William Golding World Literature Analysis
Critics have called Golding an allegorist, a fabulist, and a mythmaker. Of the three terms, Golding preferred mythmaker, and when he was awarded the Nobel Prize the citation acknowledged the mythic quality of his work, his ability to illuminate the condition of humankind by means of a concrete story.
In framing the concrete stories, Golding often draws on literary precedents, both specific works and genres. For Lord of the Flies Golding turns to the genre of boys’ adventure stories and to R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island (1858), in particular. Where Ballantyne’s boys, stranded on a desert island, have a jolly time and live harmoniously, Golding’s boys become little savages. Golding turns the literary precedent on its head, using it only as a starting place for his own unique view.
Golding also draws on his interests and his biography in his works. For example, Golding grew up near the sea, served in the navy, and has written essays on the pleasure and pain of sailing his own boat. Thus, in A Sea Trilogy, Golding is able to describe accurately the tensions of shipboard proximity, the moods of the ocean, and the nautical minutiae with which the crew must be concerned.
Golding once said that although he was, by nature, an optimist, he hoped that a defective logic made him a pessimist. This view in many ways sums up the themes that play in his novels. In other words, his logic and objective observation reveal the dark side of human nature that people prefer to deny or ignore. However, there may be hope and some reason for optimism if that dark side can be laid bare and acknowledged, for humankind has the potential for good as well as for evil.
The exploration of the dark side of humanity is a major thematic focus in virtually every novel, and Golding has been criticized as limiting himself to this one dimension. Even as he explores human depravity, however, Golding implies or asserts a second theme: the value of self-awareness and love as the means of coping with this inherent evil. In some works, such as Lord of the Flies, mostly depravity is shown. In Darkness Visible, however, the potential for good is explored more fully. The protagonist, Matty Windrave, devotes himself to the powers of good and saves one character from his evil impulses.
These two major themes in Golding’s work are reinforced by some elements of his style and other characteristics of his novels. Often Golding creates remote or confined settings: a desert island in Lord of the Flies, a rock in the middle of the ocean in Pincher Martin, or the microcosm of the ship in A Sea Trilogy. In these settings, the characters may act out the evil that civilization keeps in bounds or be forced to look inside themselves to see the darkness lurking there. A restricted point of view forces readers to see from a particular, sometimes unfamiliar, perspective. In addition, Golding may suddenly change that perspective at the end of a novel, forcing the reader to see the situation anew.
Golding has been charged with obscurity, but whatever obscurity exists in his work serves a thematic purpose. He created a fictional world seen with new eyes from unusual perspectives. The degree to which readers experience a connection between the fictional world and the world they inhabit is the degree to which Golding succeeded as a mythmaker.
Lord of the Flies
First published: 1954
Type of work: Novel
British schoolboys stranded on an island exhibit savagery that was suppressed in the supposedly civilized, war-torn world they left behind.
Lord of the Flies opens with schoolboys wandering out of the jungle, into which their plane has crashed, and onto the beach of a remote island. In this isolated setting, the boys first try to maintain a veneer of civilization, but they soon shed it to exhibit the evil that is inborn. Golding tells the story from the boys’ perspective until the final few pages, where he then alters the perspective to enlarge the context. Little boys are not the only ones who have...
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