To Be, Or Not To Be

1507 words - 6 pages

According to Merrion-Webster Inc. Dictionary, a doppelgänger is a double, an often ghostly or evil counterpart to a character. It comes from the German language, doppel- double + -gänger goer. It might be asked, "What does a doppelgänger have to do with a paper on Joseph Conrad?" The answer is a lot, especially if Conrad's "The Secret Sharer" is being discussed. In this short story, the two characters, the captain and Leggatt, share many similarities, as well as differences. When comparing the similarities and differences, they can be used to show the duality between the captain and Leggatt. Conrad used Leggatt as a doppelgänger to help the captain come terms with himself.In 1880, Conrad was part of the crew of the Cutty Sark. On this ship, Sidney Smith killed a black man, John Francis. The captain of the Cutty Sark secretly helped Smith to an American ship, the Colorado. Four days later, Smith committed suicide (Daleski 171). Smith had not wanted to be tried for his murder. This experience is particularly interesting when one compares it to Conrad's short story, "The Secret Sharer". Conrad directly used his knowledge of the occurrences aboard the Cutty Sark for that particular story."The Secret Sharer" is a psychological masterpiece that dramatizes the act of sympathetic identification with an outlaw. Also, it deals with the achievement of self-mastery when the secret self is exorcised (Graver 150). In it, the character Leggatt is the embodiment of the captain's personality; yet, he is not any higher or lower than the captain. He's only different. He is one side, to a double-sided coin.In the story, the captain of a ship discovers a man named Leggatt.Leggatt had committed murder on the Sephora, on which he was first mate. Not wanting to face a trial, he escaped. The captain and Leggatt form an immediate bond (Conrad 702). Comparing the two, they are both of the same stature, same background. The captain even refers to Leggatt as his "double", "other self", or "secret sharer" almost 40 times (Graver 152). Conrad specifically implies that Leggatt is a doppelgänger, or the captain's double.They do, however, possess striking differences in their personalities. Where the captain is apprehensive and uncertain of himself, Leggatt is full of calmness and self-confidence (Conrad 702). In fact, part of the attractiveness that Leggatt has, is based on his obvious self-possession (Graver 152). Yet, it must be remembered that Leggatt killed a man. That gave him a very sinister quality. The evil quality of the captain's doppelgänger become obvious very quickly.In the 1940s, R.W. Stallman insisted that Leggatt represents the captain's moral consciousness and the world that lies below the surface of our conscious lives (Graver 151). If that is true, we can see that the evil in the captain is really characterized in Leggatt. It is not evident to others that the captain is evil, but he accepts the idea of the evilness in Leggatt....

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