Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1163

The Spire can be viewed thematically as a drama of interpretation wherein the hero fails to notice the difference between the world and the projection of his own self-image. Like the earlier protagonist of Golding’s Pincher Martin (1956), Jocelin has several opportunities in the novel to accept the breadth and ambiguity of human existence but spurns this possibility in favor of forcing his pattern, made of wood, stone, and glass, upon all that surrounds him. The nature of his choice can be seen in a striking example, when Jocelin climbs to the top of the half-completed tower and observes the countryside from his vantage point:

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  He opened his eyes and found that he was looking away from the tower and out into the world.... He could see over the bending workmen ... the valleys of the three rivers that met by the cathedral close opened themselves up.... You could see that all those places which had been separate to feet and only joined by an act of reason were indeed part of a whole.

Here, as Jocelin looks out, it appears that his angle of vision (the “close” of the cathedral followed directly by the “opened” rivers) is wide, that he sees the multiplicity and diversity of existence in this perception of “the whole.” As the scene progresses, however, it is clear that the perception of “the whole” about which he speaks is represented by the shape of his design, the spire. As he watches a procession of travelers approach the city, he sees, in “a flash of vision,” how

  other feet would cut their track arrow-straight towards the City, understood how the tower was laying a hand on the whole landscape, altering it, dominating it, enforcing a pattern that reached wherever the tower could be seen, by sheer force of its being there.... Presently, with this great finger sticking up, the City would lie like the hub at the centre of a predestined wheel.

As this image of predestination and circularity suggests (interestingly, Jocelin is blind to the vulgar associations of the “great finger sticking up”), Jocelin is most comfortable when his vision is framed and defined, so that no confusion can enter into his perception of the world. He prefers looking out a window to being outdoors; he likes peering through the small hole in the cathedral roof made for the spire’s construction: “As the edges of his small window sometimes gave a depth and intensity to what he saw through it, so the roof round the tiny hole made this glimpse into a jewel.” The novel thus opposes Jocelin’s sacred, circumscribed, framed vision to the more diverse and profane view of the wide world to which he is willfully blind.

In a sense, Golding is both using and parodying the narrative device of the Jamesian limited, “central” consciousness, where “reality,” rather than being transmitted by an all-knowing, all-seeing narrator, is filtered through the mind and desires of a particularized individual. Jocelin’s tragedy is that his vision is severely limited, while he is under the delusion that he is omniscient and that the truth and rightness of his plan for building the spire is guaranteed by a more divine source of omniscience. This dichotomy is underscored by those examples, as above, where Jocelin literally cannot see the forest for the trees, and by his attempt to create a static self-image in the form of the spire, which offers a refuge from the past and which is safe from the ravages of time. The reader learns, for example, that his deanship has been gained not through his own talents but through his aunt, who is the mistress of a former king. Jocelin has arranged Goody’s marriage to the impotent Pangall in order, at first, to “keep” her for himself, and later, to offer her as bait to Roger Mason. He has mercilessly subjugated his fellow priests. to his own iron...

(The entire section contains 1361 words.)

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