The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

Though The Spire is populated by several important characters, in a sense the only character in the novel is Jocelin. Everything in it is rendered through his eyes; all others are seen merely as components of an emerging vision which Jocelin believes is divinely inspired. This story of a “master builder” who builds too high (often compared to Henrik Ibsen’s play of that title) is a deceptively simple account of a man beset by pride and obsessed with his own self-image. From the beginning yf the novel, when Jocelin observes the model of the spire standing in front of the cathedral’s crossways, it is clear that his “prayer” is a phallic gesture, a product of his own self-love:

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  The model was like a man Iying on his back. The nave was his legs placed together, the transepts on either side were his arms outspread. The choir was his body; and the Lady Chapel, where now the services would be held, was his head. And now also, springing, projecting, bursting, erupting from the heart of the building there was its crown and majesty, the new spire.

This description prefigures what will become in the novel the close identification between Jocelin’s body and the building of the spire; here, it acts as a substitute for his sexual desires regarding Goody Pangall. He remarks that “now there was a kind of necessary marriage: Jocelin and the spire.” He dreams that his body is the church: “It seemed to Jocelin that he lay on his back in bed; and then he was Iying on his back in the marshes, crucified, and his arms were the transepts, with Pangall’s kingdom nestled by his left side.” Finally, while dying, Jocelin perceives his own body, his protruding ribs, as the stone walls and vaulting of the church. Thus, the novel presents a classically obsessed hero who confers upon an object in the world the weight of his own egotism—a burden which, apocalyptically, brings that world falling down around his ears. Like Ahab’s whale, Jocelin’s spire can be seen as the self-reflection of a narcissistic hero who can perceive, looking around the wide world, only his own image.

The other characters of the novel, the “pillars” of Jocelin’s church, represent both allegorized aspects of his own being and problematic embodiments of an “otherness” to which he is blind and which foils his plans. Goody is, clearly, the figuration of lust; Mason, the builder who is brought down by the absurdity of Jocelin’s plans and his own limitations, represents ambition. Pangall is a slightly comic figure—the “lower man” or beastlike figure of the novel who haunts Jocelin’s conscience and sporadically performs in the role of the wise fool. Rachel, like her biblical namesake, is the good but barren wife (the Old Testament Rachel is barren for seven years) who represents blind faith: Her attachment to her husband and his participation in Jocelin’s plan completely overtake her body and will. Rather than being fully developed characters, the supporting cast of The Spire represent those characteristics—lust, faith, ambition, sacrifice—upon which Jocelin depends for the completion of his design and which, ironically, bring about the destruction of his plan.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 637


Jocelin, the dean of the Cathedral Church of Our Lady, somewhere in England. He obtained the position through the influence of his aunt, who was mistress to a previous king. Despite this connection, Jocelin appears a spiritual man, full of visionary faith, feeling called by God to construct a tower and spire for the cathedral. At first, the vision is seen by Jocelin as an act of faith over material impossibilities, such as inadequate foundations. He feels tremendous joy and love as this act of faith...

(The entire section contains 1342 words.)

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