Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer" explores the mindset and actions of a young captain who is newly in charge of a ship in the high seas. Because of his age and inexperience the captain feels insecure about his command and is estranged from his crew. During one of the first nights of his command, while patrolling on the ship's deck, the captain discovers a body of a man holding onto the ship's ladder. After a discussion with the man, the young captain discovers parallels between him and the homicidal refugee, Leggatt. It has been many times argued that Leggatt is only the figment of imagination the captain creates in order to cope with the difficult situation on the ship. However, the captain's obsession bordering with homosexual/narcissistic preoccupation with his double, Leggatt, is so strong, it his hard to believe that only the unconscious mind created this character.
"With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back immersed right up to the neck" is how the narrator describes his initial meeting with naked Leggett. The young captain soon discovers many visual and personal similarities between the two of them and without hesitation chooses to hide Leggett in his small, L shaped cabin. The sense of familiarity with Leggett, while experiencing the emotional closeness and understanding of his new friend brings the captain to believe he is seeing his own double. "It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a somber and immense mirror"
Several times Joseph Conrad explores the closeness and sensuality which the two men are experiencing. "as we stood leaning over my bed place, whispering side by side, with our dark heads together and our backs to the door, anybody bold enough to open it stealthily would have been treated to the uncanny sight of a double captain busy talking in whispers with his other self" Touching, whispering, sharing a bed are a daily routine for the hideaway and his savior which leads us to believe that Leggett is more than just a "double". Captain's lack of affection from the crew of the ship is compensated by the presence of Leggett and their mutual understanding and affection.
The captain makes it possible for Leggatt to escape by ordering his ship to go near an island while performing a dangerous maneuver in the dark. And although it seems like pure madness to all the crew, the captain manages to become a stronger and more reliable leader by performing the task successfully. "Nothing! No one in the world should stand now between us, throwing a shadow in the way of silent knowledge and mute affection, the perfect communion of a seaman with his first command."
As the story nears its end, we comprehend that Leggatt is a mirror to the young captain to help him learn about himself. The captain is able to recognize true value of leadership through the closeness to this castaway and learns to live with direction and understanding of his position as a captain.