William Golding Golding, William (Vol. 10)

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(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...

(The entire section is 8,805 words.)