Study Guide

The Secret Sharer

By Joseph Conrad

The Secret Sharer Introduction

We've all got our haters. You know, the kind of people who are convinced you're not all you're chalked up to be and are determined to prove it. They watch and wait, eager to point out every mistake you make. Whether they're a frenemy, a teacher, or maybe even your mom when she's having a bad day, whenever you're faced with a doubter, the best thing you can do is brush it off and keep on doing you…or else .

This is basically what's happening in Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer." In the story, a young dude has just been promoted to captain of a ship. The problem is that his crew thinks he's dumb and inexperienced, which makes him feel lonely and worthless. But one night, a mysterious naked man named Leggatt climbs aboard his ship and tells the captain that he escaped from a nearby boat after murdering one of his shipmates. The lonely captain likes the guy's attitude, so he hides him in his private room until he's able to set him free on a nearby island. And that's pretty much the whole story. Righteous.

Many readers don't realize just how much Joseph Conrad used to draw from personal experience when writing. In "The Secret Sharer," he almost gets totally autobiographical on us. Like the nameless captain in this story, Conrad was a captain of a ship. And like the captain in the story, Conrad often complained about how his crew (and his first mate in particular) was always hating, questioning his judgment and making him unsure of himself. On top of all that, Conrad once got in a fight with his first mate while steering his ship close to a bunch of dangerous rocks off the coast of Thailand. And that's exactly what happens in the closing scenes of this book. So it's safe to say that Conrad drew heavily on his own life in writing this story.

Conrad first published "The Secret Sharer" as a short story in Harper's Magazine way back in 1910 (believe it or not, Harper's is actually still around today.) Later in 1912, he included the story in a collection of his works called Twixt Land and Sea . It's interesting to note that Conrad also wrote this story really quickly, pumping it out in just two weeks in 1909. He wrote this story in order to take a break from his much longer and more grueling work, Under Western Eyes , which shares a lot of similarities with "The Secret Sharer."

Ultimately, it's safe to say that "The Secret Sharer" is a story about uncertainty. The captain/narrator is uncertain of whether he has the judgment and leadership needed to be a good captain. On top of that, we can't really even be sure if the narrator's friend Leggatt is a real person or a figment of the captain's imagination. Many authors would resolve this uncertainty by telling us at the end whether Leggatt is real, but not Conrad. The guy totally leaves us hanging. Thanks a lot, Conrad.

What is The Secret Sharer About and Why Should I Care?

When you worry about what other people think of you, it's pretty easy to get lost in your own little world of paranoia and self-doubt.

Take the narrator of "The Secret Sharer," for example. He spends an awful lot of time worrying about what his crew thinks of him, and even though they might think he's inexperienced, the fact is that the captain's loneliness and paranoia make things seem way worse than they probably are.

Our imaginations have the uncanny ability to turn little things into huge problems, especially when we aren't honest and direct with the people around us. Instead of being open and honest with his crew, the captain-narrator just retreats into his lonely, paranoid world until his only option is making friends with a fugitive murderer who might not even be real.

Wait, what?

Yep, you read that right. From the moment the captain-narrator makes friends with the mysterious Leggatt, we can't be sure if Leggatt is even real. After all, the captain refers to Leggatt throughout this book as a "double" and a "ghost," which raises serious suspicions about whether this guy is just an imaginary friend. But while some stories like The Sixth Sense might tell us straight up whether a character is real or imaginary, Conrad never gives us closure on whether Leggatt is a real person.

Instead, he wants us to reflect on how our minds can get kooky when we feel lonely and isolated from our fellow humans. The truth is that we'll never know what people truly think about us. We can only choose to give the benefit of the doubt or to be paranoid, and the first option usually leads to fewer hallucinations.

The Secret Sharer Resources

Websites

The Joseph Conrad Society
As you can imagine, the members of this group know a thing or two about our man Conrad.

The Joseph Conrad Society (Of America)
Apparently, folks in the U.S. wanted to make their own Joseph Conrad society. Hopefully, it didn't take a revolution for them to become independent of the British one.

Joseph Conrad at The Literature Network
A whole lot of Conrad writings are in the public domain, so check out this site and raid those texts all you want.

Movie or TV Productions

Secret Sharer (2014)
This 2014 adaptation takes more than a few liberties with the original text, but it's worth checking out.

The Secret Sharer (1967)
This version is pretty true to the original text, and if you can find a copy, by all means have a look.

Articles and Interviews

An Analysis of "The Secret Sharer" by Joseph Conrad
This article will give you a quick n' dirty rundown of the story and some background info on Joey Conrad.

Comments on "The Secret Sharer"
This short article gives the author's personal impression of the book and what sort of effect it can leave on readers. Take a look to see whether the thoughts match yours.

The Man Who Detested the Sea
Author Joyce Carol Oates gives her take on why Conrad hated the sea, even though he wrote constantly about it.

Video

Trailer for 2014 "Secret Sharer" Film
Yes, there are some major differences between this film version and the original. But sometimes differences are more revealing than similarities.

Actors in "Secret Sharer" Discuss Making the Film
The title pretty much says it all.

Audio

Orson Welles Reads "The Secret Sharer"
It's tough to find a better reading voice than this guy's.

"The Secret Sharer" Audiobook
It ain't Orson Welles, but at least you'll still get a chance to rest your eyes.

How About Another Audiobook?
Yup, here's yet another version. Just pick the voice that sounds nicest to you and have at it.

Images

Conrad Middle-Aged
You can see the grey creeping into the beard, but as far as Conrad photos go, this is as young as he gets.

Older Conrad
Someone needs to put this guy in an ad for moustache wax.

Rare Young Picture
Here's a picture of Joseph Conrad as a younger man. By the looks of things, the dude could grow a full beard at age ten.