Study Guide

The Secret Sharer Quotes

  • Isolation

    At that moment I was alone on her decks. There was not a sound in her—and around us nothing moved, nothing lived, not a canoe on the water, not a bird in the air, not a cloud in the sky. (1.2)

    Lonely, I'm so lonely You can tell from the very first lines in this book that the captain feels isolated in the world. Sure, we don't yet realize how isolated he feels from the rest of his crew, but we definitely know his ship is out in the middle of nowhere. So in a sense, the isolation of the ship eventually mimics the isolation the captain feels from the rest of his men.

    All these people had been together for eighteen months or so, and my position was that of the only stranger on board. (1.7)

    The captain feels bad about the fact that everyone on the ship knows one another well, which basically makes him the new kid in town. That's a lonely proposition in any situation. But it's even worse in this context because the crews of ships are tightly knit and he's supposed to lead them.

    But what I felt most was my being a stranger to the ship; and if all truth must be told, I was somewhat of a stranger to myself (1.7)

    The captain's sense of isolation from his crew has gotten so bad that he even feels isolated from himself. It can be hard to know who you are when you're alienated from human society, and this is exactly what's happening to the captain.

    But on the whole I felt less torn in two when I was with him. There was no one in the whole ship whom I dared take into my confidence. (2.62)

    The captain feels a lot better when he takes the fugitive Leggatt under his wing. Now he has someone to talk to, and an ally in his isolation from his crew. A Bonnie for his Clyde, a Robin for his Batman, a Louise for his Thelma.

    I was not wholly alone with my command; for there was that stranger in my cabin. (2.73)

    Leggatt completely changes the way the captain feels onboard his ship. Instead of being alone, the captain feels like he has someone to care for and someone to care for him. It's amazing how much of a difference a single person can make when you're struggling with loneliness.

    I felt that I was appearing an irresolute commander to those people who were watching me more or less critically. (2.73)

    The captain can't help but feel as though his crew is scrutinizing every decision he makes. So as you can imagine, he's pretty insecure and alienated in basically everything he does.

    This was the sort of thing that made my terrifically whiskered mate tap his forehead with his forefinger. (2.82)

    The captain hates the way his chief mate taps his forehead behind his (the captain's) back. The gesture is meant to tell other crewmembers that the captain is either crazy or dumb, which no doubt leaves him feeling more isolated than ever.

    Already the ship was drawing ahead. And I was alone with her. Nothing! No one in the world should stand between us. (2.204)

    By the end of the book, the captain embraces his isolation and takes charge of his ship in a confident, "don't mess with me" sort of way. It looks like his experience with Leggatt has made him a new man.

    The wind fanned my cheek, the sails slept, the world was silent. (2.173)

    The captain wants to make sure he can get Leggatt to safety. But there's a price to be paid for Leggatt leaving the ship. The captain will be lonely again, and you can already sense this loneliness coming in the way he describes standing alone on the ship's deck.

    His terrible whiskers flitted round me in silent criticism. (2.115)

    The narrator of this story is obsessed with the whiskers of his chief mate. Instead of his chief mate criticizing him, it seems to be the whiskers that do most of the talking. But in any case, this "silent" criticism could be coming from the chief mate or it could be coming from the captain's own paranoid imagination. It's tough to tell.

  • Man and the Natural World

    In this breathless pause at the threshold of a long passage we seemed to be measuring our fitness for a long and arduous enterprise, the appointed task of both our existences to be carried out, far from all human eyes, with only sky and sea for spectators and judges. (1.2)

    The narrator of this story has an intimate sense of the nature around him. But why would a guy spend so much time thinking about nature? Oh yeah, because he doesn't have any friends to talk to.

    And suddenly I rejoiced in the great security of the sea as compared with the unrest of the land, in my choice of that untempted life presenting no disquieting problems. (1.17)

    Even though the captain is a lonely dude, he enjoys being out on the open sea. He finds it peaceful because it's simple. City life is complicated and filled with all kinds of twists and turns. But on the sea, all you have to do is get where you're going.

    And to find him sitting so quietly was surprising, like something against nature, inhuman. (2.138)

    When it comes time for Leggatt to leave the ship, the narrator finds him sitting in a way that seems totally unnatural to him. All through this book, Leggatt has always seemed to be not quite there, and his unnatural appearance often makes you wonder whether he's even real.

    Bless my soul! Do you mean, sir, in the dark amongst the lot of all them islands and reefs and shoals? (2.124)

    When he hears that the ship is going to turn toward the nearby reefs and islands, the chief mate almost loses his mind. He can't think of any possible reason to tempt fate like this and take the boat into such dangerous waters. But then again, he doesn't realize that the captain is trying to drop a friend off at the nearest island.

    Unknown to trade, to travel, almost to geography, the manner of life [the islands] harbor is an unsolved secret" (2.119)

    The captain tells us that the islands in his boat's vicinity are pretty much unknown to any European travellers. No one even knows what kinds of animals or people live on them.

    The night, clear and starry, sparkled darkly, and the opaque, lightless patches shifting slowly against the low stars were the drifting islets. (2.144)

    Again, the captain shows us how observant he is of the natural world around him. When you're out at sea, you get a lot of time to stare out into nature. And when you spend 99% of your time staring at open water, any kind of land is going to make a big impression – even at night.

    When I opened my eyes the second view started my heart with a thump. The black southern hill of Koh-ring seemed to hang right over the ship like a towering fragment of the everlasting night. (2.174)

    The captain realizes that he's putting himself and his entire crew in danger when he steers his ship toward the island of Koh-ring, but the man's got a plan. First, he needs to set his friend Leggatt free on the island, and second, he needs to force his crew to trust him, no matter how insane his orders might be. Let's hope he weathers this storm.

    On my right hand there were lines of fishing stakes resembling a mysterious system of half-submerged bamboo fences, incomprehensible in its division of the domain of tropical fishes. (1.1)

    The captain opens the story with a description of fishing weirs. But we can't tell whether the weirs are abandoned, because there's no sign of any human settlement in the area. The word "incomprehensible" is especially relevant because it helps convey just how much the captain doesn't understand about his surroundings. He's a real fish out of water, if we may.

    [For] there was no sign of human habitation as far as the eye could reach. (1.1).

    The captain can look all he wants, but he ain't going to find any signs of human life. Nope, it's nothing but nature as far as the eye can see. And you know what this means? It means that the captain will have to face his personal problems head-on, because there's nothing to distract him from them, like videos of puppies falling down stairs among other things.

    She floated at the starting point of a long journey, very still in an immense stillness, the shadows of her spars flung far to the eastward by the setting sun. (1.2)

    The captain can't help but notice how small and insignificant his ship is compared to the huge ocean and the setting sun. Mother Nature sure does have a way of humbling you when you really take a moment and think about it...or when you're feeling particularly vulnerable out alone at sea.

  • Madness

    [And] all the time the dual working of my mind distracted me almost to the point of insanity. (1.11)

    The captain hints more than once at his feelings of insanity. Sure, he might just be exaggerating, but there's definitely something deeper going on with the "split mind" he keeps referring to. He constantly feels like he's in two places at the same time, and that doesn't really sound all that sane.

    My nerves were so shaken that I could not govern my voice and conceal my agitation. (2.82)

    The captain doesn't like surprises, and a lonely life on the sea has left his nerves so frayed that he can barely deal with even the teeny tiniest bit of anxiety. This is definitely not what you want in a captain.

    This was the sort of thing that made my terrifically whiskered mate tap his forehead with his forefinger. (2.82)

    The captain can't stand the way his chief mate is always tapping his head in the captain's presence. He's not entirely sure what the gesture means, but he assumes the chief mate is saying that he is stupid, drunk, or insane. Then again, the captain might just be paranoid.

    It was this maddening course of being shouted at, checked without rhyme or reason, arbitrarily chased out of my cabin […] that accounted for the growing wretchedness of his expression. (2.83)

    The steward of the captain's ship has a tough task. For starters, he has no clue that the captain is trying to conceal a fugitive in his cabin, so he (the steward) is constantly getting bossed around with no apparent logic to all of the orders. This lack of consistency eventually leaves the steward feeling overworked and completely unsure of himself. By the end of the book, he's practically insane with confusion. Poor guy.

    I think I had come creeping quietly as near insanity as any man who has not actually gone over the border. (1.100)

    In the first half of the book, the captain tells us straight up that he thinks he's coming close to insanity. Now he thinks he hasn't quite gone over the edge, but that doesn't mean we have to take his word for it.

    It would not be true to say I had a shock, but an irresistible doubt of his bodily existence flitted through my mind. (2.100)

    Even the captain has to wonder sometimes whether Leggatt is an actual person. After all, how could he do such a good job to avoid detection by other people on the ship? It's not like the thing is huge enough for a person to hide forever…unless that person were invisible . (Disclaimer: We at Shmoop are not actually suggesting Leggatt has an invisibility superpower, we just think it would be really cool if he did.)

    The strain of watching the dark loom of the land grow bigger and denser was too much for me. (2.173)

    By the end of the book, the captain has almost gone over the edge into insanity. He realizes that he could be killing himself and his whole crew by taking his boat toward the "dark loom" of Koh-ring island. But he can't help himself. Jeez, and we don't even know whether or not if this Leggatt dude is actually real to begin with.

    But what I felt most was my being a stranger to the ship; and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat of a stranger to myself. (1.7)

    This comment about being "a stranger to myself" seems like a giveaway about the mental health of our narrator. That's not to say that he's totally insane. But if you think about the space between sane and insane as a sort of spectrum, them you can definitely say that the captain is leaning a little toward the "insane" end at times like this.

    My strangeness, which had made me sleepless, had prompted that unconventional arrangement, as if I had expected in those solitary hours of the night to get on terms with the ship of which I knew nothing, manned by men of whom I knew very little more. (1.16)

    So it turns out that our captain/narrator hasn't been sleeping very well lately. We guess that explains why he wanders the decks of his ship alone in the middle of the night. It also lends support to the idea that Leggatt might be a hallucination…or not.

    I asked myself whether it was wise ever to interfere with the established routine of duties even from the kindest of motives. My action might have made me appear eccentric. (1.18)

    On the road from sanity to insanity, we imagine that you pass through several stages, like strange, eccentric, half-mad, and erratic. At this stage, the captain is a little worried that his crew will find him eccentric. But by the end of this book, he wonders whether he's plunged all the way into full-blown insanity. Sounds like he's made quite the journey.

  • Friendship

    A mysterious communication was established already between us two—in the face of that silent, darkened tropical sea. (1.39)

    It's weird, but the captain-narrator feels an instant connection with Leggatt the moment he sees him swimming in the ocean. It's almost as if the captain were waiting for the perfect friend to come along, and here he is delivered right aboard the ship, quite literally out of the blue .

    The shadowy, dark head, like mine, seemed to nod imperceptibly above the ghostly gray of my sleeping suit. It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a somber and immense mirror. (1.53)

    The captain feels so close to Leggatt that he sometimes thinks they're the same person. It's strange for him to feel this kind of connection, since they've barely spoken to one another. But hey, Leggatt has come along at a very lonely time in the captain's life, so the captain might be a little desperate in the friend department.

    He appealed to me as if our experiences had been as identical as our clothes. (1.59)

    The captain doesn't seem to be the only one who thinks he and Leggatt are the same person. Leggatt also speaks to him as though they have shared the same past and understand all the same references.

    I was extremely tired, in a peculiarly intimate way, by the strain of stealthiness, by the effort of whispering and the general secrecy of this excitement. (1.99)

    It's clear that the captain-narrator is very excited to have a friend on his lonely ship. He's so excited, in fact, that he feels tired and giddy, like a kid at a slumber party…or someone who has just fallen in love.

    I was constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent on my actions as my own personality, sleeping in that bed, behind that door which faced me as I sat at the head of the table. (1.111)

    Okay, it's one thing to have a new friend. But things get a little creepy when the captain starts thinking that he and Leggatt are the same person. In other words, the captain wonders if he's left his own body and is watching himself from the outside. Um, yeah…that's not normal.

    Maroon you! We are not living in a boy's adventure tale. (2.107)

    Toward the end of the book, Leggatt informs the captain that he (Leggatt) will have to jump ship and swim for shore to have any chance of being free. But the captain isn't a big fan of this plan, and he criticizes it as being childish. But want to know the honest truth? He probably just doesn't want to lose his friend.

    I felt suddenly ashamed of myself. I may say truly that I understood—and my hesitation in letting that man swim away from my ship's side had been a mere sham sentiment, a sort of cowardice. (2.111)

    The captain eventually admits to himself (and to us) that he has selfish reasons for not wanting Leggatt to leave his ship. He's worried about being left again with no friends, and, you know, one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.

    But of course you do. It's a great satisfaction to have got somebody to understand. You seem to have been there on purpose. (2.113)

    Leggatt, like the captain, is certain that some sort of fate has brought them together as friends. The captain is glad to hear this, since it makes him feel a little less crazy.

    We remained side by side talking in our secret way—but sometimes silent or just exchanging a whispered word or two at long intervals. (2.114)

    Things get pretty close between the captain and Leggatt when they go to bed. It even sounds like they sometimes lie down together, whispering to each other. Maybe they're more than friends, but the captain doesn't want to say…

    It's the best chance for you that I can see. (2.127)

    The captain eventually overcomes his selfish reasons for wanting Leggatt to stay with him and agrees to get him to a nearby island. After checking out a map, he decides that Leggatt's best chance is to sail for an island called Koh-ring. Sailing near this island will put the captain and his whole ship in danger, but he's willing to do it for Leggatt. Now that's a good friend.

  • Appearances

    He raised sharply his simple face, overcharged by a terrible growth of whisker. (1.7)

    You can tell from this description that the narrator doesn't like his chief mate all that much. He seems especially annoyed by the man's whiskers. This might be because the whiskers remind him that his chief mate is significantly older than him, and he's just a fresh-faced boy who's expected to captain a ship. Feeling insecure much?

    My second mate was a round-cheeked, silent young man, grave beyond his years, I thought; but as our eyes happened to meet I detected a slight quiver on his lips. I looked down at once. It was not my part to encourage sneering on board my ship. (1.7)

    As much as he dislikes his older chief mate, the captain seems to have an even stronger dislike for his second mate, who's younger than him. This dude seems to sneer at nearly everything this new captain says, and once again, the captain assumes that this is a sign of disrespect. This could all be in his head, of course, but try telling him that.

    He had rather regular features; a good mouth; light eyes under somewhat heavy, dark eyebrows; a smooth, square forehead; no growth on his cheeks; a small, brown moustache, and a well-shaped, round chin. (1.43)

    The only guy who the narrator in this story describes in a positive way is Leggatt. It seems like a coincidence that the only guy the narrator likes is also the best-looking guy in the story, so we're going to go ahead and say that the narrator's descriptions of people's appearances tells us an awful lot about whether he likes them.

    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. (1.43)

    The captain might as well be describing himself when he talks about Leggatt's appearance. After all, the captain is the one who's been thinking in solitude a lot lately. And let's not forget that he constantly describes Leggatt as his "double."

    It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a somber and immense mirror. (1.53)

    The captain comes really close to saying that Leggatt is imaginary when he says that looking at Leggatt is like looking in the mirror. Then again, it could be a coincidence that the two of them look the same. Or it could be the captain projecting all his own emotional baggage onto some guy who's wandered onto his boat.

    It's clear that I meant business, because I was holding him by the throat still when they picked us up. He was black in the face. It was too much for them. (1.60)

    There aren't many things that look worse than a man who's been strangled to death in the middle of a rainstorm. No wonder the sight of the guy was "too much" for Leggatt's crew.

    And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed. (1.99)

    The captain likes to think about how Leggatt looks when he's sleeping, which is kind of creepy. What's even creepier is the fact that he likes to think Leggatt looks exactly like him when he's asleep.

    There was a sort of curiosity in his [the chief mate's] eyes that I did not like. (1.109)

    The captain doesn't communicate a whole lot with his crew, which means he's developed a series of snap judgments he makes whenever he sees one of them walking toward him. In this case, he can tell in one second whether or not he wants to talk to his chief mate.

    I watched him coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank range, took effect and froze his very whiskers. (1.109)

    The captain feels like a smile is the best way to stop his crewmembers dead in their tracks. He thinks that it conveys power, but his crew might take it as a sign of madness. In either case, the look tends to do the trick of making people go away.

    [The skipper of the Sephora ] was not exactly a showy figure; his shoulders were high, his stature but middling—one leg slightly more bandy than the other. He shook hands, looking vaguely around. (2.1)

    The skipper of the Sephora isn't a bad dude. He just seems kind of lazy and disinterested in his job, even though he's supposed to be looking for a fugitive murderer. In this description, the captain-narrator seems to think he won't be much of a threat.