Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The meaning of Pincher Martin is indeed much more complex than that of a simple survival narrative of a shipwrecked sailor. Golding has said that his intention was to make it a story of greed feeding upon itself when the self was denied anything else outside the self to feed upon. He has also suggested that the story has a definite religious meaning, that it is about Christopher refusing the selflessness necessary for dying and thus becoming caught in a purgatorial experience in which he defies the ultimate ego-destroying compassion of God. Although in one of his memory flashbacks Nathaniel tells Christopher that one must achieve the ability to die into Heaven, that if people die as they are, Heaven will be sheer negation, a sort of black lightning, Christopher’s final words as he is encompassed by the black lightning are: “I shit on your heaven!”

The thematic implications of the novel, however, go deeper than the Christian notion of purgatory which Golding has suggested, for what Christopher does is what every man must inevitably do: create his own reality, assert the self against nothingness, make up his own fictional experience which he then takes to be reality. In an existential sense, the novel insists that all human beings are always under penalty of death and must therefore constantly assert the self in spite of the fact that this assertion is only a fiction and that death is the only reality. Christopher “Pincher” Martin and his...

(The entire section is 413 words.)