William Golding Golding, William (Vol. 10) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Golding, William 1911–

Golding is a leading British novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, and essayist. He writes what Samuel Hynes terms "unusually tight, conceptualized, analogical expressions of moral ideas," novels which chart the struggle of good and evil in man. Essentially optimistic despite the grimness of much of his fiction, Golding writes out of a desire to assist people "to understand their own humanity." See also William Golding Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 3, 8, 17, 27.

Peter M. Axthelm

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In contrast to [Arthur Koestler's] Darkness at Noon, which introduces one complete system, examines its collapse, and then tentatively offers another one, Golding's Free Fall presents only fragments of systems. Its hero begins with no system at all and ends with only a hint of one. Yet, in describing man's approach to meaning rather than his scrutiny of its elements, Golding examines [an] important aspect of the modern confession.

Superficially, the hero of the novel is a success, a boy from the slums who has become a famous artist and now lives on Paradise Hill. Yet he calls himself "a burning amateur, torn by the irrational and incoherent, searching and self-condemned."… Unlike most confessional characters, who are never sure what kind of perception they will find, Sammy Mountjoy clearly defines the goals of his self-examination. Foremost among them are the questions which are introduced at the beginning of the second and third paragraphs and repeated throughout the novel—"When did I lose my freedom?" and "How did I lose my freedom?" The lost quality of freedom is described as a tangible element, like "the taste of potatoes," yet it stands for broader philosophical problems than Sammy admits, directing his confession toward a fuller consideration of the meaning of sin and guilt.

In addition to seeking this one point in his life, "the decision made freely that cost me my freedom," the hero of Free Fall is approaching a kind of personal religion. In the disintegration following the loss of freedom, "all patterns have broken, one after another. Life is random and evil unpunished." Sammy wants to rebuild a pattern and restore order and justice; in doing so, he hopes to give meaning to his divided existence, to find "the connection between the little boy clear as spring water, and the man like a stagnant pool."… Like all confessional heroes, Sammy Mountjoy seeks a perception which is deeply personal; he is concerned with an internal system of order. (pp. 113-14)

After the tightly organized presentation of the central goals and themes of his confession in the opening pages, Sammy Mountjoy begins the examination of his past. He ranges back and forth through what he calls the "shuffle fold and coil" of time, often juxtaposing events from his innocent childhood with others that occur after his "fall." As the grey faces of his past take on shape and color, he approaches the discovery of his moment of sin. Five times, after the accounts of events in his youth, Sammy asks, "Here?" Each time he answers himself, "Not here." After the final perception of the moment in which he lost his freedom, Sammy repeats his question; it is followed by a profound silence.

The method in which Sammy describes his early childhood recalls the explanation of Saul Bellow's hero, Augie March, that "All the influences were lined up waiting for me. I was born, and there they were to form me, which is why I tell you more of them than of myself." As a boy growing up in the slums, Sammy is innocent and happy, being shaped by external forces…. Even as he emphasizes the depth of his happiness, however, Sammy sees the shadow of the sin to come…. (pp. 115-16)

In the next stage of his life, which centers around the rectory and the school, Sammy's outlook becomes more cautious, his perception more sophisticated. His new guardian, Father Watts-Watt, repels him ("Talking with him was like a nightmare ride on a giraffe"), but, for the first time, Sammy shows the ability to resist the influence of another person…. Father Watts-Watt represents the antithesis of the confessional hero, a man struggling to avoid the reality of his being. In addition to this contrast to the hero, however, he is also a kind of double. "He was incapable of approaching a child straight because of the ingrown and festering desires that poisoned him," says Sammy…. In this, he reflects the dark and confused drives which plague the hero in the events leading up to his fall. (p. 117)

The "nationless words" of Dr. Halde cut Sammy loose from all his remaining ties with order. Halde is clearly a double of the hero. He implies that he, too, has sacrificed his own freedom by choosing Nazism and emphasizes the price of such a sacrifice: "I made my choice with much difficulty but I have made it. Perhaps it was the last choice I shall ever make. Accept such international immortality, Mr. Mountjoy, and all unpleasantnesses are possible to man."… (p. 121)

Halde is more than a reflection of the hero's life, however. His psychological powers allow him to claim, "I can get inside your skin"; and it is only from within that perception can reach Sammy. Halde's power over his prisoner becomes vividly clear as the interrogation progresses. When the Nazi first describes his theory of "international immorality," Sammy hastens to deny its relevance to his own condition: "What's all that got to do with me?" Within...

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Jean E. Kennard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is untrue that Golding's novels leave us without answers, as [some critics] suggest. Golding admits that he cannot subscribe to any particular religion, but insists that he is a fundamentally religious man…. [His] faith in a pattern that transcends man is not the only difference between Golding's position and that defined in the early work of Sartre and Camus, but it is the basic one…. [It] is this belief which underlies all other aspects of his philosophy and determines the techniques of his novels.

It is because "man hasn't seen this" that he is in trouble, according to Golding. Golding sees man as trapped in himself, "islanded," a condition he appears to believe comes inevitably with consciousness of self, with the loss of innocence…. All Golding's major characters—Sammy Mountjoy, Pincher Martin, Dean Jocelyn—are men who have created the world in their own image, who turn everything into themselves. (p. 177)

Golding suggests, most clearly in The Inheritors, that man in a state of innocence is an integral part of his universe. The separation of man from the rest of his world through consciousness is apparently Golding's way of defining original sin. At this point man is islanded….

Golding believes man's salvation lies in a recognition of the macrocosm in which he is a microcosm; man must find a bridge off the island of himself into an outer reality. (p. 178)

Each novel is a microcosm of a greater whole: in Lord of the Flies the innate violence of the children alone on the island is a version in miniature of the adult world represented by the officer with his cruiser; the prehistoric world of The Inheritors is one episode in a history repeating itself in every man, as each loses his innocence; Pincher Martin, actually centered on his own nagging tooth, is living out in miniature the story of his whole life; Free Fall is closely related to The Inheritors and again deals with each man's loss of innocence in terms of one man, Sammy Mountjoy; Dean Jocelyn's obsession with building a spire is revealed as every man's drive to find meaning. Each islanded situation is gradually seen to incorporate more significance until one has the feeling that Golding has incorporated everything. (p. 180)

The experience of expansion the reader goes through in Golding's novels happens with every aspect of his technique: his characters, first recognizable as individuals, are seen to function also as allegorical figures; the patterning of the plot gradually adds increasing significance to each episode as its place in the overall scheme becomes clearer; each novel is related to earlier books by other writers,… and thus is seen to be part of a larger culture; and, perhaps most importantly, Golding's language is so densely metaphoric that the reader is constantly given the sense of one thing's relation to another. These techniques are, of course, Joycean, and in many ways serve the same ends. They are, in fact, the defining characteristics of the novel of nightmare. (pp. 180-81)

The decline of the children's society [in Lord of the Flies] and the gradual revelation of evil is paralleled to the boys', particularly Ralph's, increasing self-consciousness. He begins to have a recurring "strange mood of speculation that was so foreign to him."… Self-consciousness is, of course, the separation of self from the not-self, the outside world, and it is in terms of a breaking up of an initial harmony that Golding defines evil in the novel…. Finally each boy is alone, an island, afraid of everyone else. (p. 182)

If human nature is innately violent and selfish, then what hope does Golding offer us? Not much in Lord of the Flies. In various interviews and essays he has suggested a possibility of curbs voluntarily imposed by individuals upon themselves, though he does not talk very optimistically about the likelihood of this. (p. 183)

Although Golding suggests the harmony of an ideal society, he does not indicate any faith in its creation. If man is to be helped, he appears to need help from God, represented in this novel, not altogether successfully, by Simon, the boy Golding himself has called a saint. More sensitive, more farseeing than the others, Simon has visions and attempts to communicate them to the others, only to be murdered by mistake as the beast. Golding … [has said] that Ralph should have been weeping for Simon at the end of the novel, not Piggy…. Simon represents for Golding a supernatural world which does exist. As long as it exists, then, there must be hope that we can recognize it, unless to Golding's God we really are as flies to wanton boys. The later novels at least reject this concept of God. (pp. 183-84)

The reader is constantly being drawn to compare his disappointment, his horror at the boys' savagery, with the institutionalized savagery of his own world.

The action of the novel is a gradual expansion. Each event foreshadows another or, to put it another way, eventually becomes the event of which it had earlier been an imitation or representation. Everything is, then, seen to be an integral part of everything else, as in all novels of nightmare. (p. 184)

Golding's ability to create characters which function both realistically and allegorically is illustrated particularly well in Lord of the Flies. It is necessary for Golding to establish the boys as "real" children early in the novel—something he achieves through such small touches as Piggy's attitude to his asthma and the boys' joy in discovering Piggy's nickname—because his major thesis is, after all, about human psychology and the whole force of the fable would be lost if the characters were not first credible to us as human beings.

Increasingly, though, Golding shows the children responding differently to the same object or event and the highly patterned nature of these episodes makes it clear that the reader is intended to read them as allegory…. The strength of Golding's characterization lies in the fact that while the reader is led out from the reality of individuals to a wider significance, his initial sense of real people is not lost. When, for example, at the death of Piggy the reader recognizes this is the death of reason or logic, he nevertheless retains the sense of horror at a child's being murdered by other children.

The allegorical aspects of the characterization and the action lead the reader imaginatively into other worlds of the cultural macrocosm. There are, as so many critics have pointed out, innumerable Biblical associations with the Eden myth and many political implications in the democracy/fascism opposition represented in Ralph and Jack. [Critics have related the novel to] Ballantyne's boys' adventure story Coral Island … [and] to classical Greek literature, particularly to Euripides's The Bacchae. These critics are, of course, illustrating the same point about Golding's work, that one of its important aspects is its relation to a cultural whole he wishes the reader to perceive.

The final and perhaps most important way in which Golding's techniques dramatize his theme is the metaphorical density of the language itself. Golding describes everything in terms of something else. This is particularly true of his descriptions of natural phenomena. (pp. 185-86)

The ability to use metaphor and simile, to perceive relations, is an essential characteristic of the loss of innocence, as Golding makes clear in his second novel, The Inheritors. But even though one must perceive things as separate before one can compare them, the act of comparison, of course, is a putting together and thus a sign of hope, of possible salvation from the prison of oneself.

The Inheritors, like Lord of the Flies, is concerned with the fall of man and with the loss of innocence. Set in prehistoric times, it tells of the destruction of a Neanderthal tribe and particularly of one member of it, Lok, by a group of "new" men, homo sapiens, led by Tuami. But the new men are not superior to the Neanderthals in much that Golding feels matters; Golding has reversed the notion of history as progress to suggest the notion of history as spiritual decline. The notion he rejects is that represented by H. G. Wells in his Outline of History, that Neanderthal man was bestial, hairy, gorilla-like, with possible cannibalistic tendencies. (pp. 186-87)

Like the boys in Lord of the Flies, at the opening of the novel Lok's people are innocent. They live in a harmonious world, in which, whatever its physical dangers and difficulties, they are one with each other. (p. 187)

They do not need language to communicate but use a form of telepathy or shared pictures. Language apparently carries implications of the separation of name and object, of distortion, that Golding does not wish to assign to the state of innocence. The pictures they share may be less exact, in some ways less useful than language, but they undoubtedly indicate a closer communication. The early scenes of the novel are full of such remarks as: "[Fa] did not need to speak";… "as so often happened with the people, there were...

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Avril Henry

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

On the merely narrative level, flashback in Pincher Martin is the natural result of Martin's isolation and illness, and is the process by which he is gradually brought to his ghastly self-knowledge. This process is quite distinct from the flashbacks' effect on the reader, who sees each memory both in relation to all the other memories presented in the book, and in relation to the physical circumstances of Martin's life on the rock. Neither relation is simple: they constitute the main device by which the writer characteristically obliges his reader to pay more than casual attention.

In Free Fall and The Pyramid this control of attention is achieved by the use of flashback in an...

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Lawrence R. Ries

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

William Golding has taken exception to the neohumanists and the prophets of despair. He rejects their view of mankind: "I believe that man suffers from an appalling ignorance of his own nature. I produce my own view, in the belief that it may be something like the truth." His novels are exceptions to the socio-realistic novels of his contemporaries, and Golding himself has characterized them as "myths." His goal is always the nature of man, and this can be examined as well under prototypical conditions as in the contemporary environment. Current affairs are merely a gauge by which to measure the basic human condition. While examining man's ferocity and brutality, he distinguishes himself from many of his...

(The entire section is 511 words.)