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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad-Free Summary
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Captain Archbold, the commanding officer of the Sephora (the ship from which Leggatt escapes), can be summed up by the adjectives "spiritless" and "unintelligent." If we can believe Leggatt's story (and Archbold's own version seems to confirm it), Archbold lost his nerve in the middle of the terrible storm, and it was Leggatt who saved the ship. But because Leggatt killed a man, Archbold is unwilling to give him any credit; he attributes the ship's survival, rather dishonestly, to the hand of God, not Leggatt. He adheres to the letter of the law, not granting that there were unusual circumstances around the crime. He's really more concerned about the embarrassment the crime will cause him than the merits of Leggatt's case. He suspects that the young captain may be hiding Leggatt, but his plodding, stupid nature is no match for the younger man's cleverness; the captain easily gets rid of him (though there's a hint that Archbold knows the captain has made a fool of him). Conrad emphasizes his ridiculous side. Thus, even though the captain-narrator's interview with Archbold is tense, it's also funny, because Conrad makes Archbold the butt of several jokes.


The chief mate, with his "terrible growth of whisker" and his honest devotion to the ship, might be a lovable character in another context. But seen through the contemptuous eyes of the captain, he's an "imbecile" with "the 'Bless my soul-you don't say so' type of intellect." There's certainly nothing vicious about him, just irritating, but circumstances (the captain's decision to hide Leggatt) turn this simple man into a threat. He behaves badly in the crisis, becoming so unhinged (he raises an arm "to batter his poor devoted head") that the captain has to shake him like a child, but he manages to recover himself before the end.

(In certain respects-dull intellect, lack of fortitude in a crisis, whiskers-he resembles Captain Archbold.) If the story were told from a different point of view, the mate's position as chief officer under a captain who appears to have lost his mind would make him a more sympathetic figure.


The captain continually chides the second mate (the officer next in line after captain and chief mate) as a "cub," emphasizing his youth and inexperience; he's the only crew member younger than the captain himself. He's rather sour and unlikable. Early on the captain catches him sneering at the chief mate, and soon he's sneering at the captain as well-unpardonable behavior in a subordinate officer. But he gets a stern dressing-down before the end of the story-an important act of self-assertion for the captain, and a much-needed bit of discipline for the second mate.


The steward (the officer in charge of provisions, and the one who cleans the captain's stateroom) isn't developed as a character, but his predicament provides some of the funnier moments in the story. The captain keeps giving him incomprehensible and ludicrous commands in order to keep Leggatt well-hidden in his stateroom, until the bewildered man is at the point of despair.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad-Free Book Notes

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