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The first part of the story provides Background Information to the story as well as sets the atmosphere and introduces the main characters. The bamboo fishing stakes that the ship passes are "mysterious," "incomprehensible" and "crazy," suggesting the narrator's own inability to understand the story he is about to narrate. That the story is told in retrospect reveals that the narrator has something weighing on his mind. One can almost see this story as a confession as what he is about to tell goes against his better nature. The description of the islets, that are like ruins which have their foundations in a blue sea whose "solid" "stable" quality is an illusion gives a hint that what the narrator reveals may not be the absolute truth; that in fact all perception is subjective.
The opening description reveals man's isolation in a dangerous and inexplicable universe. Land, sea and sky merge together in a moment of stillness that is dreamy and impressionistic. One cannot take in the whole scene; it is too immense, therefore, one must put the details of the landscape together as Conrad does for the reader rendering a sense of peace and introspection. Conrad renders an atmosphere of powerful stillness as the Captain takes to watching the deck and making a connection with his ship. Yet this is like the calm before the storm as suddenly the moment is disturbed by the sight of another ship in the distance. This forebodes a possible conflict.
After his decision to take the anchor watch, a decision that resulted in a look of amazement from much of his crew, he begins to enjoy ruminating under the stars. He has not taken on the traditional role as a commanding presence on the ship. He has allowed other aspects that are somewhat at odds with being a captain to surface. To him, being captain is an opportunity to understand life and the world, to see it as more than a physical journey but a psychic one also. He is on a quest but he does not know what it entails.
Leggatt's self-confidence contrasts with the self-questioning behavior of the Captain. He first appears in the water at the bottom of the ladder like a headless corpse. It is the Captain's fault that the ladder has been left overboard yet it appears as if he had subconsciously willed that Leggatt should come from the depths of the sea. In the phosphorescent flash caused by the summer lighting on the water, Leggatt appears like a denizen from another world. What the Captain beckons from the sleeping waters corresponds with his own dream of an ideal personality, or it at first appears that way. Leggatt is active, energetic and self-possessed, and has proved himself capable of surviving in dangerous extremities. The Captain has not yet proved his worth to his crew whereas Leggatt has even though his actions have been destructive rather than constructive.
All of the characters on the ship are nameless. They carry only their titles as names. This reveals the universality of the situation that Conrad wants his story to have. The Captain could be every man; the ship could be every man's as well. It holds one's destiny.