Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 827
Darkness Visible, by its title, conveys Golding’s central preoccupation, that of making the darkness within visible through fiction. This novel focuses on the spiritual darkness of the modern world and its accompanying loss of love. The urban wasteland is represented by Greenfield, an English village once aptly named but currently suffering all the ills of urbanization, such as pollution, noise, and overcrowding. Two overlapping tales show that the people who live there are also suffering. For them, love is either distorted or absent; the old rituals have either died or lost their power to put people in touch with the divine.
The story begins in war-ravaged London, where the central character, Matty Windrave, emerges in flames like a burning bush from one of the fires. This child survives but is extremely deformed and without any family. He is shuttled from place to place, his distorted features making people uncomfortable. They see only the outside and do not value his kindness, honesty, or hard work. Although Matty craves love, he is rebuffed or used at every turn.
His teacher, Mr. Pedigree, likes handsome young boys and sits Matty almost behind a cabinet. Pedigree’s perversity leads him to ask favorite boys to his rooms under the guise of helping them with their lessons. When he is warned by the headmaster about these meetings, Pedigree uses Matty to screen himself. Knowing that no one would think he had ulterior motives for inviting such an ugly child, he asks Matty to come to his rooms. The current favorite cannot deal with his rejection and falls to his death, which ultimately leads to Pedigree’s imprisonment. Pedigree tells Matty it is all his fault. Matty believes him. He thinks Pedigree is a friend he betrayed and resolves to make amends.
To those who reject him, Matty looks inhuman, but he is perhaps more than human. Unlike others who have lost touch with the spiritual world, Matty communicates with angels who help him in his quest to answer questions about who he is and what his mission is. Matty knows that the old rituals have lost their power, so he creates his own or endures new versions of the old ones. He memorizes and recites Bible passages, walks in chains through a swamp in self-baptism, and suffers a mock crucifixion. He knows he may be perceived as mad but feels that he needs the rituals to cleanse himself of his perceived sin, ward off evil, and gain the more-than-human power he will need for his mission of salvation.
The second story focuses on Sophy Stanhope, one of twin girls who grow up in Greenfield. Unlike Matty, Sophy and her sister, Toni, are beautiful. They are objects of attention and affection for everyone except their father, from whom they want love. Sophy’s frustration comes out in violent, destructive impulses. Like Matty, she is in touch with mysterious forces, but she taps into them for evil purposes. Her first experience involves sensing and acting on the synchronous moment when a small duck swimming by can be killed by a large stone thrown into the water. Also like Matty, Sophy craves love. She has a family, but in her part of the wasteland world, family love is a joke. Her mother has abandoned the family, and her father consorts with a series of “aunties.” Sophy’s own love life involves an undercurrent of risk, violence, or manipulation.
The paths of the characters converge after they are grown up or have grown old. Matty’s mission is to guard the messianic child that his angels tell him will be the new representative of divine power on earth. Sophy plots with others to kidnap the same child, the ransom and the evil adventure appealing to her. When Sophy’s cohorts bomb the school where the child lives, Matty whirls through the fire to save him, becoming the burnt offering the angels have told him he must become.
Matty must also save Pedigree from himself. An old man who preys on children in the park, Pedigree knows that his compulsion will one day lead him to murder a child to keep him from telling. Nevertheless, he cannot stop himself. Pedigree is in the park waiting for his next boy to come close when he has a vision. The dead Matty approaches to take away the brightly colored ball that Pedigree uses to entice the boys. As Pedigree clutches the ball to his chest, it becomes his beating heart; when Matty pulls it from him, his heart stops and he dies. However, Pedigree dies with insight. It is he who realizes that Matty was the only person who loved him and that love is what all people are searching for, whether they call it sex, money, or power. Thus Matty is vindicated and evil thwarted at the end of the novel by the power of love and a higher, inexplicable power with which Matty was in tune.
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