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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
All of the action takes place on board a merchant ship that the Captain is sailing some time in the late 19th century. At the opening of the story, the ship is located in the Gulf of Siam at the mouth of the River Meinam, "far from any sign of human inhabitation." This setting accentuates the loneliness and isolation that the Captain feels. Later, as the ship continues to journey towards England, it passes Koh-ring, "the gateway of Erebus," where Leggatt jumps off to begin his new life.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
The Captain - He is unnamed as is the ship. This anonymity lends a universality to the story. He is a young captain who is full of self- doubt about his abilities to navigate his ship successfully and who does not have a very good relationship with his crew because he is the new man on board. The sympathy he lends to Leggatt reveals that he sees in Leggatt aspects that he himself needs in order to run his ship, mostly he needs to be decisive and take action as Leggatt has. It is through his interaction with Leggatt that the Captain rouses himself to action and takes command of the ship.
Leggatt - He is the Captain's double or "other" who has murdered a man on his ship and ends up swimming to the Captain's ship. He has escaped from his ship Sephora where he was destined to be arrested and eventually sentenced to death for his crime. He has no compunction about what he has done. In fact, he seems to revel in conveying the details of his story to the Captain to prove how much he despised this man and how much the man deserved to die for his impudence. Although he is morally reprehensible in many ways and takes advantage of the Captain's generosity, at the same time jeopardizing the Captain's position, the reader sympathizes with him because the Captain does. Also, he acts as a catalyst to the Captain's quest for confidence and action.
The Chief Mate - He is described only in terms of his whiskers, which are "terrific" and "terrible." He is very obsequious to the Captain yet also acts as though the Captain does not know what he is doing. He analyzes the why and how of everything, regardless of how trivial it is and irritates the Captain with his "Bless my soul-- you don't say so." He also undermines the Captain's credibility with the crew by his constant looks of skepticism about the way the Captain acts. The Captain dislikes him.
The Second Mate - He is younger than the Captain, but very serious. He also judges what the Captain does in a scornful manner.
The Steward - He is entrusted with cleaning and taking care of the Captain's cabin. The Captain, trying to save Leggatt, feels tense in his presence because he is always around and may discover the fugitive, Leggatt.
The Skipper of "Sephora" - He is the captain of the ship Sephora on which Leggatt murdered a man. He comes to the Captain's ship in search of Leggatt and acts as if the Captain is guilty of harboring a fugitive. The Captain describes him as not very intelligent and bandy-legged. He is representative of authority and the law, as he wants to see justice done regardless of the circumstances of the murder.
Crewmen on board the Ship - They act as the background to the setting yet come into action during the last scene when the ship runs into trouble at Koh-ring.