I have a little problem about this. How do you classify this? Is this a short story or a novella? And how does one decide whether one is a short story or a novella? Is there a maximum word count? What elements should be present or absent?
And I also have another problem. I don’t think there are novellas. One can only either be a short story or a novel. And if you really think about it, the length depends on who is reading. Factors like reading speed, interest level, and other subjective matters play a part in this classification. If you ask me, I think Tropic of Cancer is just as long as War and Peace.
So I will lay it all down with this: The Secret Sharer is a short story. I read this right after Heart of Darkness. It’s a back to back edition. Maybe the publishers aren’t too sure either on what to do with this but needed to have it published because of its substance. And yes, I know I talked too much already without much relevance to the work. So here goes anything.
The reason I talked a bit about the short story, the novel, and the border between the two is because I don’t have a lot to say about this work. So yes, this is about a ship captain who saves a crew member from another ship who killed someone on the previous ship he was on so the ship captain took him in without the crew’s knowing and even lead his ship to a dangerous part of the sea to let the this crew member swim safely to shore.
That’s it. I summarized the plot in 59 words, 57 if we take off the beginning phrase that I am guilty of using to resume something that I digressed from. So yes, I used it again. What else do I have to say?
Let’s ask these questions: Why did the ship captain take him in? Why did he have to hide him? Why did he keep him a secret? Why didn’t he throw him off the ship upon knowing of his dark deeds? Why did he protect him?
The captain must have took in the man out of impulse. Deeper than that, it must have been compassion all along. If one were to be in a similar situation, finding a naked man struggling to survive, wouldn’t one be called for helping? I think man is inclined to help if he finds another man in a very distressing, life and death situation, as long as one’s life is not immediately compromised after the act of helping. I stress this one because it would be totally different if one was trying to save someone who is being held hostage with a gun in front of his head.
But things change upon the captain’s knowing of the man’s murdering of another man. He even denied of knowing him when that man’s crew came over them. I think they did come over. Either way, it questions human nature and the mysterious inner workings of ourselves. Our acts do not merely lie on whims or superficial factors. They are fastened deeply to our moral foundations and the truths that we believe in.
I mentioned compassion a couple of paragraphs back. I think compassion means “with pain”. So the captain must have shared that man’s pain, if pain comes along with the guilty knowledge of having taken away someone else’s life or any dark deed for this matter. It is not a mere condoning of evil. It’s something more than that. As they say in relationships, it’s complicated.
The author writes strong stuff despite the short length of his works, at least the works that I was able to read. I have yet to read two more of his works, works which are significantly longer than this and Heart of Darkness.
But I do not have the energy to read them yet, not mentioning time as always. His works leave me empty. It’s like man is hopeless. Man will continue to do things that are against those of what we know as good. It’s in his nature. He will always clash with himself.
Really, I do not know what the theme of this work is. I can barely recall it. I find short reads hard to remember, and I have read this years ago. But this is what I am reminded of with this. The darkness of the human soul is a secret that we should keep yet fail to do so.