Rotten Row. Alleyway of slum housing in an unnamed Kent town, where Mountjoy was born and where his earliest memories are located. The name is probably merely colloquial; the only two parts of the town that William Golding names in the novel are Rotten Row, where Mountjoy was a child, and Paradise Hill, where he lives as a successful adult. The symbolism of these names is clearly intentional. Seen through the eyes of an innocent child who generally does not comprehend what he sees, Rotten Row is described at greater length and in far more detail than any other location in the novel. Readers see its dirty terraced houses with outdoor lavatories and the mud and puddles that litter the alley, as well as the petty feuds and rough society that allow people to survive in these grimy circumstances. They also see the pub at the end of the row, which, despite its poverty, aspires to a slightly higher social standing. The small focus of the residents’ lives is shown when the lodger dies, and the upstairs rooms where he lived remain unoccupied, Mountjoy and his prostitute mother continuing to live in their cramped ground-floor rooms.
Town. Unidentified town in southeast England. Despite the stunningly visual passage that opens the book—“I have walked by stalls in the market-place where books, dog-eared and faded from their purple, have burst with a white hosanna”—Mountjoy the artist provides remarkably little in the way of visual detail. Once he leaves the somber colors of Rotten Row for school, the town in which he lives ceases to be a coherent whole and becomes rather a sequence of unconnected sites in which significant incidents in his fall from grace occur. Never named, these sites are given only general appellations: the airfield, the school, the church, the hospital. At the airfield, Mountjoy is timidly following his more daring and admirable pal, Johnny, as he trespasses; at school he becomes a bully under the sly prompting of another friend, Peter, who also urges the desecration of the church where Mountjoy will be caught and hurt by the sexton, which lands him in the clean, white hospital where he learns his mother has died and the priest has become his guardian. None of these locations, not even the church, is a solid presence, the whole story of Mountjoy’s moral decline is told in his relationship with people not his environment.
*London. Great Britain’s capital city, located in southeastern England, not far from Kent. Mountjoy leaves his hometown only twice. He attends an art college (never seen) in south London, where he seduces, then abandons, Beatrice Ifor in a small, featureless flat. He also attends Communist Party meetings and marries another woman.
Prison cell. Punishment cell in which Mountjoy is confined in a German prison camp during World War II. During the war Mountjoy becomes a war artist and is captured by the Germans; however, the circumstance of his capture are never explained. In the camp to which he is taken, he is questioned by SS officers about his fellow prisoners’ escape plans. Since he has nothing to tell, he is locked in a tiny, pitch-black cell—the only place in the novel other than Rotten Row that is vividly described. Like the rocky island of Golding’s Pincher Martin (1956), the cell is a reflection of the inside of the main character’s head. As the claustrophobic Mountjoy gropes around in the dark, he discovers a damp patch in the middle of the floor and touches a wet soft mass that feels unspeakably horrible; he imagines...
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it to be human organs. The empty shell becomes the setting for all his terrors and doubts, but the soft mass turns out to be merely wet rags and his cell a broom closet. It is only here, confronted with his own emptiness, that he can come to recognize who he is and begin the process of revisiting and understanding his life.
Babb, Howard S. The Novels of William Golding. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1970. One chapter is given to each novel. Babb’s strength in writing on Free Fall is his introductory analysis of Golding’s style.
Boyd, S. J. The Novels of William Golding. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Boyd’s volume is contemporaneous to the later novels of Golding, and thus able to look back on the earlier ones with some hindsight. The quality of Sammy’s love is central to Boyd’s analysis.
Gindin, James. William Golding. New York: Macmillan, 1988. Sees Golding relating sinfulness to “becoming” in Free Fall. An economic, well focused thematic discussion.
Kinkead-Weekes, Martin, and Ian Gregor. William Golding: A Critical Study. 2d ed. Winchester, Mass.: Faber & Faber, 1984. Anticipates later criticisms of the novel’s being too reductionist by arguing that such criticisms are misconceived.
Redpath, Philip. William Golding: A Structural Reading of His Fiction. New York: Barnes & Nobel Books, 1986. Examines the circular structure of Free Fall and other novels of Golding.