Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
As the ship approaches the shoreline, the Captain realizes the enormity of what he has risked. The black southern hills of Koh- ring seem to hang over the ship. The enormous mass of blackness appears to be drawing near them. The Captain allows the ship to proceed although the helmsman complains that he cannot see the sails very well. He tells the young man near him to give the mate a call and turn all hands up. Everyone is tense, exhorting that they are lost. They are all desperate and frightened. The mate appears and begins to lament what is occurring. He reveals his fears and apprehensions about the ship's imminent destruction. The Captain begins to shake him, giving him orders, and commanding him to get control of himself.
Amidst all this commotion, the Captain sees his second self lowering himself into the water. Perhaps he has gone already. He wonders how to handle the ship amidst stark darkness. He suddenly is indecisive again, unsure of what to do. He is looking for a sign that the ship was moving. Suddenly he sees his floppy hat, which he has given Leggatt floating on the water. It must have fallen off and he has not bothered to retrieve it. It provides him the necessary information to give a command to the helmsman. The hat now serves as a mark to give direction to the ship. A great sigh of relief is heard when someone remarks, "She's round." The ship is saved. Everyone cheers. The captain looks at the spot where the hat is and where Leggatt lowered himself into the water. He is now a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for a new destiny.
In this final section of the story, the action becomes quite tense and the atmosphere is fraught with nervousness and anticipation. The hills of Koh-ring hang over the crew "like a towering fragment of everlasting night." Even as Leggatt escapes, the ship glides towards this enormous mass of blackness like "a bark of the dead floating in slowly under the very gates of Erebus." Conrad depicts this as a journey towards the moment of truth, self-recognition, as a voyage into the country of the dead, or a confrontation with one's most inner self.
Just as in the opening description where the tug appears swallowed up by the land, so too the Captain feels that his ship is about to be "swallowed up" by the shadow of Koh-ring. By sailing as close as possible to the blackness, he proves that he will never be rendered as a weak or ineffectual captain. After this initiation, he will able to fulfill his duties as a Captain efficiently. He forgets the secret sharer and guides his ship away from the danger: "Already the ship was drawing ahead. And I was alone with her. Nothing! No one in the world should stand now between us, throwing a shadow on the way of silent knowledge and mute affection, the perfect communion of a seaman with his first command." By taking command of this dangerous situation, the captain has gained his sense of self needed to assure a safe journey. He has come to terms with his repressed, darker side and completed the journey into selfhood. The secret sharer swimming at the end of the story is not only Leggatt but also himself as he strives towards a new destiny as being an authoritative and commanding presence on his ship.