The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Christopher Hadley Martin is really the only character in this experimental novel; in fact, his mind is practically the only thing that exists in it. What the reader knows of his character is revealed through Christopher’s immediate struggle and the flashbacks played within his memory. Ironically, that which makes him such a despicable character in his actual life is the same thing that makes him such a heroic figure in his psychic effort to survive: his powerful ego. Moreover, that which he practices in life—his career as a professional actor—is also that which makes it possible for him to create a theatrical world within his own mind in which to “live” his experience on the rock.

The central clue to his character, in addition to the suggestions provided by his nickname, Pincher, is given by his producer, Pete, whose wife Christopher has seduced. In one production, Christopher is to play one of the deadly sins, and Pete says that Greed is the ideal role for Christopher: “He was born with his mouth and his flies open and both hands out to grab.” It is also Pete who supplies the central structural metaphor of the novel: the Chinese box. To create a delicacy, the Chinese bury a fish in a tin box. As it decays, the maggots eat it; then the big maggots eat the middle-sized ones and then eat one another until there is left one huge successful maggot, the only one to survive. In the novel, Christopher is the huge, surviving maggot. Golding has said about this character that he tried to make him the “nastiest type” he could imagine, and that the world of the novel is “composed of his own murderous nature.”

The two secondary characters who exist in the novel only in Christopher’s flashbacks—Nathaniel and Mary—are less real people than embodiments of qualities that are opposite to Christopher himself. Nathaniel represents spiritual values of self-denial which Christopher despises so much that he is preparing to murder Nat just at the moment when the torpedo hits the ship. Mary is simply an embodiment of innocence that Christopher, in a satanic way, wishes to destroy for no other reason than that she is innocent. Indeed, in this sense of the fable, Christopher is the heroic Satan figure of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Christopher Hadley “Pincher” Martin

Christopher Hadley “Pincher” Martin, a British navy lieutenant, called “Pincher” because that is the standard nickname for Martins in the Royal Navy. Prior to the war, he was an actor, with an eagle profile and wavy hair. Because he had no belief in anything but his own importance, he betrayed those close to him by sleeping with his producer’s wife to advance his career and by raping his best friend’s wife after serving as best man at their wedding. He is blown from his ship by a German torpedo. In the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land and thirty miles from a British convoy, Martin desperately attempts to stay alive on a barren rock in the North Atlantic. Clinging to the rock, he feeds on mussels and lichens as he rationally plots his survival and rescue. In an attempt to retain touches of humanity, he names the various sections of rock, many after London locations, though he imagines the rocks to be teeth in some mighty, threatening jaw ready to devour him, and he shaves himself with his knife. Fearing to sleep, he remains exposed on the rock for four days, buffeted by the elements. When he suffers food poisoning, Martin, using parts of his life belt, performs a crude, improvisational enema on himself. Because he is still wearing his heavy boots when his corpse washes ashore at novel’s end, the navy determines that he must have been drowned at sea at the time of the explosion....

(The entire section is 513 words.)