In Joseph Conrad's short story Youth: A Narrative, Conrad writes

What made them do it—what made them obey me when I, thinking consciously how fine it was, made them drop the bunt of the foresail twice to try and do it better? What? They had no professional reputation—no examples, no praise. It wasn’t a sense of duty; they all knew well enough how to shirk, and laze, and dodge—when they had a mind to it—and mostly they had. Was it the two pounds ten a month that sent them there? They didn’t think their pay half good enough. No; it was something in them, something inborn and subtle and everlasting. I don’t say positively that the crew of a French or German merchantman wouldn’t have done it, but I doubt whether it would have been done in the same way. There was a completeness in it, something solid like a principle, and masterful like an instinct—a disclosure of something secret—of that hidden something, that gift, of good or evil that makes racial difference, that shapes the fate of nations.

Researching the last sentence of the passage, I found an interpretation from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations) stating:

The sailors’ very Englishness, a force beyond their understanding or control, makes them act nobly in an emergency. Yet here Marlow’s belief in the existence of a “hidden something” does not amount to any sort of racial theory of history. The uneven distribution of character appears to him as an inexplicable secret, and it just so happens that the English have more of it than other people.

Although in Bloom's Interpretation he (from my interpretations) identifies nobleness as a product of this "hidden something" due to the crew's Englishness, he later quantifies what he termed "character" such that he could justify an English Crew definitely acting in this manner, and a French or German crew not necessarily succeeding, due to their having lesser of this "character". Thus Bloom equates Englishness to this "hidden something" and I don't exactly know what he is defining as "character", English Culture perhaps?

My questions are threefold

  1. What action is Marlow ascribing there being a "completeness in" or itself being the "disclosure of something secret". Is it the sailor's obedience to Marlow, or their action of "drop[ing] the bunt of the foresail twice to try and do it better?"?

  2. In the last sentence the "hidden something" is equated to a "gift, of good or evil that makes racial difference". What exactly is this "hidden something", why is he uncertain as to its being "good or evil" and how does it relate to race?

  3. In what way does this "hidden something" shape the fate of nations?


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