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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 191

William Golding's Rites of Passage is the first novel in the To the Ends of the Earth trilogy. In his journal, Edmund Talbot accounts a six month voyage to Australia. Talbot describes passengers of all classes of British society, all of whom have had employment arranged by Talbot's influential grandfather.

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Writings in the journal begin to concern a passenger named Reverend Colley, who is persecuted by Captain Anderson. Upon the crew reaching the equatorial belt, Colley is found in a drunken stupor. When Talbot goes to comfort him, he finds a journal of Colley's own keeping near his half-conscious body. Colley dies after getting drunk. It is also implied that he is sexually assaulted by the crew and officers. When one of the crew suggests this, the captain swiftly calls off the investigation into Colley's death, as homosexual intercourse is punishable by hanging.

Upon going over Colley's journal, Talbot feels guilty that Colley had seen him as a sort of hero and had wished to know him better. As the novel ends, Talbot is hesitant about presenting his own journal to his grandfather, though he concludes that he has no choice.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 995

Edmund Talbot writes a journal for his unnamed godfather and patron as he travels to Australia. His godfather has procured for Talbot an appointment as deputy to the governor of one of the new Australian colonies being settled. In return, the godfather has asked his godson to keep the journal so that he can revisit his own youth in his godson’s adventures. Talbot is very full of the influence of his godfather in government circles and of his own position as the highest-ranking aristocrat aboard the ship. His is also very self-conscious of his own writing style, knowing his words will be read by his godfather, who presumably can continue to influence his career. Talbot particularly delights in learning the nautical jargon used by the sailors and showing off this knowledge in the journal.

At first, Talbot is overwhelmed by the ship’s stink and crowded quarters. He describes his cabin as a “hutch,” but, as the voyage begins, seasickness keeps him in it, as it does most of the middle-class, or “better sort of,” passengers. When he emerges from his cabin, Talbot begins to meet the ship’s officers—the lieutenants and midshipmen—as well as the middle-class passengers, all of whom are emigrants. He does not immediately meet the steerage passengers or the crew, who live in the forward part of the ship. Demarcation lines exist everywhere, but one demarcation Talbot fails to notice is the approach to the captain. He believes he can introduce himself to the captain any time he wishes, though his servant Wheeler and Lieutenant Summers try to hint otherwise. When he attempts to do this, he is reminded by Captain Anderson that he should have read the “Captain’s Orders,” which expressly forbid approach to the captain except at the captain’s invitation.

One of the last passengers to emerge from seasickness is a young clergyman named James Colley. Colley seems gauche and awkward, and Talbot judges him immediately as coming from a lower class. In the absence of a chaplain, however, Colley takes on himself the responsibility of arranging a Sunday service. Like Talbot, he fails to notice the ban on approaching the captain, but he is told off in a much more insulting way than Talbot was. Talbot decides to take it on himself to confront the captain and get a Sunday service organized, not because he is religious, but in an attempt to assert his superiority.

The service takes place, with a few of the lower-class passengers being allowed to join the better class and the ship’s officers. Talbot finds Colley enormously embarrassing at the service,...

(The entire section contains 1186 words.)

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