The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Though The Spire is populated by several important characters, in a sense the only character in the novel is Jocelin. Everything in it is rendered through his eyes; all others are seen merely as components of an emerging vision which Jocelin believes is divinely inspired. This story of a “master builder” who builds too high (often compared to Henrik Ibsen’s play of that title) is a deceptively simple account of a man beset by pride and obsessed with his own self-image. From the beginning yf the novel, when Jocelin observes the model of the spire standing in front of the cathedral’s crossways, it is clear that his “prayer” is a phallic gesture, a product of his own self-love:
The model was like a man Iying on his back. The nave was his legs placed together, the transepts on either side were his arms outspread. The choir was his body; and the Lady Chapel, where now the services would be held, was his head. And now also, springing, projecting, bursting, erupting from the heart of the building there was its crown and majesty, the new spire.
This description prefigures what will become in the novel the close identification between Jocelin’s body and the building of the spire; here, it acts as a substitute for his sexual desires regarding Goody Pangall. He remarks that “now there was a kind of necessary marriage: Jocelin and the spire.” He dreams that his body is the...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jocelin, the dean of the Cathedral Church of Our Lady, somewhere in England. He obtained the position through the influence of his aunt, who was mistress to a previous king. Despite this connection, Jocelin appears a spiritual man, full of visionary faith, feeling called by God to construct a tower and spire for the cathedral. At first, the vision is seen by Jocelin as an act of faith over material impossibilities, such as inadequate foundations. He feels tremendous joy and love as this act of faith begins to take shape. He sees his vision as providing the willpower to motivate those who doubt the feasibility of the project. As opposition and difficulties mount, however, he finds that his will becomes more naked. He realizes that self-sacrifice may not be cost enough; he starts to “sacrifice” those around him, for example, making no move to protect Goody Pangall or her husband. Eventually both die. He also learns to shut difficult people and situations out of his consciousness, to become indifferent to them. This enables him to remain totally uncompromising, whatever the consequences. His will becomes all-consuming and obsessive, and he neglects all of his other duties as he drives the workmen.
Roger Mason, the master builder, the only person, as far as Jocelin is concerned, who has the skill and the workers to build so ambitiously. Roger cannot respond to Jocelin’s faith. When he discovers...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
Dean Jocelin is the human force behind the building of the spire. He is a study in contradictions, and as such he reflects the theme. The idea of building the spire comes to him in a vision, so he believes he has been chosen to do God's work. But soon, religious fervor is replaced by pride and will as Jocelin exploits all those around him to achieve his aims. He simply shuts out from his awareness the damage he is doing, until in the end of the novel, he is forced to see the evil in himself.
Roger Mason, the master builder, is the representative of reason which opposes Jocelin's spiritual impetus. He calculates that the foundations are not adequate for the spire but is overruled and overrun by Jocelin.
Pangall and his wife Goody are two other victims of Jocelin's monomania. Their fate and that of the master builder demonstrates the degree of corruption that is part and parcel of raising the spire.
(The entire section is 164 words.)