Joseph Conrad's “The Secret Sharer” and Doris Lessing's “To Room Nineteen” thrusts readers into a period of self-loathing and doubt as the characters go on a journey to that seemingly happily ever after ending. The authors interject right as the action is about to come to a halt this complicates the protagonists within the stories. In Conrad’s story, a young, unnamed captain goes on a journey of self-discovery with his counterpart Leggatt. In Lessing’s story, Susan takes us on a trip that leads to her demise through denial and depression. Each of these short stories takes readers on a journey through an identity crisis and the subsequent almost happy ever after ending. Each character goes on a journey of self-discovery, the only difference: one character gains self-esteem and the other spirals downward in depression before dying. Conrad and Lessing explore their characters identity though discovery and crisis within the bounds of Jungian Theory.
“The Secret Sharer” is narrated by the unnamed captain in a first-person narrative. He clearly exhibits the little awareness he has for intimacy, human beings and lacks much knowledge as he is forced to mature. Any existence prior to the story is never revealed and a brief reference and quick denial of the deed Leggatt committed is loosely referred to in the text as a “fit of temper”. They instantly bond over the training they received at Conway training school, which is the only reference to life before meeting each other. The readers discover that he receives no mail during the duration of the story, which is common practice. No mention is made of family, a wife or any friends. It almost seems as if Conrad pulled Leggatt and the captain from obscurity and made them an almost faceless image adding ambiguity and allowing readers to insert themselves into the story of entering manhood after feeling repressed and lacking confidence. The narrator even says, “and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat of a stranger to myself (Conrad 26). The narrator is showing readers the vulnerability within the captain and solidifying his inner doubt early on in the story.
This also perfectly sets up the situation for Leggatt’s arrival, he functions as the catalyst for the captain transformation at the end. Additionally, it is “no surprise, that the captain does not recollect for sure, the name of the Sephora’s captain. The names of his ship and the crew are likewise withheld” (Scott 204). The narrator acknowledges that much is left out and the omission of events was necessary because it detracts from the story, when he says, “In consequence of certain events of no particular significance, expect to myself, I had been appointed to the command only a fortnight before” (Conrad 26). Conrad chooses what events he will recall in the story for a specific reason. The only indication of life before these events is the two men attending Conway school for technical training and they bond over it. Yet again, Conrad never settles for a simple point, this suggests Leggatt and the captain are one person and reside on earth as one entity.
Subsequently, all female characters are denied and remain without any mention or existence, except for the captain of the Sephora’s wife. Instead, the captain assumes the characteristics of a female with his “exceptionally empathetic listening” and is made clear within the first moments of the story. He instantly is introduced to Leggatt who climbs the cord from the seas and boards the ship naked and asks the captain for shelter, which is a “maternal emblem in Jungian terms, but more specifically here evokes the voyage from the ovary, in a wash of seminal fluid to the womb.” (Scott 205) This is when readers see the captain instantaneously and perhaps unknowingly springs into a maternal frenzy and fetches him sleep wear (which Leggatt ironically wears throughout his stay on the ship) and tells him that he will keep him hidden in his sleeping quarters.
“They communicate by touching and spare speech,” and the captain takes all measures to insure the safety of Leggatt, essentially treating him like a baby and tending to his needs and often warmly embrace and share moments of joy. (Scott 205) Leggatt represents the aggressive, reckless, temperamental and darker side of life and did not sympathize with the captain’s kind heart. Each person had traits that would work together. The relationship the captain has with Leggatt is distracting to his progression into manhood, but paradoxically aids his transition.
The psyche is split into three parts with regards to Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality; the superego is the component of personality composed of our internalized ideals that we have acquired from our parents and from society. The superego works to suppress the urges of the id and tries to make the ego behave morally, rather than realistically. The superego is the last component of personality to develop. The id is the basic, primal part of personality that is present from birth. Next, the ego begins to develop during the first three years of a child's life. Finally, the superego starts to emerge around the age of five.
Readers can conclude that Leggatt is the super-ego and the captain is the ego. The captain finally has command of the ship and is masculine and confident and commands his superego, casting aside any maternal or homosexual identification and commandeering the ship out of harm’s way and avoiding the destruction of himself and his ship by releasing all prior feelings about life. The captain looking at the hat symbolizes the entire personality coming together and this impresses his crew. His sudden confidence helps him release all the guilt he feels inside for hiding, rather than displaying Leggatt, the driving force behind the transformation (Underwood).
Soon thereafter, he begins to utilize his new found identity. The captain changes in a positive way as he redefines his lacking confidence and doubt. Complexity is given to the “hero” of the story and “turns him from the unequivocal good guy into a more nuanced and this socially symbolic character”. This complexity helps the obvious psyche shift, and the captain is hesitant to let Leggatt leave, but does, after they embrace hand and the two men become one. The captain retains the id label and will confidently command the ship. The tone shifts drastically and the way the captain is presented changes with it. “I asked myself whether it was wise ever to interfere with the established routine of duties even from the kindest of motives. My action might have made me appear eccentric” (Conrad 28). He no longer fears running the ship and feels he is prepared to do it. This creates a triumphant moment for the captain, but without Leggatt, none of it would have happened. He was there to propel everything into action, be there throughout it and metaphorically leave at the end. It was that very act of secret sharing that made the captain face his fears on the ship and deep within himself. Now he can see his whole self with this newly found tool for success in life and can fully be himself.
In contrast Lessing’s main character Susan must distance herself from everyone and neglect her motherly and spousal duties to retain her sanity, yet ends up quietly forcing herself into solitude and eventually brings death upon herself while struggling to reaffirm her chosen life. Mentions of her family are brought up, but she begins to ignore them because she would rather retreat than confront anyone. She deems her marital status all her fault and feels trapped within the terms of male-dominated culture.
Lessing reveals much within the first sentence of the story, saying, “This is a story, I suppose, about a failure of intelligence: the Rawlings’ marriage was grounded in intelligence”. The only purpose for mentioning this serves as the catalyst for the entire story to quick pick up pace, and the readers haven’t even met the characters yet. Within the next few pages, readers are made aware of the constant need to explain what binds the marriage. In fact, “they banish all passion [...] and learn to control every aspect of their lives, seeking to assimilate even the potentially explosive emotion of infidelity by understanding and thereby containing them” (Halisky 48).
In this text, Susan chooses her roles and willingly fulfills them, until the people around begin to seemingly suffocate her and she spends much of her time trying to find solace. In the meanwhile, her husband, Matthew tries to console her and understand what she needs. Susan feels her marital problems are all her and she doesn’t want to confront it. This can be perceived as cowardly whereas, Susan wants to remove herself from the picture. She wants to shed all the roles she has performed and just live.
In comparison to Conrad’s story, this one has both male and female characters, but the story focuses on the female character. Jungian theory best explains this:
The devil, as the personification of Susan’s animus, [animosity] as the complement to her Ego, as the Self who reveals the deficiencies in Susan’s life and character, is an ally rather than an enemy. His stick is a still phallic symbol, but one which represents potency, life, and strength rather than sexual desire. Tragically, Susan fails to understand and accept her animus. She erroneously [...] seeks solitude in Room Two nineteen in a dingy hotel and her suicide is predictable when a Jungian approach is applied [considering] the connection between ego and Self is vitally important to psychic health...when the connection is broken, the result is emptiness and despair (Watson 54).Essentially, Susan must recognize and subsequently retain the power she has as a woman and Lessing can be called a feminist writer. Without this, she is not complete, her emptiness leads to despair and this eventually will lead to loneliness, depression and isolation. This story aims to steer those who have those feelings, functioning as a cautionary tale in the hope of helping others avoid true madness. “Brushing her hair and “hugging” the solace of her own solitude” consumes much of her time, rather than being a good mother, wife and friend, she shirks all her duties and wishes to rid herself of this male-dominated society (Halisky 47). It redefines the saying, “Worry about you.” Susan literally secludes herself and does not want to deal with the issue, just ignoring it, as if it will go away.
She is trying to learn how to be herself and questions her sanity. Her newfound self-awareness is realized too late as she is in her “last resort,” in every sense. This is a hotel that is dingy, old and has that old-fashion bed and breakfast feeling, the last place someone would want to be, unless they like that sort of thing. It is no way to live a life, but Susan seems content with retreating to this place. It becomes her home and her demons are left at her real home, this is a place that she goes to in an attempt to look for “herself”
The Jungian Theory explains the decision these characters make and how it leads to either the newfound confidence or demise, despite their independence being found. Readers can see the obvious shift in tone and the euphoria felt by the characters and arriving to a point of enlightenment is both a cheerful moment for readers and the characters; they are no longer overcome by guilt, doubt, repression and madness, no longer succumbing to the perils of life and families. Conrad rejects the strict male-female roles and presents an “eccentric form of masculinity” giving his unnamed captain feminine qualities and Susan runs away from a male dominated society every chance she has, because solitude for her is a necessity (Perel 112).
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(*) The Super-ego of Freud.
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