Rites of Passage Sea Trilogy

by William Golding

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Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549

The format of the journal is a new one for Golding and one for which he received much critical praise. The story is told through Talbot's journal entries and Colley's letter. By using the language appropriate to each character and to the late eighteenth century, Golding imbues the work with the feeling of the period and moves the reader into the minds of Talbot and Colley.

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Typically, Golding uses the reversal of perspective at the end of the novel, but he skillfully weaves it into Talbot's narrative by making Colley's letter part of the journal.

In Close Quarters Golding continues to use the narrative form of a fictional sea journal employed in Rites of Passage but changes the perspective slightly by having Talbot keep this journal for himself rather than his benefactor and godfather. The result is that Talbot no longer has to concern himself with keeping up an image or being entertaining; he can be more introspective and analytical. Nevertheless, the differences are subtle. The language is the same imitation of nineteenth-century idiom, which allows Golding both to spoof the fashion of novels of manners and to create a realistic sense of setting. One critic has noted that historically, the introspection found in this literary form is limited to characters' reactions to and speculation about events on board. Certainly this is true of Rites of Passage and Close Quarters. Talbot's attempts at introspection do not approach the degree of self-analysis found in characters in many modernist novels.

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Whereas Rites of Passage could stand alone as a work of fiction, as the reader's concern for and interest in Colley is satisfied by the conclusion. Close Quarters is more obviously a partial work. At the end, the ship is still foundering, and Talbot is still pining for the missing Miss Chumley. The only plot element actually resolved is the reconciliation of Talbot and Summers. In addition, Talbot promises the reader a third book to show how he finally reaches land.

In Fire Down Below Golding continues to employ the narrative device of the fictional sea journal begun in Rites of Passage. At the end of the novel, however, Talbot shifts from the perspective of a young man writing a personal journal at the time of the events. In the last few pages, he is an old man looking back at events. ("I forget much these days.") Addressing his "dear readers," he quickly condenses the downs and subsequent ups of his fortunes: the death of his godfather, the intervention of Divine Providence in providing him a place in Parliament, and his accepted marriage proposal to Miss Chumley.

As he did in Rites of Passage, Talbot includes a portion of a letter. This time, however, instead of the wrenching emotions of Colley, the reader gets the banter of a young woman about to be married and eager to return from India to her familiar England. Finally, Talbot ends the story by relating a dream about the adventure he may have missed by rejecting the Prettimans' invitation to join with them to build a new world in Australia. Talbot expresses a note of regret that he chose the safer path of marriage to Marion Chumley and a career in Parliament, but he has apparently had a long and happy life since the voyage.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 102

Critics have placed this sea tale in the literary tradition of Joseph Conrad's Nigger of the Narcissus (1897), Herman Melville's Billy Budd (1924), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797). They have noted in particular Golding's ability to detail life at sea. This work follows, too, in the tradition of travel stories and personal memoirs, the germ of the idea for the plot of this novel having come from Wilfred Scawen Blunt's My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events, 1888-1914 (1922). In that work, Blunt recounts an incident in which a sailor lapsed into a malaise from which he never recovered.

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Characters