Christopher Hadley Martin is really the only character in this experimental novel; in fact, his mind is practically the only thing that exists in it. What the reader knows of his character is revealed through Christopher’s immediate struggle and the flashbacks played within his memory. Ironically, that which makes him such a despicable character in his actual life is the same thing that makes him such a heroic figure in his psychic effort to survive: his powerful ego. Moreover, that which he practices in life—his career as a professional actor—is also that which makes it possible for him to create a theatrical world within his own mind in which to “live” his experience on the rock.
The central clue to his character, in addition to the suggestions provided by his nickname, Pincher, is given by his producer, Pete, whose wife Christopher has seduced. In one production, Christopher is to play one of the deadly sins, and Pete says that Greed is the ideal role for Christopher: “He was born with his mouth and his flies open and both hands out to grab.” It is also Pete who supplies the central structural metaphor of the novel: the Chinese box. To create a delicacy, the Chinese bury a fish in a tin box. As it decays, the maggots eat it; then the big maggots eat the middle-sized ones and then eat one another until there is left one huge successful maggot, the only one to survive. In the novel, Christopher is the huge, surviving maggot. Golding has said about this character that he tried to make him the “nastiest type” he could imagine, and that the world of the novel is “composed of his own murderous nature.”
The two secondary characters who exist in the novel only in Christopher’s flashbacks—Nathaniel and Mary—are less real people than embodiments of qualities that are opposite to Christopher himself. Nathaniel represents spiritual values of self-denial which Christopher despises so much that he is preparing to murder Nat just at the moment when the torpedo hits the ship. Mary is simply an embodiment of innocence that Christopher, in a satanic way, wishes to destroy for no other reason than that she is innocent. Indeed, in this sense of the fable, Christopher is the heroic Satan figure of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.