war in the member," assisted by literary precursors such as Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; people had polarized the individual personality into sharply defined dualisms; good versus evil, head versus heart, conscious will versus sub- or unconscious drives. Conrad exploits this dichotomizing tendency to full advantage in this short story.