I hereby hand over all copyrights I might have for this paper. You are free to use it for what ever
purpose you see fit. Jonathan Welden
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. His stories encounter many happenings, showing
the many things one’s soul can go through.
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 became.
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.