illustrated portrait of English author William Golding

William Golding

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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

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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,...

(This entire section contains 2040 words.)

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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 moments, however, his mind has accepted Halde's thought as its own: "I could see this war as the ghastly and ferocious play of children who having made a wrong choice or a whole series of them were now helplessly tormenting each other because a wrong use of freedom has lost them their freedom."… This striking progression illuminates the full meaning of Sammy's statement that he "was given the capacity to see" by Dr. Halde. When the interrogation ends, Sammy walks out of the office "in an awful trance of obedience" and is led to his cell. (pp. 121-22)

In the early stages of his experience in the cell, it appears that Sammy will follow Ivan's path into madness; but in his resurrection he emerges with a vision that is, in some ways, even more hopeful than that of Rubashov [the protagonist of Koestler's Darkness at Noon]. For Sammy is not at the end of life. He has time to use the "new mode of knowing" which Halde has given him and to apply his newly discovered "vital morality" to the reconstruction of meaning in his own life. If he succeeds, he may place a living reality where Rubashov could see only a dream of the future. On this promising note, Golding directs our attention back over Sammy's life to seek a positive "pattern" amid the disintegration.

However, Golding … denies his hero the fulfillment of his momentary religious perception. The blazing hopes of the prison camp resurrection are tempered by an ironic reality. Sammy probes deeply into the "two worlds" of his existence and achieves a clear perception of both, but the crucial missing element of his pattern eludes him. "There is no bridge," he admits on the final page of the novel.

A closer examination of Sammy's "two worlds" elucidates both the pattern he seeks and the true nature of his fall. He is painfully aware of the split which robs his life of meaning: "I can love the child in the garden, on the airfield, in Rotten Row," he says, "because he is not I. He is another person."… That child is innocent; the adult Sammy is tainted with guilt. They are thus relegated to two separate worlds.

The impossibility of crossing back into the first world is shown most emphatically in Sammy's attempt to contact the central characters of that child's world. Like Michel in Gide's The Immoralist, Sammy confronts utter futility in his effort to retrace the course of his earlier actions. (pp. 122-23)

Almost every proper name in Free Fall implies something about the character it identifies, but none is so crucial as "Beatrice Ifor." The girl is, as Gregor and Kinkead-Weekes suggest [in their article "The Strange Case of Mr. Golding and His Critics"], "a fusion of the spirit and the body … both Beatrice and I-for"; in other words, she is the potential bridge between Sammy's two worlds. But the young boy, torn by the contradictory worlds of his two teachers, each of whom denies the existence of the other's system, cannot see the possibility of fusion; he sees Beatrice in the light implied by another reading of her name, "If-or" and thus feels compelled to choose one of the two worlds. Repelled by Miss Pringle and attracted to Nick, who finds "no place for spirit in his cosmos," he ignores the spiritual side of the girl and grasps only the "I-for," the self-centered, exploitative lust. He upsets the balance and destroys the bridge.

Herein lies the full significance of his loss of freedom. He has chosen to shut out a part of the complex world and embrace a simplified half-truth as a substitute for the full consciousness of existence. One dominant theme of the confessional novel is the inadequacy of such "simple solutions"—from the Grand Inquisitor through Jean-Baptiste Clamence, from Ivan Karamazov through the "defective saints" of Rubashov's party. Golding does not spare Sammy Mountjoy from the effects of his error—the denial of freedom and the "fall."

Ultimately, the reader of Free Fall is challenged to find another bridge—a reconciliation of the blazingly affirmative vision of the prison camp with the final bleak realization that "There is no bridge" in Sammy's existence. Golding offers one clue to this solution on the final page of the novel. Sammy walks out of his cell expecting to meet his judge but finds pity instead. Halde has been replaced, and the commandant apologizes for Sammy's punishment. A soldier asks, "Captain Mountjoy. Have you heard?" and he answers, "I heard." What he has "heard" is the voice of his own being and perhaps also a voice of absolution. He is an image of fallen man, unable to undo his sin; but he has suffered for it and sees a hope of redemption.

The position of Free Fall in the context of all Golding's work also illuminates the religious vision of the novel. His first two novels, Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors, are parables portraying the evil inherent in man's nature; in them, the author employs images of man's origins, in childhood and in prehistory, to illustrate man's swift and inevitable loss of innocence. Pincher Martin turns from the nature of evil itself and focuses on its spiritual consequences. The hero, shipwrecked on a barren rock, seems to survive for several days through a monumental assertion of will. "I will impose my routine on this rock," he says. On the last page of the novel, we learn that he has been dead all along, and the routine he has imposed is a self-created hell. The final page emphasizes the terrible irony of Martin's earlier conversation with his "hallucination" of God (a striking derivation from Dostoevsky's hallucinatory doubles). In that exchange, the hero shouts, "I have created you and I can create my own heaven." The old man answers, "You have created it."

The idea that man creates his own hell is carried into the prison cell of Free Fall. "Why do you torment yourself?" Sammy says. "Why do you do their work for them?"… But Sammy Mountjoy is given the power to escape from the hell he creates and even, "between the understood huts, among jewels and music," to glimpse at heaven. Although the heaven fades and he can never regain the innocence that preceded the fall, he can return to an existence enriched by "a new mode of knowing." (pp. 124-26)

[Golding] applies his hero's religious perception to a reexamination of life. In such a reexamination, the pentecostal brilliance is dimmed by the reality of sin and weakness, but it is never extinguished. Although Sammy is denied the last bridge that would complete his pattern, Golding affirms the possibility that such a bridge can exist in the world, that the effort to reconstruct a pattern is indeed worthwhile. Such a pattern is rare (like "the taste of potatoes, element so rare that isotope of uranium is abundant by comparison"), and it is elusive, for it can be lost forever in one act. But it does exist, like a religious goal, heralded by a "flake of fire" and forever compelling modern man to sincere and passionate self-scrutiny. (p. 127)

Peter M. Axthelm, in his The Modern Confessional Novel (copyright © 1967 by Yale University), Yale University Press, 1967.

Jean E. Kennard

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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 feelings between them";… "without warning, all the people shared a picture inside their heads."… The pictures not only transcend the barriers among people, but also those between present and future…. Lok's people are totally responsible for one another and provide that sort of warmth and acceptance of each other contemporary sensitivity groups attempt to imitate. (pp. 187-88)

[The] "other" is frightened and greedy, not at one with his world as are Lok's people. Unlike Lok's tribe, "new" people kill and eat meat; their sexuality is a form of rape…. Tuami's people have already lost their innocence. They are afraid of the darkness…. Tuami's people, then, in their inability to see beyond themselves, in their sense of being surrounded by a frightening darkness, have in Golding's terms lost touch with the macrocosm which is the unity of God.

Lok gradually takes on the characteristics of the "new" people. Their existence forces him into self-consciousness. He discovers metaphor. There are now two parts of Lok, inside-Lok and outside-Lok…. The "new" people with their intelligence, violence, and strength supersede the Neanderthals by literally destroying them, but it is also clear that their characteristics are dominant anyway; "Neanderthalness" is dead in Lok before Tuami destroys Lok's people.

The Inheritors is a pessimistic book in the sense that Golding does not show the way to salvation for fallen man. (pp. 188-89)

The Inheritors is a microcosm of the whole of human history. What happens here is repeated in every child as he grows to maturity. Read this way, Golding's view is Words-worthean in its stress on the loss of childhood vision through self-consciousness, although The Inheritors, less than Lord of the Flies, emphasizes the paradisical elements of innocence. Lok's integration with his world is, however, no different in kind from the boy Wordsworth's in The Prelude. (p. 189)

For the reader the plot is an opening out; his view is, for much of the novel, as limited as Lok's. Golding forces the reader to leap ahead guessing at what Lok cannot see, placing him in the macrocosm of human history. At the end, when the reader suddenly sees Lok from the point of view of Tuami, "a red creature," and "it," he has passed beyond Lok and Tuami both, since he is able to compare them with each other. The novel allows the reader, then, to make the relationship necessary in Golding's view, to transcend the Fall, even if it is not possible for Lok or Tuami. (pp. 189-90)

Is Pincher Martin an Existentialist novel with Pincher an heroic, Promethean figure standing out against death, forging his own identity with his intelligence? Are we to take as good in a Sartrean sense Pincher's awareness that he can have no "complete identity without a mirror,"… that he has created God in his own image, or not? Certainly it is hard to believe Golding is not consciously concerned with Existentialism here. The passage in which Pincher analyzes his feeling of lost identity, his comments on the way he used mirrors to watch himself as if he were watching a stranger, his use of others to assure himself of his own existence would not be out of place in The Myth of Sisyphus or in Being and Nothingness. It is difficult, too, for the reader not to feel some respect for the tenacity and courage Pincher displays. Nevertheless, Golding does not think Pincher heroic but presumptuous; critics who judge the experience by Existentialist criteria have, as James Baker points out, "made a hero out of Golding's villain." (p. 191)

"To achieve salvation, individuality—the persona—must be destroyed," Golding has written elsewhere; and it is his individuality that Pincher refuses to surrender. He is physically and spiritually islanded, clinging to his own identity as to his rock. Relieved to find his identity disc around his neck, he shouts, "Christopher Hadley Martin. Martin. Chris. I am what I always was!"…; he survives by shouting, "I am! I am! I am!"…, knowing only that he "must hang on."…

He is nothing but greed, as the flashbacks to his past life reveal; his role of Greed in the morality play is type casting. Everything and everyone is food to feed Pincher Martin…. He is guilty of Golding's greatest sin, self-obsession; he turns everything into himself, just as he has created his own purgatory on the rock. A recurring image in the novel, that of the Chinese box, in which a fish is buried and gradually eaten by maggots who subsequently eat each other is obviously intended to reflect Pincher's experience…. (p. 192)

Although there are various clues to the fact that Pincher is inside his own head, it is really only on a second reading that this becomes clear. The discovery in the last chapter that Pincher was dead all along comes as a shock, not as a confirmation of suspicions. The clues are frequently in the form of metaphors: Pincher compares his experience to lying "on a rim of teeth in the middle of the sea"…; he feels as if "the pressure of the sky and air was right inside his head."… Much of the metaphoric density of the novel lies in this set of images. But in order for the reader to see these comments as ironic, he already has to know the truth of Pincher's situation. Other clues come in the form of Pincher's dawning awareness of the familiarity of the rock. He resists recognizing the truth, refuses to connect himself with a reality beyond his illusory world, but the awareness comes to him anyway. At the end of the novel his realization of the nature of his own character, his place in the pattern of his experiences, is paralleled to his realization of the truth about the rock: he "understood what was so hauntingly familiar and painful about an isolated and decaying rock in the middle of the sea."… (p. 194)

In piecing the separate worlds together, the reader and Pincher come to realize that he is indeed what he always was, and that "an hour on this rock is a lifetime,"… all the experiences of the book have happened in a moment, but a moment which is the microcosm of a whole life.

The techniques of characterization Golding uses in this novel are very similar to those he used in Lord of the Flies; the characters function midway between realism and allegory…. But in brief snatches of description or dialogue Golding keeps every character functioning on the human level also, even as the reader is beginning to see the allegorical pattern. (pp. 194-95)

Through allegorical characterization Golding makes the reader relate his microcosmic world of Pincher on the rock to Christian mythology, and through references to Prometheus to Greek mythology also. (p. 195)

Many critics have commented that the title of Golding's fourth novel, Free Fall, has both a theological and a scientific significance, but Golding himself has, as usual, expressed it best: "Everybody has translated this in terms of theology; well, okay, you can do it that way, which is why it's not a bad title, but it is in fact a scientific term. It is where your gravity has gone; it is a man in a space ship who has no gravity; things don't fall or lift, they float about; he is completely divorced from the other idea of a thing up there and centered on there in which he lives." Sammy Mountjoy, narrator of Free Fall, has more insight and perhaps more conscience than Pincher Martin, but basically his is Pincher's problem. He is islanded, trapped in himself, "completely divorced from the other idea of a thing up there."

There are images of cells everywhere. The whole novel can be read as taking place in a prison cell where Sammy is held by the Germans in World War II…. Since he recognizes no reality beyond himself, for Sammy, as for Pincher, other people are merely objects for his use. He knows the way out is to make contact with something beyond himself, to build a bridge…. (pp. 195-96)

The novel is Sammy's attempt to build the bridge, to find his place in a reality beyond himself. One way in which he attempts this is to search for the pattern of his own life, particularly for the moment when he lost his freedom. As in The Inheritors, loss of freedom is equated with loss of innocence, with self-consciousness…. (p. 196)

Although Free Fall resembles Pincher Martin in that the physical situation of the central character, here a prison cell, is a microcosm of his spiritual life, it is only in terms of its time scheme a fantasy novel. It takes place in recognizably modern times in familiar English places. The novel has been criticized for its lack of a controlling myth…. It has been criticized also for the extent to which Sammy comments on his own experience. This, surely, is perfectly defensible given Golding's thematic concerns in this novel. Sammy's desperate desire to communicate, to find a link with an outside reality, is dramatized very well in those passages of commentary directed to the reader. They are not in fact comments upon the action, but rather the essential action of the book itself. As the book progresses and the reader comes closer to Sammy in sharing his search for a pattern, they become fewer in number. Sammy no longer tells the reader at the end, "we share nothing but our sense of division."… Sammy's communication with the reader is in itself a sign of health, a bridge built.

For there is a pattern in Sammy's experiences as related in the novel…. The experience of reading Free Fall is, like that of reading Golding's other novels, a piecing together of a puzzle, a working from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Each scene of the novel illustrates a paradox: the world of feeling is not parallel to the rational world. (pp. 197-98)

The existence of a pattern is underscored by parallel events and characters the reader is invited to compare. The boy Sammy laughs at the retarded girl, Minnie, who urinates on the classroom floor; the man Sammy mourns Beatrice who does the same thing on the floor of the hospital. (pp. 198-99)

The language of Free Fall is as dense metaphorically as that of the earlier novels. Here too Golding gives one the sense in which this particular situation is all inclusive; the reader is taken to worlds beyond the novel and is left with the feeling that these worlds may well be infinite. As in other novels of nightmare the reader moves towards infinity. (p. 199)

The metaphorical implications of Jocelin's spire [in The Spire] are multiple, but the most important is the significance of the spire as a symbol for man's reaching towards another world, in religious terms Heaven, in an attempt to understand it. The building of the spire, then, is a metaphor for Camus' premise that man seeks meaning. (p. 200)

It is not that the search for meaning is in itself wrong in Golding's terms, but the motive for the search is all important. It may be vision, a true search; it may be presumption, mere will. Jocelin believes he is fulfilling a mission that began when he was first chosen Dean by God. The action of the novel questions this assumption: Jocelin's position as Dean was in fact given him as a sort of joke by his aunt, then mistress of the king; the spire may have inadequate foundations. (pp. 200-01)

Jocelin clearly comes to realize his folly. He recognizes that God is indeed love—"If I could go back, I would take God as lying between people and to be found there"…—and at the end, dying, apparently calls upon God for help as do Sammy and perhaps, although not willingly, Pincher. In this novel Golding answers the problem critics raise about Free Fall, that Sammy himself does not fully recognize the unity he seeks. The answer he gives is that … some mystery is both inevitable and necessary. "God knows where God may be,"… says Jocelin at the end. He may indeed mean, as the critics believe, that man cannot find where God is. But the words can also be read more optimistically to mean that even though man does not know where God is, God indeed does.

The confirmation of God's existence comes finally in the vision of the apple tree given to Jocelin before he dies…. [The] tree is an apple tree and must carry overtones of the Garden of Eden. The transformed apple tree is a perfect image for Golding's concept of salvation. Man, a child, lives alongside the apple tree in innocence; adult, he eats of its fruit and falls into sin as he gains self-consciousness and knowledge. But knowledge is also the way forward to salvation; man must see that he is part of a macrocosm, that the tree touches earth and heaven. In this way the original sin may be transcended, the tree transformed. (pp. 201-02)

Golding refutes the Sartrean view of man as an alienated being in absurd relation to the universe with what amounts to a leap of faith. He believes that there is meaning, unity, but recognizes this is unprovable. Redemption from the Post-existential dilemma, nevertheless, lies in each man's recognition of his place in the universal scheme…. [He] frequently defines this recognition as love. What convinces his reader is not the logic of his argument, but his techniques, those of the novelists of nightmare. He forces the reader outward from the island of a particular situation over the bridges that lead in all directions. Only from the macrocosm can one see that the island is a microcosm of everything else. (p. 202)

Jean E. Kennard, "William Golding: Island," in her Number and Nightmare: Forms of Fantasy in Contemporary Fiction (© 1975 by Jean E. Kennard), Archon Books, 1975, pp. 176-202.

Avril Henry

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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 elaborate time-structure. In Pincher Martin, however, events in flashback are not precisely dated, as in The Pyramid, or even clearly placed in a sequential biography, as in Free Fall: we have to struggle to place them accurately in Martin's past…. It is not possible to construct a precisely ordered "real-life" sequence of events behind the fragmented sequence we meet in Pincher Martin. In Free Fall, in The Spire to a degree, and certainly in The Pyramid, it is not only possible to do this, it is essential if a dimension of meaning is not to be missed: the time-structures are part of the novel's meaning…. The novel works in terms of related images, not formal time-structure. (p. 3)

[In Pincher Martin, the] writer's attention is on presenting the same image in different contexts rather than making intellectual play with a clear time-structure….

If there is any device here which compels attention it is the sheer obscurity of the references when we first meet them. With hindsight, however, we can see their unifying significance…. (p. 5)

The thematic reason for presenting … events in scarcely-comprehensible form [in a flashback sequence early in the novel, presenting a series of images which reoccur with greater significance later] is that in retrospect it makes us think about the treatment, in the novel as a whole, of the exposure of selfishness and hypocrisy. This is to take us to the heart of the matter, since Martin's entire experience is a self-induced act of will to avoid any truth that is not himself. The progress of physical exposure, memories and metaphysical experience is an unsuccessful "divine" attempt to persuade him to abandon the mask of his own ferociously defended selfishness which is a false identity. The experience provided is an attempt to penetrate a moral blindness so extreme that it regards only outcome, ignoring motivation….

Mr. Golding was not very interested in the strict order of events in this novel as a whole, let alone in this flashback. It might be objected that in this he has simply observed accurately: the human memory does not recall sequentially…. [Since] in a fictional biography even the arrangement of linear biographical details is artificial, it robs the writer of a mode of drawing attention to patterns of ideas. If a writer can establish a sequential norm from which he then departs, the points of departure will provoke thought. But as we have seen, there is no reliable sequential norm in Pincher. (p. 7)

It is usually, but not always, possible to relate events recalled in flashback to the general stages of Martin's life. Where it is not possible, the flashbacks must carry their relevance with them, in near-isolation, or fail. Their overall function is the gradual revealing of a man whose admirable qualities, courage and ingenuity, are apparent only on the rock, not in flashback…. Perhaps it is a symptom of misplaced ratiocination to look for any further coherence in these images than the context gives them. In any case they are, as already suggested, evidence that Mr. Golding's attention is not on merely logical cohesion, which would perhaps be inappropriate in a work so informed by the workings of an inflamed imagination, whether fictional or not. (pp. 8-9)

[In fact, the] flashbacks function in several ways. First, the flashbacks relate to each other and to the varied forms in which they themselves are repeated throughout the book; second, they relate also to the details of Martin's "survival" on Rockall…. Third, they relate to the six-day structure of the whole experience: the structure which is superficially a temporal check for us and Martin in the otherwise timeless and distorted events on the rock and in the mind, and at a deeper level is a horrible parody of the six days of Creation. What we watch is an unmaking process, in which man attempts to create himself his own God, and the process accelerates daily. (p. 9)

"Day and Night One" extend through the first four chapters. Let us consider first the relation of their flashbacks to each other. The first image of all, the little glass sailor suspended in a jam jar, occurs four times in this period; in each of the four main flashbacks … [the] jam jar is not a "constant" symbol: its implications vary with its context. At first it is related explicitly to the drowning man:

The delicate balance of the glass figure related itself to his body. In a moment of wordless realization he saw himself touching the surface of the sea with just such a dangerous stability, poised between floating and going down….

It becomes, almost at once, a metaphor of Martin's will—at this stage, a metaphor of his control over himself, at the moment when his force of will creates a world to inhabit:

The pleasure of the jar lay in the fact that the little glass figure was so delicately balanced between opposing forces…. By varying the pressure on the membrane you could do anything you liked with the glass figure which was wholly in your power….

The jam jar is clearly a general metaphor of Martin's condition; not only his physical condition, poised in the water, but his spiritual condition, poised at the point of every man's last decision, to choose possession of himself or acceptance of a greater than himself. (pp. 9-10)

[The jam jar also] forms part of a group of events presenting Martin observed at a disadvantage. It next occurs, not at the beginning, but at the end of a sequence:

Under the side of his face the pebbles nagged. The pictures that came and went inside his head did not disturb him because they were so small and remote. There was a woman's body, white and detailed, there was a boy's body, there was a box office, the bridge of a ship, an order picked out across a far sky in neon lighting, a tall, thin man who stood aside humbly in the darkness at the top of a companion ladder; there was a man hanging in the sea like a glass sailor in a jam jar. There was nothing to choose between the pebbles and the pictures….

The image here is not simply the jam jar but specifically a comparison of himself, suspended in the sea between worlds, and the sailor. The effect of the image's occurring at the end of the sequence is to suggest that this condition somehow results from the preceding details, as we later learn it does. It represents the manipulator himself manipulated by superior forces. (p. 11)

One might imagine that the unfolding significance of the flashbacks could be inserted with equally telling effect into almost any points in Martin's battle with exposure, so powerful is the tension between his undoubted courage and the sheer nastiness of his slowly displayed character. There is effective contrast also between the careful, physically detailed account of the minutiae of daily survival—live mussels and stale water, bowel-movements and sunburn—and the fragmentary, unpredictable flashes of memory. But with characteristic economy the novelist exploits his form to the full. Rock and recall are related to each other with great care not only in chapter four,… but on every occasion. (p. 14)

"The Second Day" … contains no flashback. It is wholly concerned with the detailed mechanics of survival which are so acutely observed and logically undertaken that at this stage they seem unrelated to any memories the survivor may have…. The contrast between this admirably practical, courageous man and the miserably self-regarding, inefficient officer we have just been watching on duty is not only effective in that each view makes the other more powerful, but in the way these two apparently irreconcilable views of one individual are subsequently show to be indivisibly part of the same person. This is one of the main purposes of interweaving survival and flashback.

"Day Three" begins with Chapter Five and ends with Chapter Six. At the beginning of Five, experience on the rock and painful memories are linked by the imagery of fire: the metaphorical fire of pain in Pincher's limbs; the sudden vision of the sun itself, invisible on the other side of the earth which is still in darkness; and the earth's central, unattainable fire. (p. 16)

["The Fourth Day"] marks a departure from the obviously controlled use of flashback employed so far. On the naturalistic level this is accounted for by three factors. Martin has spent a sleepless night, afraid to lose consciousness and so expose to the violence of "the ultimate truth of things" the "hoarded and enjoyed personality."… Secondly, the sickness of body evident in previous chapters worsens, and thirdly, the sickness of mind first apparent in the previous chapter, when he became too afraid to name half-recognized impossibilities in his environment, also worsens…. These are the ostensible reasons why the day begins with a remarkably disjointed series of pictures which "changed, not as one cloud shape into another but with sudden and complete differences of time and place."… The structural reason for the apparent confusion is that from now on a dual tendency is present in the flashbacks. On the one hand, some hitherto cryptic images are presented in explanatory detail; on the other hand, the fragmentation and accumulation of small pictures increases…. The passages explaining hitherto cryptic images thus occur in the second half of the novel, set in effective contrast with a proliferation of nervous, short memories. (p. 18)

The disjointed series of pictures and this ambivalent vision are effectively followed by a long narrative flashback of linear construction, the passing of time and the oscillation of the remembered mind being stressed by the precautionary Zig, Zag of the tacking destroyer. In this seventh chapter (central to the thirteen chapters of "consciousness") Martin comes to the innermost of his Chinese boxes, the most secret of the carved ivory ornaments: conscious formation of his intent to murder. As if to emphasise the deeply interior quality of this section …, the motive for the planned murder is revealed in flashback within flashback…. (p. 19)

Chapter Ten (Night Five) is above all concerned with the rape of Mary…. This chapter, almost all of it flashback, begins and ends with reference to the sky: summer lightning—the flash without thunder suggesting metaphorical "illumination"—links rock experience to remembered rape, and at the end of the chapter Martin, having dreamed through the night, sits in the sun, and feels "pressure of the sky and air."… The lightning will return, in "negative" at the end of the book, when it splits his world apart like a cosmic crack in his pathetic scenery: then, the sky's thunder will be heard as well, sounding like a spade on his tin box.

"The Sixth Day" has already begun by the end of Chapter Ten. It is the last day described, because in the parody of the six days of creation: "On the Sixth Day he created God … In his own image he created Him."… Chapter Eleven is without flashback, perhaps because Chapter Ten showed the rise and fall pattern just described: Martin's pitiful victories followed by his defeats at last acknowledged, as it were, by his consciousness…. It is also without flashback because reality emerges with the "pattern": the rock is recognised as a product of his own mind. Once the ground under Martin's feet has begun to move—the chunk of rock has fallen from the trench-side, revealing its tree like pattern of black lightning—the real nature of the existence Pincher has chosen begins to appear, and all the imagery is of solitude, the essence of his condition, physical and spiritual. He tries to act the part of a madman since that is less terrible than acknowledging he is unreal. (pp. 21-2)

The end of the novel may say something powerful about the state we call Hell. The structure of the novel says something equally powerful about the nature of responsibility. The constant juxtaposition of survival-struggle and flashback works in many ways, flashbacks as we have seen being related to each other and to the informing symbols, in particular to one or two main themes running throughout, such as acting and exploitation. The pattern cleverly reveals the paradoxes of a nature simultaneously seeking to communicate and isolate itself—to be and exclude other people. But in not giving us the pattern of increasing self-knowledge and repentance that we might expect from the very harshness of the superficially "purgatorial" experience of Rockall, it also underlines another paradox. Responsibility grows with knowledge. Acknowledgement of wickedness is no excuse for wickedness: indeed the guilt of a nature brought to understanding of itself is increased unless that self is rejected. (p. 23)

The novelist succeeds in making us share Martin's double vision of himself. We deplore the destructive man but come near to tolerating him for his courage and "creative" energy. If the island-life is Martin's "creation" he belongs among the artists around whom Mr. Golding's later novels are built—… certainly with Jocelyn in The Spire, whose lightning-like apple-tree is also a symbol of the inextricable entanglement of selfishness and vision. Yet Pincher Martin does not attempt to present a man who can really confuse his evil with aspiration. His character is "static not dynamic": his art is for himself alone and nothing is learned from it, as under-lined by the constant relating of survival detail to flashback. Pincher's weakness is the novelist's shaping strength. (p. 24)

Avril Henry, "The Pattern of 'Pincher Martin'," in Southern Review (copyright 1976 by Avril Henry), March, 1976, pp. 3-26.

Lawrence R. Ries

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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 contemporaries by showing this to be a universal condition, not merely the result of immediate social conditions. His first two novels, Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors, are studies in human nature, exposing the kinds of violence that man uses against his fellow man. It is understandable why these first novels have been said to comprise Golding's "primitive period."

Lord of the Flies presents a world removed from normal adult and civilized forces. The boys at first gradually and then quickly recede into a world of primordial violence. It is important to understand that Golding describes the human condition as one of aggression and hostility, in which the stronger rise up against and destroy the weaker. Piggy, the spokesman for rationality and intelligence, is ineffectual in a world governed by force and violence. Sam and Eric are the ordinary people who eventually succumb to the influence of the stronger. The boys, like modern man, are ignorant of their own nature; as Golding has said, "I think, quite simply, that they don't understand what beasts there are in the human psyche which have to be curbed." The appearance of the captain of the cruiser at the end reasserts the issue of man's inclination to violence. Golding has summarized the theme as "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." (p. 29)

In discussing how he came to write Lord of the Flies, Golding said that his own twentieth-century vision "had been seared by the acts of superior whites in places like Belsen and Hiroshima." The same quality in human nature is explored in The Inheritors. Lok and Fa are terrorized by the new people, who are more civilized but also more brutal and destructive. Modern man enters the world by crushing his immediate predecessors. Golding's aim is ultimately moral, to expose man's violent nature so that he will learn the necessity of restraint, and in this way he stands between the neohumanists and those who embrace violence. He acknowledges the violence in the world and the necessity to come to terms with it; he would not deny the place of assertiveness and aggression in human nature as the neohumanists seek to do. (pp. 29-30)

Lawrence R. Ries, in his Wolf Masks: Violence in Contemporary Poetry (copyright © 1977 by Kennikat Press Corp.; reprinted by permission of Kennikat Press Corp.), Kennikat, 1977.


Golding, William (Vol. 1)


Golding, William (Vol. 17)