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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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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.
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