Contradicting Psychoanalytical Perspective: A Narrative that Reveals as it Conceals, but Conceals as it Reveals

By Abrahim Harb

Daniel R. Schwarz's article on a psychoanalytical perspective examines “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad as an act of memory, offering up many interesting, yet contradictory points that seem to debase each other. Schwarz trudges forward saying “Conrad’s narrative reveals as it conceals, but conceals as it reveals [...] we need to explore the complex psyche and values of the captain-narrator” (95). Schwarz’s first claim focuses on what happened prior to Leggatt leaving the Sephora, declaring it an “act of duty” (105) when in the text, the captain suggests it was in “a fit of temper” (31). Elsewhere another claim offers an explanation where the circumstance is not mentioned, but commotion surrounding the captain’s sendoff for Leggatt and making it a triumphant moment that releases a heavy burden that weighs heavy on his conscience (108). Lastly another offering claims Leggatt and the captain as doubles (102). Undoubtedly these three thoughts are contradictory and work against each other. How could a man commit such a crime, climb aboard another ship and escape unscathed and unseen by anyone? I argue that it is very likely that Leggatt is a representation of what the captain will become.

First and foremost, in the analytical offering differentiating the “horribly immoral act” as something “he [Leggatt] does not regret” (which is intentionally styled with italics in the article) is necessary. Leggatt is a reflection of who the captain will turn into—this fearless captain who risks his life for the sake of a ship. An act that is done in a fit of temper, no matter how immoral it may be, is usually something a person will regret—whether they publicly admit it or not. Leggatt has committed a crime to save the ship and its shipmates. He later realizes society may punish him heavily once they learn of his crime and the untimely death of a crew member, despite the circumstances surrounding it. He then flees the Sephora, becoming a nomad on another boat. Whereas the captain has doubts concerning his ability to run the ship effectively and comes off as a squeamish child.

In the next analytical offering, assuredly any inkling of Leggatt, the Sephora or its captain actually existing is diminished. The psyche is split into three parts: id (residing in the unconscious), ego (part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world) and superego (part of the personality representing the conscience). It is concluded that Leggatt is the id, captain is the ego and the Sephora captain is the superego. Additionally he believes “Leggatt is aligned with the atavistic and primitive, whereas the captain is a hyperconscious modern man, retreating to his psychic laboratory to sift through his feelings. In one excerpt of the criticism argues the captain doubts his actions, despite how fast he moved through the ranks; he lacks self-esteem and must become courageous. By the end, his psyche obviously changes and he is hesitant to let Leggatt leave, but does, after they embrace hands. The captain retains the id label and will confidently command the ship. Throughout the criticism, it argues both men combined create one self, one image, one person. These two moments seem to be the only time in these three selected offerings where Schwarz presents the evidence in a logical sense.

Nevertheless, Schwarz goes on to argue that a vivid scene and triumphant sendoff of Leggatt happens when the captain finally becomes the captain he should be. It does not even offer any suggestion that perhaps it is a metaphorical send off. The narrator sets up a situation that should lead to the failure of the captain’s ability to run the ship and it confides in the readers what he lacks balanced elsewhere. "The youngest man on board (barring the second mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest responsibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of the others for granted" (26). Then in the end, he is a strong willed man, shouting orders to his crew as he steers them away from the shore. 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” (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 leave at the end.

Not even once is Leggatt even discovered or seen and it is safe to assume he is a figment of someone’s imagination. If he is indeed a figment, then how can he regret something he did? Again, this is another occurrence where the characters seem to split off and display two sides of one person. For instance, the captain is the public side of the spectrum and his captain’s desk is located right in front of the doorway and Leggatt stays in the bedroom portion also known as the personal side of a person. Also Conrad reveals much into the story by choosing to narrate the story in the first person point of view and divulges much about what will happen over the course of the story.

Conrad’s story is easily mistaken as a straight story, with no hidden layers. But upon reexamining the text and its psychoanalytical criticism layers begin to rapidly appear. All these points that Schwarz makes seem to interweave into each other and quickly run into contradictory statements, thoughts and concept’s within one critique of a piece. He presents many different pieces to complete the analytical criticism puzzle--but does not acknowledge that he has offered three puzzles. He cleverly opens many doors and furthers suspicion concerning certain aspects of the story, never really fully confirming anything, while continuing to conceal it.