The Spire Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Context

The Spire was Golding’s fifth novel; it might be seen as standing at the productive (though not chronological) midpoint of this Nobel Prize-winning writer’s career. As such, it represents many of Golding’s collective concerns, along with providing a superb example of his exceedingly difficult role as allegorist in an age which largely rejects allegory. From his fable about the fall of innocence in Lord of the Flies (1954) to Rites of Passage (1980, a ship-of-fools parable of damnation and salvation), Golding has worked the allegorical seam with a depth, variety, and persuasiveness which flies in the face of those who would view allegory as an outdated genre. Perhaps his success in this vein can be attributed to the kind of allegory Golding writes: never simplistic, always an exacting complication of values, usually resulting not in didacticism but, precisely, in paradox and contradiction. Even within the mode of allegory, Golding consistently experiments with the form: The anthropological symbolism of Lord of the Flies can be set alongside the controversial “trick” ending of Pincher Martin or the intrusions of modern history and psychology into the allegorical inclinations of Free Fall (1959).

Golding’s diversity as a writer has often led him to work outside allegory, however, or to so change the form that it must be recognized as something beyond allegory. In Darkness Visible (1979), for example, certainly one of Golding’s most problematic and complex novels, “consciousness” is the issue: how recollection and projection work, how the human mind is affected by the constraints of contemporary existence. This novel, then, may be paired with The Inheritors (1955), which attempts to re-create and portray the “primitive” mind. Indeed, all of Golding’s novels, regardless of whethcr they are labeled as allegories, are dramas of human consciousness. Golding’s importance as a modern writer resides in his ability to portray how “life” and “mind” cooperate, or fail to do so, within a defined framework of intentions and values, or lack of these. In The Spire, one sees one aspect of this project, where intentions have gone astray and where the “rationality” of Jocelin’s mental design overwhelms the flawed, profane beauties of a fallen life-world.