Leggatt as an Independent Character in Joseph Conrad\'s "The Secret Sharer"


This essay examines Leggatt as an independent person, rather than as a
symbol connected to the captain-narrator, a view shared by many critics.
Leggatt is not a negative influence on the captain per se. From an objective
point of view, it can be seen that Leggatt\'s portrayal depends entirely on how
the captain (as narrator) perceives him, and that he deserves to be treated as
the individual being that he is.
Many of Conrad\'s critics, most notably Albert J. Guerard , Robert W.
Stallmann , have taken the view that Leggatt, of the novella "The Secret
Sharer," is either some sort of symbol of the captain\'s dark side, a kind of
role model for the captain, or that he is part of the captain. In this essay I
will first examine the captain\'s portrayal of Leggatt, then argue that Leggatt
is none of these, rather, he is a complete person in and of himself, and not
simply part of the captain\'s personality deficiencies.
At first glance it would seem that Leggatt is either the antagonist or
provides a criminal influence on the captain. By no means are Leggatt\'s
decisions and actions exemplary. Murdering mutinous crew members is hardly an
acceptable practice, and avoiding justice, and one\'s punishment—all of which
Leggatt do—only worsen the issue. The captain claims that in swimming to the
island Koh-ring, his double had "lowered himself into the water to take his
punishment" (Conrad 193). However, as Cedric Watts argues, this is only true
because Leggatt, by escaping justice, will face an uncertain future marooned on
an island (134). In reality, Leggatt is doing the opposite; he is lowering
himself into the water to escape from the law, for it is unlikely that he would
get off scot-free in court. The captain describes Koh-ring as "a towering black
mass like the very gateway of Erebus," (Conrad 193) Erebus being the cavern
through which the souls of the dead entered Hades\' world (Watts 134).
Leggatt and the captain discover soon after they first meet that they
are both "Conway boys," that is, as cadets, they served as crew on the training-
ship the Conway, which is moored in the Mersey at Liverpool (Conrad 146). In
this novel, the Conway serves as "a universal letter of credit" (Burgess 115).
Leggatt and the captain\'s bond becomes stronger once they learn that they share
a common training background.
Conway boys are taught the importance of fierce loyalty toward one\'s
ship (Batchelor 187). Leggatt demonstrates his loyalty by risking his life in
order to save his ship, the Sephora, from sinking by setting the foresail.
Ironically, the captain\'s loyalties lie with Leggatt, rather than his ship, as
he risks his ship and crew to ensure Leggatt\'s safe marooning at Koh-ring. The
fact that the captain is so ready to ally himself with Leggatt indicates that
perhaps the captain is not as qualified for his command as he should be.
Further, this observation introduces the captain as untrustworthy; his judgment
must be flawed if his primary allegiance is for Leggatt, rather than the ship
entrusted to his command. This flawed judgment extends to the captain\'s
perception of, and subsequent portrayal of Leggatt, as we shall see.
Nevertheless, many critics claim that, although Leggatt may not be a
symbol of the dark side of the captain, he is a criminal influence for the
captain. The basis for the main argument for Leggatt as a criminal influence is
that he brings about situations in which the captain risks his career, crew,
ship, and life. However, Leggatt is not responsible for the captain\'s behavior.
During the course of the novella, the captain always retains the power to choose
his actions and to make his own decisions. The dark characterization of Leggatt
comes from the captain\'s perspective and portrayal of Leggatt.
The captain is an alienated man. At the very beginning of the novel, he
comments a few times that he is the only stranger on board his ship: "...my
position was that of the only stranger on board....But what I felt most was my
being a stranger to the ship, and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat
of a stranger to myself" (Conrad 137-138). At this point in the story, the
reader first recognizes that the captain as unsteady in his new command, but as
having good intentions. He keeps anchor watch one night, to the astonishment of
his crew, as a gesture of benevolence (Conrad 139). However, this attempt
toward friendliness serves