Secret Sharer Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Secret Sharer: Metaphor Analysis

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Water, especially a large body of water, has long been associated with the unconscious. In the alchemical tradition, the esoteric set of beliefs and practices that preceded the emergence of the modern science of chemistry, it was believed that a human being could give birth to a higher person residing within the soul. As the famous psychologist, Carl Jung, suggested, the symbolic second birth of a Spirit embryo could be brought about through a deepening of consciousness. This is close to what happens symbolically in “The Secret Sharer.” One dark night when the forlorn, frightened Captain looks out at the lonely stretch of dark water, he spies a naked man hanging on to a rope from the side of his ship and pulls him up from the water onto the deck. In this regard, the Captain reaches down into his unconscious mind and brings forth a “Spirit embryo” which if we consider the nakedness of the man and the rope as an umbilical cord, mimics a birth.  At the end of the story, when the Captain feels no longer lonely and has gained the confidence he needed to take control of the ship from his double, he no longer needs the help of this spirit double, or “second self,” as Conrad writes, so the double can sink back once more into the dark water, the Captain’s unconscious.
The Ghost
Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” can be read as a ghost story with Leggatt in fact drowning after leaving the Sephora.  It would then be his ghost that the Captain draws up from the black water: “this being appearing as if he had risen from the bottom of the sea.”  Later when the two men stand side by side in the Captain’s stateroom, the Captain thinks that if anyone was to enter the room “he would think that he was “seeing double or imagine himself come across a scene of weird witchcraft” with the captain speaking “with his own gray ghost.”  On the fourth day out at sea, the increasingly nervous Captain notices the haggard steward is about to enter his stateroom and feels sure that Leggatt will be discovered in the bathroom. However, the steward sees nothing and at this point the Captain begins to doubt his own sanity.  Is Leggatt indeed a ghost only visible to his eyes? “It was like being haunted.”  Leggatt explained, however, that the steward did not see him in the bathroom because he only reached in to hang up the coat. This alleviates the Captain’s concern that he might be seeing ghosts, but then Leggatt also says “it would never do for me to come to life again,” which strikes the Captain as a ghostly statement. As time goes on, the Captain forms an “irresistible doubt,” about the real status of Leggatt. As with all good ghost stories, there remains an element of mystery about the strange figure from the sea.


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