An important and characteristically Conradian element here is a suspicion of too much intellectualization, too much thought. […] The captain is protected from such Hamlet-like inertia by Ransome – simultaneously a Christ-figure and representative of the demands of tradition and collective labour. But the captain is capable of being protected: he has not caught the disease of idleness to which others such as Hamilton have succumbed. Here the fact of his ship’s being a sailing (rather than a steam) ship is crucial. Captain Ellis tells him that others are ‘Afraid of the sails. Afraid of a white crew. Too much trouble. Too much work. Too long out here. Easy life and deck-chairs more their mark’ (p. 26). A suggestive comparison can be drawn with [Lord] Jim’s experience in an Eastern port where he meets white men in hospital living unreal dream-lives, men who had remained to serve as officers of native-owned ships, and who ‘had now a horror of the home service, with its harder conditions, severer view of duty, and the hazard of stormy oceans. They were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea. They loved short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white. They shuddered at the thought of hard work, and led precariously easy lives, always on the verge of dismissal, always on the verge of engagement, serving Chinamen, Arabs, half-castes – would have served the devil himself had he made it easy enough. They talked everlastingly of turns of luck… and in all they said – in their actions, in their looks, in their persons – could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence.’ The passage reveals Conrad’s shrewd understanding of how colonial ease could corrupt.
– Jeremy Hawthorn, Introduction to ‘The Shadow-Line’ (Oxford World’s Classics Edition)