The shadow line
What is the "shadow line"? It is the border line between inexperienced youth and adulthood, the thin and, at the same time, hard line which changes the vision one has of life. There are people who never cross this line, who never pass through it. They remain before the line for ever, either because they have had too easy life, without responsibility or stress; or because they are too "weak", too "little" to face life. Youth is not only a matter of age, it is also a state of mind, the characteristic of an unstable personality. We become adult when we face things, when we realize that we overcome pain, solitude, bitterness , that we must assume the responsibility fornour own life and the line of others.
According to the plot of this novel which is very simple. The protagonist, an inexperienced seaman, is just thinking of leaving the sea. He has served for two years on an excellent Scottish ship, when he suddenly decided to leave it. Why? In his still vacillating personality he does not really know the reason for his decision. He is now thinking of going home when, through an enigmatic Captain Giles, who is staying at the same hotel, he gets to know that a captain is wanted immediately for a ship whose master has suddenly died in Bangkok.
He consequently takes his first command, but he soon encounters serious difficulties: the ship, though rather old, is kept in good order, and is really a high-class vessel, a "proportionate, harmonious sea-creature": but the whole crew is seriously affected by tropical fever, which the captain cures from the supply of quinine that any ship most have in tropical seas. Soon, however, he discovers that the quinine is finished , as the former captain had sold off the life-saving store. He also hears that the previous captain, before dying, had gradually gone mad; in addition, the first officer, Mr Burns, is ill and almost insane, prey to the superstitious fancy that the evil spirit of the previous captain will lead the ship and her crew to ruin.
Moreover, the ship languishes for days and days in a stagnant windless sea. The captain realizes that all responsibility for the ship, the crew and the almost insane first officer falls on his shoulders; he realizes that he must treat the diseased sailors with great understanding, with encouraging words, but always with calm authority.
In this particular position he feels isolated, but he wrestles with his unease. His youthful , selfish, expectations are confronted by crude reality, but he does not fall prey to superstition. He now questions his former vision of life and becomes conscious that, though a man may feel weak before human events, he must develop moral principles which will be the ground on which his new self can be built. He crosses the "shadow-line", entering the world of adulthood. His crew has never lost faith in him and he discoverers , in this tragic situation, a great moral principle: solidarity.
At last there is rain, promising a change of weather, with the long awaited wind that swells the sails. In a few days the ship, steered by the almost exhausted captain, reaches the port of destination, thanks to a master whose whole vision of life is changed for ever.