Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

With a play upon words, Golding uses the title phrase “rites of passage,” the initiation ceremony usually involving coming-of-age, in three different senses. In the most commonly understood meaning of the phrase, Edmund Talbot undergoes, as a result of his experiences, the ritual of changing from youth to manhood. In the beginning of the novel he is untried, although his capabilities show promise; by the end, he is experienced, his promise realized. During the course of the voyage, he passes from an observer to a participant in life. He has acquired an initiation into the mysteries of sex; he has learned to distinguish between appearance and reality; and he has begun the process of becoming a true Christian gentleman, compassionate, forgiving, seriously dedicated to the well-being of others. He has started a vocation in life.

In a special sense, the “rites of passage” concern, as well, an initiation for the whole crew and the passengers of the vessel. Their sea passage from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere is bisected by “the line,” the equator. The Northern latitudes represent the Northern (English) temperament—restrained, reasonable, cool; the Southern latitudes represent the exuberant, the emotional, the warm-blooded. Between the line of reason and emotion, discipline and freedom, control and abandon—the equatorial line separating the Antipodes—the crew and passengers break into a riotous ceremony of drunkenness,...

(The entire section is 524 words.)