The narrator of "The Secret Sharer" —the Captain—pretty much opens the story with a cry for help. He makes it very clear that he's lonely onboard his new ship, where all of the crew already know one another really well and he's a newbie trying to earn their respect. It doesn't help that he's really young and inexperienced for a captain, and he doesn't know how he got the job to begin with. It's this brutal sense of loneliness and isolation that has led many readers to think that the fugitive Leggatt is a product of the captain's imagination. But we'll leave final judgment on that one to you, dear Shmooper.
In "The Secret Sharer," Conrad shows us that isolation is usually just in our heads.
In "The Secret Sharer," we learn that being a good leader is always a lonely job.
There's a reason Joseph Conrad sets "The Secret Sharer" so far away from the narrator's home in England. He wants us to identify with the feeling of being completely detached from human civilization so we can learn more about the basic human themes he's trying to explore. For example, the captain's relationship with Leggatt would be very different if it unfolded in the streets of London instead of the South Pacific Ocean. By setting the story in an unfamiliar place, Conrad can make all his readers feel a little lost at sea, both literally and symbolically, as we follow the narrator's struggles with loneliness, madness, and self-doubt.
In "The Secret Sharer," Conrad's description of the natural world shows that without each other, humans are truly alone in the universe.
"The Secret Sharer" teaches us that humans are asking for trouble whenever they mess with nature.
Feeling totally isolated from your crew and spending months on the open ocean is enough to make any person lose touch with reality. You might even say that the central question of "The Secret Sharer" is something like: Is the captain/narrator crazy; did this story actually happen?
The captain tells us early on that he hasn't been sleeping much because of stress. And there's something fishy about the fact that no one on his ship ever sees his friend Leggatt except him. But then again, what about the crewmembers of the Sephora , who come looking for Leggatt? It's enough to tie your mind in knots, but at least won't drive us crazy…right ?
In "The Secret Sharer," we find that madness is one of those things that are impossible to determine. After all, mad people don't usually know they're mad.
"The Secret Sharer"shows us that loneliness is definitely a form of madness, since it causes all of the symptoms of insanity.
It's tough having no friends, especially when you're travelling halfway around the world on a ship full of men who probably resent you. It's almost enough to make you create an imaginary friend…but maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves here. We're not going to say one way or the other if Leggatt is real. But in terms of what he does for the narrator of "The Secret Sharer," he might as well be. Leggatt gives the captain a reason to live, and by the end of the book, the captain seems like a totally new man. Imaginary or not, Leggatt helps teach us that friendship isn't just important—it's as necessary as food and water.
In "The Secret Sharer," Conrad shows us that friendship doesn't matter as long as you have a good sense of who you are.
In "The Secret Sharer," we learn that it's impossible to have an identity without being part of a community of friends.
Check out any Conrad book, and you'll find a lot of emphasis on people's appearances. There could be several reasons for this. For starters, Conrad might have felt that you could tell a lot about a person from their looks. Also, the spread of this crazy new technology called photography —you may have heard of it—might have inspired Conrad to be more and more descriptive when creating a character in the eyes of his readers. In any case, people's appearances figure strongly in this story and often tell us a lot about how our narrator's feeling at the moment he's describing them.
In "The Secret Sharer," we find that judging people by their appearances can be a dangerous mistake.
In "The Secret Sharer," Conrad shows us that appearances almost always show us the true side of a person's character.