Golding, William (Vol. 1)
Golding, William 1911–
There is little question of William Golding's originality as a novelist. He has not been afraid to experiment with form or to attempt daring themes…. In each of [his] novels, the manner is indirect, the symbols rarely clarified, and the method of narration uncondescending and stringent. Golding is obviously striving to move behind the conventional matter of the contemporary novel to a view of what man, or pre-man, is really like when his facade of civilized behavior falls away….
[There] are beliefs and values operating in Golding's fiction that must dominate despite the main thrust of each novel toward disbelief. For most of his narrative, he seems to be concerned with moral aimlessness: the stranded boys in Lord of the Flies, for example, almost entirely shake off their civilized behavior…. What Golding senses is that institutions and order imposed from without are temporary, but that man's irrationality and urge for destruction are enduring….
There is in all of Golding's work [a] crucial avoidance of subtlety, and that is perhaps why his novels are concerned almost solely with primitive struggles for survival….
The idea of a Golding novel invariably is superior to the performance itself. Ironically, the idea, often so engaging in the abstract, is self-defeating, for it forces an artificial method. Golding is an allegorist whose allegory pre-empts the realistic level; often, only the allegory is of interest and when that begins to wear thin, there is insufficient substance to grapple with.
Golding's novels, then, seem more attractive in their parts than as wholes. His inability, or lack of desire, to give intellectual substance to his themes, and his didactic intrusion in nearly all of the narratives, lessen the power of what still remains, however, an original talent. His eccentric themes, unfortunately, rarely convey the sense of balance and ripeness that indicate literary maturity: a shipwrecked sailor is interesting only if he is interesting; stranded boys are compelling only if their behavior indicates something significant about them and not merely their similarity to adults; an obsessed "loner" (like Sammy Mountjoy) is relevant only if he works out his problems in his own way without external influence, once it has been established that he is that kind of person; and pre-civilized people are attractive as literary material only if the author makes them act in some way that transcends their daily boredom, or if he can write about them ironically. To present all of these characters and situations "straight" is to take them as they are, and his evaluation simplifies them all out of proportion to what Golding's serious intentions demand…. Even if his didacticism makes him resolve what should be unresolvable, he nevertheless indicates in nearly every line that he is an artist seriously interested in his craft. And even if he seems prone to surprise the reader with gimmicks, he nevertheless has demonstrated a sharp enough awareness of his material to overcome this defect before it permanently damages his fiction. When literary values overcome the moralist, Golding's potential may well be realized and he will become an outstanding novelist.
Frederick R. Karl, "The Metaphysical Novels of William Golding," in his A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1962 by Frederick R. Karl), Farrar, Straus, 1962, pp. 254-60.
The first thing to be said of Golding's novels is that they are self-contained wholes beneath whose surface action and realism are to be found much wider and, in a sense, cosmic meanings….
His first novel, Lord of the Flies, seems to me still his most successful. It is equally brilliant as invention and as narration…. The brilliance of
(The entire section is 3,288 words.)