The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Because Matty represents the force of transcendent grace, his character is more symbolic than realistic. To what extent is Matty a real human being, to what extent the embodiment of divinity touching mankind? Certainly, he is an extreme example of the alienated existential protagonist in twentieth century literature. Cut off from the love—even the sympathy—of most people because of his hideous burns, he is wounded and set apart from the rest of humanity. Driven to existential introspection, he trusts only in his private visions, his own mystic perception of reality. Indeed, in a certain sense he is not a real person at all but a manifestation of epiphany, of God revealing Himself through man.

Golding allows the reader to view Matty through the skeptical eyes of Mr. Pedigree, a wretched pederast who sees the boy at first as simply a monster. The genial Sim Goodchild, well-meaning and rational, views the boy with pity but without realizing that he is a perfectly ordinary, although physically deformed, youth. The odious twins, Sophy and Toni Stanhope, cannot comprehend Matty at all, for their lives are consumed with sexual sadism and vanity. With the exception of the mysterious Arab Prince, all the other characters define themselves in terms of Matty—as they accept or reject him, misunderstand or understand his mission. The Arab (perhaps a symbol for the Second Coming of Christ) is as much a divine principle as Matty, and he stands alone as the final ambiguity.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Matty “Septimus” Windrave

Matty “Septimus” Windrave, also called Windrove or Windgrave, the protagonist, a branded victim of the London firebombing. His past a blank slate, his body horribly burned, and his mind psychologically scarred, Matty Windrave remains an outcast throughout his life because of his monstrous condition—a limp, a two-toned face, a half-bald skull, and a ghastly ear. At the Foundlings School at Greenfield, despite his high-minded craving for knowledge, he is rejected by schoolmasters and classmates alike, a rejection that leads to his quest for spiritual meaning to explain his fate and to point the way toward his destiny. Introspective and enduring, he works as a laborer in Australia (always with superior testimonials) until a mystical experience leads him to write a journal of his mission and directs him back to Greenfield and the beautiful, clever Stanhope twins. Back in Greenfield, he redeems himself by once again being consumed by fire, in this case, a firebomb that burns down his old school. Thanks to Matty, the fire fails to harm the kidnapped Arab child whom he frees. Whether he is a mystic-seer or deluded fanatic, Matty sacrifices himself for an innocent.

Sebastian Pedigree

Sebastian Pedigree, a pitiable pederast who taught in the boys’ school Matty attended. His deviant inclinations lead to a child’s suicide, his own dismissal, a series of imprisonments, and his moral and economic decline. He meets Matty’s unspoken pleas for friendship with horror and rejection, blaming him for the tragic pattern of his life. The slightly built and graying Pedigree cannot control the tide of passion that overtakes him in waves, and he relies on a multicolored ball to attract young boys to his center of existence, the public...

(The entire section is 737 words.)