YOUTH, END OF THE TETHER

Joseph Conrad

Not enough kind, superlative and complimentary words can be accumulated to praise and recommend these two short stories. Each takes one side of a sailor’s life, Youth(20 years old) and End of the Tether (Sea captain in his mid-sixties).

The Youth has his whole life before him. His ship becomes wrecked. The master is unlikeable. It is a struggle to get off the wreck and find a life boat. No one knows where they are. They don’t know where land is. They are hungry and thirsty. But he navigates the boat to land and to safety. With the hardship and having no money, does the Youth want to return home [in Europe]? And miss Eastern Asia!

The story is told in narration. The teller is either or knows the Youth. Conversation is a very effective way to tell this story.

End of the Tether is about a Captain who saved, owned his own ship, has a daughter in Australia who needs his financial help and remains well-regarded. The corporation in which his retirement is invested slides into bankruptcy. There is no recovery. He sells his ship.

Although he is frail and his faculties are fading fast, the Captain returns to the sea to earn money to help his daughter, He knows he can be the Captain of a ship if anyone will hire him, and he has a trusted crew. The ship’s owner and chief engineer is a man disliked by all that meet and know him. He does not like the arrangement forced upon him by the Captain. That sea dog seems immune from the many harsh criticisms, empty threats and bad words coming from the shipowner.

The Captain simply does his job. Late in the story the reader learns the Captain is blind. Unaware, the owner plots to send the ship off course; it will be wrecked at sea and sunk. The insurance will be paid. As it happens, if the Captain had his sight, he would have uncovered the plot. But the ship sinks. Everyone including the owner but not the Captain abandons ship. If the Captain is saved he loses his reputation; he was responsible for losing the ship – he was blind!

The jumble of influences, events and circumstances coming at the Captain play out well. For both stories the vim and vigor of youth carrying through to middle age’s vinegar – knowledge, thinking and reflection – drop off in later age to consideration, judgment and wisdom. As an elder the Captain knows what to do, but he has neither the mental nor physical abilities to undertake the effort. He is alone; no one can help.

It has been a while since I’ve read Joseph Conrad. I’ve gone through many of the novels. But this reading – I know I have to find more Conrad to continue reading excellent literature.

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