The Spire Analysis

Literary Techniques

Golding's most distinctive technique in this novel is linking symbols to develop his themes. Throughout the novel the spire represents the idealism or vision that enables man to do what seemingly cannot be done. The spire stands despite inadequate foundations and lifts men's hearts and minds. But opposing the spire is what Golding terms the cellarage, a pit dug at the center of the nave. It represents the evil that was also necessary to build the spire — the murders and exploitation. The apple tree, with its associations with the Fall, is an apt symbol for the nature of man.

Linking these three symbols, particularly at Jocelin's moment of self-awareness, Golding reiterates the theme of the simultaneous existence of opposites in man. When Jocelin on his deathbed sees the spire through his window, he says, "It's like the apple tree!" "It" can be both man and the spire. Root and blossom, cellarage and spire, evil and highest aspiration, the opposites are inseparable in tree, tower, and man.

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The Spire Literary Precedents

Bernard S. Oldsey and Stanley Weintraub, in The Art of William Golding have posited two literary precedents for The Spire. T. S. Eliot's play The Rock (1934) and Henrik Ibsen's play The Master Builder (1892) both concern church-building. Both Eliot and Golding point out that the cost of creating the visible structure that reminds man of an invisible power can be extremely high. The Spire is similar to Ibsen's play in its exploration of physical and spiritual obsessions, and in its examination of the way characters see completion of the structure as expiation for the sins involved in building it.

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The Spire Related Titles

Several other novels in Golding's canon deal with the theme of self-knowledge and the imposing of one's own will. In Pincher Martin (1956), the dead seaman pits his will against God's, refusing to give up. He learns that his will is no match. Sammy Mountjoy, in Free Fall (1959), looks back on his life to see where he lost his freedom. He finds that it was the moment he imposed his will on another and ruined her life. Like Sammy, Oliver, the protagonist in The Pyramid (1967), learns about himself in the course of the novel; but where Sammy wishes to overcome his dark side, Oliver is willing to live with it because the price to change is too great. An enigmatic combination of Sammy and Oliver, Edmund Talbot in Rites of Passage (1980) recognizes his failings and his role in another man's demise, but critics debate the degree of change that may result.

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The Spire Bibliography (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Babb, Howard S. The Novels of William Golding, 1970.

Crompton, D. W. A View from the Spire: William Golding’s Later Novels, 1985.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark, and Ian Gregor. William Golding: A Critical Study, 1968.

Oldsey, Bernard S., and Stanley Weintraub. The Art of William Golding, 1965.

Tiger, Virginia. William Golding: The Dark Fields of Discovery, 1974.