Brendan O'Connell 2/25/10 ENG 345 Final paper Self identity is an issue that all humans have to deal with

at some point or another. Defining ourselves is very difficult, but we naturally find it very easy to determine someone elses identity. Literature allows us to look at what a character is thinking and feeling, but it can also be used to show us things about the author that we may not have thought about. Literature helps us create an identity for someone that we may have never met, and with that information it is possible to find our own identities. Watching the narrator try to discover his "Me", we are also forced to think about ourselves and what we might do in the same conditions. In literature we see more than the character knows and are given the tools to reveal the operations of unconscious and understand why characters take the actions they do in the story. Looking at Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer, the idea of self and the subjectivity of the language in the story is very important to determining the reliability of the narrator and also creating that identity that we need in all stories to connect with the characters. Using the chapter “Me”, about theories of the subject, from Bennet and Royle to examine this story we are given the opportunity to interprete the thoughts and words of Joseph Conrad and form them into an identity for this character that we may either want to know more about or dismiss completely.. Indentifying oneself is impossible, it is simply too difficult to interpret and analyze our own thoughts. It’s the reason people pay good amounts of money to psychiatrists to hear things about themselves. It’s easy to say something like “I am Me,” or “I think, therefore I am,” but consider the question that is brought up in Me, “who do you think you are?” Defining what other people are is easy with literature though, we are given their innermost thoughts. Conrad's story is important

to this idea because they essentially see themselves in a living mirror. Making a judgement about oneself is very difficult, but judging others comes to humans quite naturally. How we often describe ourselves is with our personality, never our self-identity. The difference between personality and identity is that identity is something that only the person knows about, unless they have it written down. When we look at a text about a certain character there are three relationships that need to be looked at and how they pertain to the identity of the character. Firstly is the character-author relationship or how the author has shaped the character he created. It’s possible that Conrad put a little of himself into the captain, but was it a coincidence or was he trying to unlock a little more truth about himself? Secondly is the character-reader relationship, where the character may have an influence on the reader and may help them find out more about their own self identity or become more attached to the character. Finally there is the character-character relationship that shapes the actions that the people in the story will make. With these three relationships, there is a corresponding self-identity, whether it be author, reader, or character, the literature is changing how these people look at themselves and what they identify with. When looking at psychology, literature, and philosophy together, it’s able to see why all of these things are needed in order to determine who we really are. Using psychoanalitic criticism, along with the ideas about self-identity from Me, and Asian philosophic thought about finding truth, looking at The Secret Sharer becomes a completely different experience where the reader sees through the captain’s eyes and understands why it is neccessary for the captain to find his “me"-ness. The captain is out of place on his own boat, and he is able to notice that much about himself, but for readers of the novel, it’s easy to recognize that the captain is projecting himself onto Leggat.

When the reader starts thinking about what the captain is thinking and doing, they will put themselves in the same position in their mind and ponder how they would deal with the situation. Literature becomes a way for people to look more closely at themselves and begin to define their own identity. We describe ourselves through groups of words, it’s only normal that our self identities can be discovered using language. Each human has the ability to look at a group of words, take certain words out, and reform them to create something new. When we do that action with a desciptive self exploration story like The Secret Sharer we end up creating a story about ourselves that we would never be able to sit down and write. Humans are really quite simple beings when it comes to discovery, especially self identity discovery, but for the most part we are wrong. When we think we know something, we’re wrong most of the time. The captain thinks he see’s a dead body, but it’s really his double, so did he just revive a part of himself that has been gone for a long time, or is it a discovery of a self identity that he never really thought he could find. Reading about another person struggling to find themself, like the captain does, gives the reader hope and makes them think that they might be able to do better in the future. But literature can also make people overthink what is happening in the story and look at things that are never really there. For instance, it’s been said that there is a homoerotic connection between the two men on the boat, the captain and Leggat. How gender critics got to that idea, I’m not quite sure, but the question here is, does it have anything to do with the captain, Leggat, or Conrad’s self-identity? Obviously sexuality is a large part of what we identify with, but when we go beyond looking at what’s actually happening in the story, we start to stray and develop an identity for these characters, which is unfair. So how can we find our own “Me” when we are unable to say it for

ourselves, other people would create something that we may not want, and psychiatrists tell us things that we already know? The answer is, nothing. We need to forget about identity and the need to genrify things. We need to become the captain and let the thing that we would feel the need to sort go away. Literature has the ability to suspend disbelief, while things in the story may not be real, the reader doesn’t really care and becomes absorbed with the story instead. There is really no need to worry about “who we think we are,” because in the end, we are what we are and that won’t change. Literature teaches us that we can think, do, say, and be anything that want. But if there is no single indentity, what is the individual? The idea of individual and the person is quite interesting to me, and Conrad seems to agree. He wrote, "I was fascinated by it myself. Every moment I had to glance over my shoulder. I was looking at him," in The Secret Sharer. This is interesting because at first he referes to Leggat as "it" but then later "it" becomes "him." The difference between subject and person is one that I would like to look at. Bennett and Royle quoted famous post-structuralist Michael Foucault in saying, "There are two meaning of the word 'subject': subject to someone else by control, and dependence and tied to one's own identity by a consious or self-knowlege." So who exactly is the subject of The Secret Sharer? We can look at it as being the captain, Leggat, or the consciousness that they appear to share. How we view ourselves is very important to how we define our "Me." The narrator first saw Leggat as a subject that was under someone's control and could never really be like him, but very quickly he changes to make it so that this new version of himself is more like him than anything else in the world. They share a consiousness that attaches them together and after that point when they are together he always uses “we” not “him and I”. The words that the captain uses have a meaning of their own, and

as Bennett and Royle say “Language determines the ‘I’ and the ‘I think’." The transition that he makes from it, to him, to us shows that he gradually becomes acceptant of his own identity by seeing parts of himself, that he would normally hide away, projected onto another person. He has learned how to use the language of subject and now knows how he can turn himself into the subject that we want to know more about. Idividual identity is the essential part of this paper, and with Bennett and Royle saying the "we cannot, in any meaningful way escape the fact that we are subject to language," the only way that we are able to define ourselves is to use the words that we are constantly surrounded with. The way that Conrad shapes the narrators words, makes the captain unsure about himself, but at times he is very certain about the man that he continuosly calls his "double." For example, "He appealed to me as if our experiences had been as identical as our clothes. And I knew well enough the pestiferous danger of such a character where there are no means of legal repression. And I knew well enough also that my double there was no homicidal ruffian." The way that language is used by the captain to talk about his double makes him seem like an unreliable narrator. And that could mean that he is lying about who he really is to himself. The idea of self identity is what I would really like to explore in this paper. I find it troubling that the unknown captain from The Secret Sharer is unsure of his own identity when he has practically looked into the miiror and acknowledged that it is his double. Perhaps looking at the language that he uses, like Bennett and Royle suggest, It will be possible to see what he is avoiding about his real self and why he eventually is glad to be rid of that part of him. He wanted to help Leggatt escape, but the question the text is really posing to us is, did he throw away something that may have been useful to him? The chapter "Me is important to understanding the self identity of written characters, and by looking into how other

characters talk about their self awareness, it will be possible to understand what the Captain was thinking and feeling while with his double. While theories of the subject allow us to delve into the lives of literary characters, they also force us to think about why we are reading and the importance of text. Most people think about who they “are” every day and how they are viewed by other people. Because we are subjects to someone, somewhere, and as we look at the captain as the subject of The Secret Sharer it’s important to realize that when we put ourselves in his position, we make ourselves the subject in order to enable us to read about ourselves. While he may be projecting himself on Leggat, the reader is projecting their own thoughts onto the captain in an existential attempt to see what they are hiding. The captain is not really an admirable character. He smuggles a murderer onboard, is unable to captain his own ship, and is constantly lying to hide a part of himself that other people want. This life of his is exactly the definition of an attempt to find self identity. We hide things that reveal things about ourselves only to see them leave at some point. Literature is the only thing that allows another person to peek through the window and discover something interesting about us. Journal or diaries are the best example of this and prove that text gives people a way to make themselves the subject that they can control. What all people truly desire in life is the ability to control themselves from a third person point of view.