Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Since the appearance of his first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), William Golding has been received as a writer of moral allegories and parables. At its outset, The Paper Men seems a very different kind of work, a realistic domestic comedy. Yet gradually the religious overtones of the narrative take hold, and Barclay’s insistence on viewing his life as “farce” is seen against the background of larger failings in human society. That society often seems as flat and two-dimensional as the novel’s two main characters.

By and large, reviewers have been disappointed in Golding’s novel, albeit he has been judged by the high expectations occasioned by his winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. His selection was controversial and provoked an unprecedented protest by one of the Nobel judges. Even sympathetic reviews of The Paper Men noted that only admirers of Golding’s previous work would greet it with enthusiasm, and his doubters would have no reason for revising their low opinions.

It is perhaps too early to characterize the place of The Paper Men in Golding’s career. It does seem apparent, however, that in this novel he has not fully integrated his concern with important moral and religious themes with a convincing cast of characters who are interesting in their own right. To some extent, this is always the problem for a writer of allegory, who employs his figures to stand for more than...

(The entire section is 401 words.)