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The Captain of the unnamed ship is the narrator through whom Conrad tells the story. He lacks self-confidence and feels like a stranger to the crew and to himself. Outside of the second mate, he is the youngest member on the ship. He has not integrated himself into his appointed role yet and seeks some kind of guidance. However, if he shows his weakness, the crew will lose confidence in his abilities. With Leggatt's appearance on board, his dilemma becomes more complex as the more he tries to protect Leggatt, the more it appears as if he is incompetent to his crew. On the other hand, if he did not try to keep Leggatt's identity concealed, then he risks having Leggatt discovered. This quandary that the Captain finds him in and the successful resolution of it will usher him into a new state of being.
From an objective point of view, the Captain is an accomplice to the murder as he is harboring a fugitive and therefore has violated a sacrosanct code of the sea. Yet subjectively, the Captain comes to understand and empathize with Leggatt rather than judge him a cold-blooded murderer. The reader is caught between two different versions of Leggatt, the Captain of the nameless ship and Archbold, the skipper of the Sephora.
The Captain enjoys a special relationship with Leggatt as they become confidantes, divulging their innermost secrets to each other. Soon enough the relationship becomes so close that it is difficult to distinguish or separate the Captain's individual self from this "other." Wherever he is, the Captain feels like he is in two different places at the same time. This split can be traditionally seen as a duality of mind versus body. Whereas the Captain is hyperconscious to the point of indecisiveness, Leggatt reveals a more atavistic and primitive personality. The Captains thinks and Leggatt acts. The challenge for the Captain is to take on those characteristics that he sees in Leggatt that he is lacking.
In the end, the Captain must let go of Leggatt, as his presence on the ship is increasingly jeopardizing the safety of his crew. The Captain takes the ship as near the land as possible, so that Leggatt can swim and reach it. Thus, the Captain risks his own life and also the life of the crew, in order to protect Leggatt. At the same time, his actions, though counterintuitive, actually restore confidence in the crew and therefore the health of the ship. This results in a more dynamic Captain who has faced a great challenge and overcome it. Now he may finally give full attention to his duties as a Captain.
Leggatt is first seen as a headless corpse floating in the water. Later he looks like a ghostly silvery fish. Gradually the Captain recognizes him as a living human being. All these metamorphoses reveal the immutable nature of Leggatt, who at times appears as the Captain's double but also has an ephemeral quality to him that eludes the Captain as well as his crew.
Although Leggatt is a murderer, the Captain, as well as the reader, takes pity on him and even advocates his cause to be free. When describing the murder in detail, the reader notices that he is an impassioned man, one who is prone to impulsive actions. This is a quality, dangerous on the one hand, yet also paradoxically, advantageous. Although he has murdered a man, he also saved the ship he was on due to his decisiveness. Because the captain of the Sephora was not handling his job efficiently, Leggatt had superseded his rank and assumed command, so as to save the ship and the crew. This is the kind of action that is needed when in a precarious situation, yet at the same time it is also a threat. This double-sided aspect of Leggatt's character makes him enigmatic. He is not a clear cut example of someone who is totally evil, or totally good. It is up to the reader to decide whether his actions are moral or immoral.
Besides being a man of action, Leggatt is a terrific swimmer. He has been swimming for hours before he meets the Captain even though he looks as though he has been ill. He is superhuman in strength, therefore adding to his mysterious ways. The Captain is awed by him yet sees himself in him as well. Leggatt has qualities that the Captain must discern in himself if he is ever to become a competent captain. Therefore, Leggatt acts as a catalyst to the Captain's evolving development as a capable leader.
Though Leggatt is a criminal in the eyes of the law, he feels that he does not deserve to be severely punished by law. He has no remorse for killing this man who was incorrigible and endangered the crew of the ship. His arguments are seamless though he appears to be more dangerous than he presents himself. His eventual escape from the ship results in a successful maneuver for the Captain. Without Leggatt's tangible qualities of self-possession, resolve, and righteousness, the Captain would still be squandering his time thinking about how he should man his ship.