Autodidact: self-taught


The Secret Sharer pt 2

by V. L. Craven

Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” is an excellent suspenseful short story. A captain of a ship, very new to the job and unsure of his place with the crew, takes onboard a man from a nearby ship who’s killed another man. The captain of that boat comes looking for the castaway in order to bring him to justice on land. The narrator and the murderer look very much alike (and at times I wondered if they were the same person), which is where the title comes from. The two men spend a lot of time together, whispering in the captain’s room.

The story is about man’s place amongst other men, but, more importantly, his place within himself. The castaway is a metaphor for the captain–he feels alone on the ship, as though he’s just been thrown aboard. He only feels safe to be himself in his room, particularly at night when he’s not expected to be out and about giving orders. And up until the last couple of sentences one doesn’t know if he’ll be caught and sent to shore (shown to be a weak captain) or if he’ll escape/prove himself.

Aside from the plot, the writing is beautiful. An example:

And in the same whisper, as if we two whenever we talked had to say things to each other which were not fit for the world to hear…

It was also full of Existentialist concepts/references:

His expression was concentrated, meditative, under the inspecting light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man thinking hard in solitude might wear.

And yet, haggard as he appeared, he looked always perfectly self-controlled, more than calm–almost invulnerable.

“He was one of those creatures that are just simmering all the time with a silly sort of wickedness. Miserable devils that have no business to live at all.”

The first two quotes are about being self-sufficient–a being separate from humanity. In a way, that’s also what the third quote is about–how there are people who are morally superior to others by dint of intelligence and disposition and the others wouldn’t be missed if they hopped it.

“The Secret Sharer” is available here from Project Gutenberg.

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