The Secret Sharer By Joseph Conrad Summary and Analysis Part 2

Summary

The Skipper of the Sephora arrives on board the Captain's ship, looking for any sign of Leggatt. The Skipper is distressed over Leggatt's actions and disappearance, explaining that he has been at sea for thirty-seven years and has never seen anything like what happened with Leggatt.

The Captain offers the Skipper the explanation that perhaps the heavy sea — rather than Leggatt — killed the crewman, but the Skipper tells him that this could not have been the case. He then tells the Captain that he will have to report Leggatt as a suicide.

The Skipper is, however, suspicious of the Captain and remarks that while the mainland is seven miles away, the Captain's ship is only two miles away from the Sephora. To mislead the Skipper, the Captain shows him the rest of his cabin and stateroom, announcing his intention to do so, so that Leggatt will know to remain absolutely still. As the Skipper descends the ladder to return to his ship, he begins to ask the Captain if he suspects Leggatt to be on board, but the Captain quickly dismisses him with, "Certainly not."

The Captain and Leggatt have another secret conversation. Leggatt tells the Captain that the Sephora's Skipper lied when he said that he gave the order to repair the foresail. Rather, he whimpered about their "last hope" while Leggatt repaired the foresail without being told to do so. The Captain, wholly convinced of Leggatt's innocence, understands that the weather, on the night Leggatt killed the crewman, "crushed an unworthy mutinous existence."

Leggatt's presence in the Captain's cabin causes the Captain to constantly think of him, and the Chief Mate and the helmsman notice the Captain behaving in an odd, stealthy manner. The Captain's tension grows more unbearable. During this time, Leggatt hides mostly in the Captain's bathroom and sleeps with him in his bed. Leggatt eats tins of preserves stored in the Captain's locker and drinks the Captain's morning coffee.

Leggatt asks the Captain to maroon him on a nearby shore, since he will not return to England to be tried and hung. The Captain initially refuses, but then agrees to grant Leggatt his wish.

At midnight, the Captain goes on deck and orders this ship to change its tack and approach the east side of the Gulf. The Chief Mate silently hints at his disapproval and tells the Second Mate that the order shows a lack of judgment. By noon, the Chief Mate wonders when the Captain will order a change of course. However, the Captain tells him that they will be sailing as close to the islands as they can to find some "land breezes" to propel them more quickly than they were moving in the middle of the Gulf. The Chief Mate expresses his shock at this decision.

That night, the Captain tells Leggatt that he will steer the ship near Koh-ring, an island that seems inhabited. The Captain will maneuver the ship to within half a mile of the shore. Leggatt warns him to be careful, lest a mishap cost the Captain his first command.

The Captain returns to the deck and orders the Second Mate to open the quarter-deck ports. He then returns to his cabin and tells Leggatt to escape out of the quarter-deck ports while the rest of the crew is occupied. He also tells him to lower himself to the sea with a rope to avoid a splash. Leggatt grabs the Captain's arm as a silent gesture of thanks.

That night, the Captain visits Leggatt for the last time. He gives him three sovereigns, which Leggatt initially refuses but eventually accepts. Neither man says anything when they separate for the last time.

When the Captain returns to the deck, he is startled by the ship's proximity to the land, but he knows he must maintain this course to help Leggatt escape. He orders the helmsman to continue their course, while the other crewmen stare in disbelief. They approach Koh-ring, and as the ship gets closer to the land, the members of the crew begin vocalizing their concern. The Chief Mate cries that the ship's bottom will be torn off by the land and the helmsman expresses his doubts over the Captain's order to maintain their course.

Although the Captain remains stern to the men, he is filled with doubt about their chances of survival. The dark sky, combined with the shadow of the hills of Koh-ring make navigation very difficult, and the Captain wishes he had some kind of mark in the water by which to gage his steering. Suddenly, he sees a white object in the water within a yard of the ship's side — he recognizes it as his hat, which he gave to Leggatt and which had fallen off his head when he began his swim to shore. The Captain uses this mark to help him steer the ship, which avoids being grounded and steers clear of any further danger. The Captain now feels in perfect command of the ship and his crew. As his ship sails on, he watches his hat disappear from view and thinks of Leggatt, "striking out for a new destiny."

Analysis

Conrad suggests that Leggatt "shares" his better qualities with the Captain; he also uses the Skipper of the Sephora to contrast the kind of captain that the Captain will become at the end of the story. The Sephora's Skipper represents one possible outcome of the Captain's fate, as does Leggatt. The Skipper is a man who hides behind his command, fearful of any damage to his reputation and fearful of his own crew. (The presence of his wife on board may be a hint that the Skipper is more "wimpy" than he should be when commanding the Sephora.) Recall Leggatt's story in Part 1: Although the Skipper knew that Leggatt saved the ship by repairing the foresail, he would not allow this to mitigate Leggatt's punishment because "He was afraid of the men, and also of that old second mate of his." Like the Captain, the Skipper was faced with a second mate who questioned his command — but unlike the Captain during the episode at Koh-ring, he is too afraid of looking foolish in front of others to give any order that may seem questionable. The Skipper also lies to the Captain about the foresail, saying he ordered its repair, when in fact Leggatt was responsible for doing the job and saving the Sephora. Fearful of giving any credit to Leggatt, the Skipper lies to mask his own lack of foresight, seamanship, and conviction. He also tells the Captain that he "never liked" Leggatt — but according to Leggatt, the Skipper was unable to meet his eyes when visiting him in his cabin, suggesting the guilt felt by the Skipper over arresting Leggatt for a technical, yet accidental, crime. The kind of command practiced by the Skipper is exactly what Leggatt helps the Captain avoid.

Part 2 also marks the Captain's growing bravery, which is contrasted with the Skipper's cowardice. When speaking to the Skipper, the Captain tells him he is hard of hearing so that the Skipper will speak loud enough for Leggatt to hear him; and he deftly handles the Skipper's attempts at prying information about Leggatt out of him. Note that as the Captain continues risking his command for Leggatt, their relationship takes a physical toll on him: He stealthily paces the decks, startles the steward, and must force himself to adopt the "unconscious alertness" required of all able seamen. While Leggatt teaches the Captain what makes a good commander, the lessons are exhausting and trying. As the Captain says, this period is "an infinitely miserable time."

Leggatt himself becomes even more unreal in the second half of the story. During the scene where the steward almost discovers Leggatt in the Captain's bathroom, the Captain wonders if Leggatt is "not visible to other eyes" than his own. He forms an "irresistible doubt" of Leggatt's bodily existence and even compares keeping the secret to being haunted. Even Leggatt is aware of his ghost-like status when he tells the Captain, "It would never do for me to come to life again." Unlike the keeper of a haunted house, however, the Captain is haunted by his other self, which is by the presence of a man who, the Captain comes to realize, embodies the part of him that needs to be revealed if he is to mature as a commander and not become a doddering coward, such as the Skipper of the Sephora.

This crucial distinction is made clear to the Captain when Leggatt tells him that he must maroon him. At first, the Captain resists, stating that they "are not living a boy's adventure story" and that such a plan is absurd. Leggatt, ever the teacher, tells the Captain that he thought he had "understood thoroughly," which makes the Captain consider the shaping of his own personality.

Being able to recognize his own cowardice frees the Captain from acquiring the cowardice so obvious in the Skipper of the Sephora.

The Captain's maneuvering of the ship at Koh-ring stands as the ultimate test of his newly discovered traits. At first, the Chief Mate questions his decision to "stand right in," that is, to take the ship close to the islands to pick up the land breezes. "Bless my soul!" the Chief Mate cries. "Do you mean, sir, in the dark amongst the lot of all them islands and reefs and shoals?" The Captain finds a new assurance in his voice (unlike when first speaking to Leggatt) and says, "It's got to be Koh-ring." This assurance is even more pronounced when he is questioned by the Second Mate about opening the quarter-deck ports and responds, "The only reason you need concern yourself about is because I tell you to do so." Earlier in Part 2, the Captain notices Leggatt's complete sanity, and it is this sanity, or ability to remain level-headed in times of distress, that the Captain has effectively "borrowed" from Leggatt.

The Captain and Leggatt's parting conveys the degree to which each man has assisted the other. The Captain tells Leggatt, "I hope I have understood," to which Leggatt replies, "You have. From first to last." Like a student at a graduation ceremony, the Captain receives his "diploma" from his teacher, Leggatt. The men are then silent as Leggatt grasps his savior's arm. They have grown close enough that words would only be superfluous.

The story's final scene reflects the degree to which the Captain has changed due to his relationship with Leggatt. The Captain's words to his crew become more forceful and direct. Strong commands, such as, "Keep her full," "Don't check her way," "Turn all hands up," and "Be quiet," pepper his speech, and when the Chief Mate babbles in fear (like the Skipper of the Sephora), the Captain grabs his arm and shakes it "violently." Although he, too, is afraid to look at the land, he refuses to betray his own doubts to the men he commands.

When he sees his white hat floating in the sea, left by Leggatt as he began his swim to safety, the Captain is able to steer the ship away from the island and back into safer waters. The fact that the Captain's own hat serves as his mark reiterates the idea that Leggatt is that "secret" part of himself that even he did not know existed. After the ship moves out of danger, the Captain feels "the perfect communion of a seaman with his first command." As he thinks of Leggatt being free, the proud swimmer striking out on a new destiny, these words apply to the Captain as well. The Captain is now free from his own timidity; he is proud, as he metaphorically swims to his future as a commander; and he is striking out on a new destiny as well as a man who has discovered a previously hidden part of himself.

Glossary

bo's'n phonetic spelling of "boatswain," a ship's warrant officer or petty officer in charge of the deck crew, the rigging, anchors, boats, and so on.

campstool a lightweight, folding stool.

Cambodge Cambodian.

What does the Bible say? 'Driven from the face of the earth.' in the story of Cain and Abel, Cain complains he will be "driven from the face of the earth" for the murder of his brother.

Koh-ring the prefix "Koh" connotes an island; the island of Koh-ring is Conrad's creation.

Cochin-China historic region and former French colony in Southeast Indochina; the southern part of Vietnam.

that unplayful cub the second mate; a "cub" is an inexperienced, awkward youth.

Sunda Straits straits running between a group of islands in the Malay Archipelago, consisting of two smaller groups; Greater Sunda Islands (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, and small nearby islands) and Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali and islands stretching east through Timor).

a bark of the dead floating in slowly under the very gate of Erebus a boat leading departed souls to Erebus, the dark place under the earth where the dead pass before entering Hades, according to Greek mythology.

mainyard the lowest yard on the mainmast (the principal mast of a vessel),from which the mainsail is set. (A "yard" is a slender rod or spar, tapering toward the ends and fastened at right angles across a mast to support a sail.)

taffrail the rail around the stern of a ship. (The "stern" is the back end of a ship.)

the poop on sailing ships, a raised deck at the stern, sometimes forming the roof of a cabin.

"She's round" the ship has passed around the land and is clear of danger.

foreyards the lowest yards on the foremast (the mast nearest the bow, or front, of a ship), from which the foresail is set. (A "yard" is a slender rod or spar, tapering toward the ends and fastened at right angles across a mast to support a sail.)

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