Comparing Conrad's The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness

Comparing Conrad's The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness

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Similarities in Conrad's The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness


     Joseph Conrad's books, The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness, both

deal with each of our "dark selves".  These books also have similarities

which are overwhelming. In describing the true inner self of humans,

Conrad used many symbols which have become apparent in many of his novels.

Conrad uses the same or very similar objects in many of his works.


      Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness in 1899 to recount his

voyages in the Congo.  Conrad hid most of his meaning in his words using a

form of writing known as "stream of consciousness".  This made it difficult

for people to find the true meaning of his work.  After about ten years,

Conrad realized that he would have to get his point across in an easier to

understand book.  This book was The Secret Sharer.


      Both of these books include the hero wanting to meet or developing

a fascination for a truly evil character.  In Heart of Darkness, Marlow is

very eager to meet Kurtz. Marlow is so eager, in fact, that he eventually

starts to panic when he thinks he will never meet him.  Marlow realizes

that Kurtz is a very evil person, but this does not stop him from wanting

to meet this incredibly remarkable person.  In The Secret Sharer the

Captain saves a murderer from almost certain death without knowing what the

man has done.  Later, The Captain has a discussion with the man and finds

out his name is Leggatt.  Leggatt tells his story and the Captain becomes

more enthralled with Leggatt ever so more.  When Leggatt tells the Captain

he has committed a murder, the Captain does not throw him overboard.

Instead, the Captain harbors this criminal because he feels a connection

with Leggatt that he has never felt before.  In both stories the hero

identifies with his evil counterpart to the point that they actually become

one in their own minds.  Conrad wanted to show the evil that exists within

all of us.


      The bulk of Conrad's stories deal with sea voyages because of his

extensive sailing as a young man.  The ship in his writing can be thought

of as symbolizing the journey through life, a vessel of sorts.

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  His stories

encounter many happenings, showing the many things one's soul can go



      Pity has a strong grasp on both stories' plots.  Marlow feels pity

for Kurtz and his Intended.  In the end, Marlow lies to Kurtz's Intended

about his last words, because he feels sorry for her.  She will be

devastated for the rest of her life because of a man who was truly evil and

only realized it in the end with his dying words "The horror.  The horror".

The Captain thinks that he should help his mirror self escape and risks

everything, his job, his life, even his ship to fulfill this desire.  The

Captain sails his ship into a reef with rocks and very nearly sinks his

ship.  This allows Leggatt to jump in the water and swim to safety and

start a new life.  Before this, however, the Captain gives Leggatt his hat,

which also symbolizes pity. The Captain needed to give the cap to Leggatt

to feel good about himself and, ironically, the cap saves the ship from

certain doom in the end.


      Both evil characters in the stories, Leggatt and Kurtz, get away

and actually succeed in their own way.  Leggatt goes free even though he

has committed a murder, and Kurtz dies as a god to his native followers.

Conrad shows us that evil triumphs over good much of the time.  Through

death, Kurtz has found eternal life.


      Marlow and the Captain experience incredible suffering from their

"dark sides". Marlow becomes appalled at the apparent brutality of the

Manager and Kurtz and, near the end, chases Kurtz down just to realize that

Kurtz appears to already be taking on a very ghost-like appearance.  Three

hundred yards away, a pagan ritual is being held for Kurtz which awaits him

as he crawls on the ground, one last desperate attempt to die as a god.

The Captain becomes very stressed  that he will be discovered and it builds

day by day.  The Captain grows to hate the Steward.  He is sure that the

Steward will be the one to discover Leggatt in his quarters.  The Captain

gets so close to discovery that his "voice died in his throat".  This

happens because the Steward hung a wet coat in the Captain's closet.  The

Captain is driven nearly to insanity and this near discovery scares him.

He is curious about why Leggatt was not discovered and begins to feel that

Leggatt could be a figment of his imagination, and that no one but he can

see him.  This shows us the mental state of the Captain and how tortured he



      Another of Joseph Conrad's books is Lord Jim.  Lord Jim also has

some similarities with Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer.  The main

character is a man called Jim, but by the Malays, a tribe he had helped, he

was known as "Tuan Jim" or "Lord Jim".  This book involved sailing and it

also contained a character called Marlow as well.  Jim fights with his

inner self about his ability to do good.  He had abandoned his crew during

a storm when he was first mate and never could forgive himself for his lack

of courage.  He had his sea papers taken away and could never work at sea

again.  He spends the rest of his life trying to make up for his mistake.

A character named Marlow helps him and sends him to a job in a rice factory.

 But later one of the shipmates he had abandoned shows up and threatens to

spread his secret.  Jim left and continued to travel, running away from his

fears.  He is helped by a man named Stein who Marlow knows. Stein compares

life and man to a butterfly, saying that life is so "fragile and yet so

strong".  He goes on to say that man will never sit still.  If man thinks

he is a devil, then he wishes to be a saint.  Once again, Conrad brings up

the inner struggle of one's consciousness.  Eventually Jim finds his way to

a trading post full of natives.  Jim befriends a man named Doramin by

giving him Stein's ring.  He becomes very well known by ridding the natives

of their oppression by other tribal leaders.  During this time, Jim becomes

friends with Doramin's son, Dain Waris.  One day, white men come down the

river and attack the town.  They people drive them back and have them

cornered. They plead to be given safe passage.  Jim says  that they should

let them through and he will take full responsibility with his life for

what might happen.  The men then attack and kill many natives, including

Doramin's son.  Jim has the option to run for his life and repeat his

mistake again.  However, he decides to stand up and accept his failure.

Doramin kills him.  In the end, Jim finally achieves what he had strived

for all his life. He had proved his bravery.  In similar ways Marlow and

the Captain achieved what they wanted in life at the end of their struggle.


      Joseph Conrad's books have similar symbols and deep meanings: man

has misgivings that he must prove to himself no matter what.  Most of his

novels and stories involve the sea and good versus evil.  Good becomes

fascinated with evil, but needs to in order to achieve it's ultimate goal:

to learn more about itself and gain control.


I hereby hand over all copyrights I might have for this paper.  You are

free to use it for what ever purpose you see fit.  Jonathan Welden


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