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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad-Free Summary
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AUTHOR'S STYLE

Conrad's style here is clean and direct, much simpler than the digressive, garrulous narrative in Heart of Darkness. "The Secret Sharer" is a different kind of story; since it employs a more traditional first-person point of view, Conrad doesn't need to imitate the speaking voice of the narrator. But whatever he loses in complexity he gains in directness: the story is suspenseful and exciting in a way that the dense prose of Heart of Darkness wouldn't convey. His impressionist method is still in evidence. And when the author pauses for a picturesque description, for example, of the Gulf of Siam and the "swarm of stars" above it in the opening pages of the story, the effects are rich and lovely.

POINT OF VIEW

Imagine what it would be like to have the story narrated by the chief mate, or by Captain Archbold: our sympathy for both the young captain and Leggatt would vanish. A different point of view would create a very different story. If the story had an omniscient narrator who could see into the minds of the various characters, we would lose the fascination of what we don't know-Leggatt's motivation. (Is he, essentially, innocent or guilty? Has the captain acted foolishly or wisely in protecting him? There's evidence on both sides.) Finally, imagine the story from Leggatt's point of view. How would he see the young captain-as a true friend, or as a dupe?


The captain bears a certain resemblance to the young Conrad, who sailed his first command under similar windless conditions in the Gulf of Siam (though apparently without stowaways). But unlike Marlow in Heart of Darkness, the captain is such a fallible narrator, that is, so untrustworthy in much of what he perceives, that we can't assume he's a stand-in for the author. And, unlike Marlow, he relates events without thinking deeply about them. Marlow is always ruminating, judging, trying to find the meaning in his own tale; the captain-narrator tells his story as if he were unaware that it had any meaning at all. He doesn't guide us in interpreting his tale, and Conrad has kept himself so distant that it isn't clear what he thinks of the events, either. So interpretation rests, even more fully than in Heart of Darkness, with you the reader.

FORM AND STRUCTURE

Like the style, the form of the tale is simple and straightforward. There isn't the experimentation, the jumping around in time and space, that you find in many of Conrad's other works (including Heart of Darkness). The action all takes place on one ship (except for the brief section in which Leggatt tells his story), and it moves from beginning to end without flashbacks or flashforwards.

In structure, there's a forward movement from ignorance to knowledge-in this case, the captain's self-knowledge. (In this respect, the structure resembles the structure of Heart of Darkness.) The young captain is a different and better man-or at least, a better leader-at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. However we ultimately judge Leggatt, it seems clear that the captain has profited by knowing and aiding him.

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