William Golding Golding, William (Vol. 17) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

William Golding 1911–

English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and poet. See also William Golding Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 3, 8, 10, 27.

In all of his works, Golding treats the conflict between the forces of light and dark which are present in each individual. Golding's works have been called fables, but he prefers "myth"—that "which comes out from the roots of things in the ancient sense of being the key to existence, the whole meaning of life, and experience as a whole."

Before and after World War II, Golding taught English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury. In his first and best known work, Lord of the Flies, Golding uses a group of school boys as his central characters and abandons them on a desert island during a nuclear war with no adult supervision. They attempt to establish a government among themselves, but without the restraints of civilization they quickly revert to primitive savagery. Similar in background and choice of character's names to R. M. Ballantyne's nineteenth-century classic The Coral Island, Lord of the Flies totally reverses Ballantyne's concept of the purity and innocence of youth and civilized man's ability to remain civilized under the worst conditions. Golding himself says the purpose of the novel is to trace the defects of society back "to the defects of human nature." Many critics feel its popularity among high school and college students equals that of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and it is often considered the most important novel of the 1950s.

In The Inheritors, Golding turns to the prehistoric age where he depicts the destruction of Neanderthal man by our own progenitors, Homo sapiens. Here, Golding draws on H. G. Wells's Outline of History and refutes his description of Neanderthal man as the evil original of the fairy-tale ogre—Golding sees Neanderthal man as totally innocent, destroyed by the evil Homo sapiens. Most of the action is seen from the viewpoint of the Neanderthal Lok, who thinks in pictures rather than words; thus the book becomes a series of images representing man's fall from innocence. Pincher Martin is the story of a naval officer who is stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean after his ship has been torpedoed. The entire book relates Martin's struggle to remain alive against all odds. His death, which is only confirmed in the last pages, appears to have actually occurred on the second page, transforming the struggle into one for his soul rather than his life. The Spire describes the conflict between faith in God and personal aspirations.

Free Fall and The Pyramid are departures in setting for Golding. They function on one level as mere tales of man passing from youth to maturity in contemporary society. On the other hand, they deal with the same themes and moral preoccupations of the other novels—that humans are flawed and imperfect creatures. Golding's first novel in twelve years, Darkness Visible, again explores the human condition in terms of the good/evil conflict.

Golding's pessimistic attitude toward humanity stems from the atrocities he observed in the war while serving in the Royal Navy. Although all of Golding's works are extensively discussed and interpreted, he is often misread because of their rigid structure and style. Some critics find Golding's allegories inadequate in upholding reality. Received enthusiastically at first, interest in his books tends to wane as critics decide that the work is alien to contemporary thought.

Golding's novels can be read on many levels, which makes him extremely popular among students and teachers alike. All of his works have very different settings and narratives, yet all have the same basic theme. Even though Golding has ventured into other literary forms, his career is built on the strength of his novels. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Louis J. Halle

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One is impressed by the possibilities of [Golding's theme in "Lord of the Flies"] for an expression of the irony and tragedy of man's fate. Against his majority of little savages he places a remnant that convincingly represents the saving element of human heroism, thereby posing the eternal moral conflict. But he cannot quite find his meaning in this material. The heroes come to a bad end, having contributed nothing to such salvation as the society achieves. There is a great deal of commotion, and the last page is nothing more than a playwright's contrivance for bringing down the curtain. One is left asking: What was the point?…

In Mr. Golding's novel … the novelist's vision conflicts with that of the textbook anthropologist. The novelist sees good opposed to evil; he recognizes the existence and the utility of heroes. But the social scientist deals only with amoral phenomena. In his termite society the novelist's heroes are social misfits who must come to a bad end, one suspects, to confirm the tacit assumption that maladjustment is undesirable. The intimidated novelist, thus opposed by the misplaced authority of science, dares hardly suggest even that his heroes save the honor of mankind. The best he can do, at last, is to find a meaningless fulfilment in thrills and horror. His rocket explodes in the air, spectacular for the moment, but leaving only the memory of a light that went out and the dead stick of an academic...

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James Stern

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Lord of the Flies" is an allegory on human society today, the novel's primary implication being that what we have come to call civilization is, at best, no more than skin-deep. With undertones of [George Orwell's] "1984" and [Richard Hughes's] "High Wind in Jamaica," this brilliant work is a frightening parody on man's return (in a few weeks) to that state of darkness from which it took him thousands of years to emerge.

Fully to succeed, a fantasy must approach very close to reality. "Lord of the Flies" does. It must also be superbly written. It is. If criticism must be leveled at such a feat of the imagination, it is permissible perhaps to carp at the very premise on which the whole strange story is founded.

How did these children come to be on the island at all? And why, among them, were there no grown-ups? Although Mr. Golding's answer is simple, it may not convince everyone. The boys have been "dropped" in the "passenger tube" of a plane during an attack in an atomic war; the pilot has been seen to vanish in flames. This possibility once accepted, even the most skeptical reader will surely be carried away by the story's plausibility and power, by its skillfully worked-out progress, by the perfection of its characterization, dialogue and prose….

[One] figure stands out, a character known to us all: the Fat Boy, commonly called "Piggy." This boy, however, has brains, and he is almost blind. And it is his blindness, by excruciating irony, that finally saves the lives of the surviving boys, while failing to save his own. Piggy is the hero of a triumphant literary effort.

James Stern, "English Schoolboys in the Jungle," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1955 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 23, 1955, p. 38.

John Peter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Fables are those narratives which leave the impression that their purpose was anterior, some initial thesis or contention which they are apparently concerned to embody and express in concrete terms. Fables always give the impression that they were preceded by the conclusion which it is their function to draw…. (p. 577)

[At the end of Lord of the Flies the] abrupt return to childhood, to insignificance, underscores the argument of the narrative: that Evil is inherent in the human mind itself, whatever innocence may cloak it, ready to put forth its strength as soon as the occasion is propitious. This is Golding's theme, and it takes on a frightful force by being presented in juvenile terms, in a setting that is twice deliberately likened to the sunny Coral Island of R. M. Ballantyne. The boys' society represents, in embryo, the society of the adult world, their impulses and convictions are those of adults incisively abridged, and the whole narrative is a powerfully ironic commentary on the nature of Man, an accusation levelled at us all…. Like any orthodox moralist Golding insists that Man is a fallen creature, but he refuses to hypostatize Evil or to locate it in a dimension of its own. On the contrary Beëlzebub, Lord of the Flies, is Roger and Jack and you and I, ready to declare himself as soon as we permit him to.

The intentness with which this thesis is developed leaves no doubt that the novel is a fable, a deliberate translation of a proposition into the dramatized terms of art, and as usual we have to ask ourselves how resourceful and complete the translation has been, how fully the thesis has been absorbed and rendered implicit in the tale as it is told…. Golding himself provides a criterion for judgement here, for he offers a striking example of how complete the translation of a statement into plastic terms can be. Soon after their arrival the children develop an irrational suspicion that there is a predatory beast at large on the island. This has of course no real existence, as Piggy for one points out, but to the littluns it is almost as tangible as their castles in the sand, and most of the older boys are afraid they may be right. One night when all are sleeping there is an air battle ten miles above the sea and a parachuted man, already dead, comes drifting down through the darkness, to settle among the rocks that crown the island's only mountain…. When it is discovered and the frightened boys mistake it for the beast the sequence is natural and convincing, yet the implicit statement is quite unmistakable too. The incomprehensible threat which has hung over them, is, so to speak, identified and explained: a nameless figure who is Man himself, the boys' own natures, the something that all humans have in common.

This is finely done and needs no further comment, but unhappily the explicit comment has already been provided, in Simon's halting explanation of the beast's identity: "What I mean is … maybe it's only us."… This over-explicitness is my main criticism of what is in many ways a work of real distinction, and for two reasons it appears to be a serious one. In the first place the fault is precisely that which any fable is likely to incur: the incomplete translation of its thesis into its story so that much remains external and extrinsic, the teller's assertion rather than the tale's enactment before our eyes. In the second place the fault is a persistent one, and cannot easily be discounted or ignored. It appears in expository annotations…. Less tolerably, it obtrudes itself in almost everything—thought, action, and hallucination—that concerns the clairvoyant Simon…. The boy remains unconvincing in himself, and his presence constitutes a standing invitation to the author to avoid the trickiest problems of his method, by commenting too baldly on the issues he has raised. Any writer of fables must find it hard to ignore an invitation of this kind once it exists. Golding has not been able to ignore it, and the blemishes that result impose some serious, though not decisive, limitations on a fiery and disturbing story.

The Inheritors, published in 1955, is again an indictment of natural human depravity, though to its author's credit it takes a quite different form. This time the central characters are a group of hairy, simian pre-humans, much like Yahoos in appearance but in other respects very different. (pp. 582-85)

Like its predecessor The Inheritors is a disturbing book to read, passionate, often moving, and with a rich command of irony. (pp. 585-86)


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Norman Podhoretz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin", US title for "Pincher Martin",] is one of the most remarkable books of recent years—a short novel which, though it has no explicit social reference, profoundly expresses the philosophic pessimism that has affected so many European intellectuals since the Second World War…. All the twinges of [Christopher Martin's] battered body, the flutters of his agonized spirit, the stirrings of his tortured consciousness register in Mr. Golding's craggy yet highly sensitized prose…. This is more than good description; it is a rendering of sensation into language, the articulation of an experience almost beyond the reach of words.

But "The Two Deaths of Christopher...

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V. S. Pritchett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[William Golding's] three books, Lord of the Flies (1954), The Inheritors (1955) and Pincher Martin (1956) are romance in the austere sense of the term. They take the leap from the probable to the possible. Lord of the Flies has a strong pedigree: island literature from Crusoe to Coral Island, Orphan Island and High Wind in Jamaica. All romance breaks with the realistic novelist's certainties and exposes the characters to transcendent and testing dangers. But Golding does more than break; he bashes, by the power of his overwhelming sense of the detail of the physical world. He is the most original of our contemporaries…. [Golding] scarcely uses an argument or issues a...

(The entire section is 800 words.)

Frank Kermode

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The device [of shipwrecked boys surviving without adults] is interesting in itself; but rereading Lord of the Flies after the publication of two more major novels by its author should be able to keep it in perspective. It is interesting, certainly, that so evident a master should want to use it; Mr. Golding, who knows boys well enough to make their collapse into savagery perfectly plausible, has, strangely, a profound and tragic interest in what interests them. Among the half-dozen really potent boyhood myths there are two he dwells on; the old one, of an individual or group facing natural problems unaided by adults, and a newer one, of prehistoric fantasy—steaming swamps and megatheria and men primitive in...

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Mary Renault

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Amid a literary world dedicated to debating, reporting, or re-editing the effects of the human condition, William Golding on his lonely eminence continues to ponder its cause…. For others the private language, the prestige narcissist obscurantism; he must take up the archaic challenge of the artist, to make known, to attempt communication, and be seen to succeed or fail—a heroism so rare today as to seem almost quixotic. Mr. Golding communicates. His sayings are hard, but no harder than the thought contained in them; he speaks in parables, but they sharpen not fuzz the meaning. His subject is tremendous: man's first disobedience, and the fruit….

[In] "Free Fall" hell is harrowed, the rescued...

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Peter Green

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Golding is, primarily, a religious novelist: his central theme is not the relationship of man to man but the relationship of man, the individual, to the universe; and through the universe, to God.

The symbolism of his novels is, in essence, theological. Both Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors are concerned with the primal loss of innocence. Pincher Martin, as the last chapter proves, explicitly concerns the sufferings of a dead man who has created his own Purgatory. It is a moral axiom of Golding's that man, and man alone, introduced evil into the world: a view which is hardly separable from the doctrine of Original Sin. To a critic who suggested that good was equally an...

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C. B. Cox

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lord of the Flies is probably the most important novel to be published in this country in the 1950s. A story so explicitly symbolic as this might easily become fanciful and contrived, but Golding has mastered the art of writing a twentieth century allegory. (p. 112)

The idea of placing boys alone on an island, and letting them work out archetypal patterns of human society, is a brilliant technical device, with a simple coherence which is easily understood by a modern audience. Its success is due in part to the quality of Golding's Christianity…. In development of plot, descriptions of island and sea, and treatment of character, he explores actual life to prove dramatically the authenticity...

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Michael Quinn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Pincher Martin] seems … to present, more clearly than any of Golding's other novels, a crystallization of certain distinctive features of his imaginative vision. (p. 247)

Whether or not we know about the ending, the greater part of the story must be read as an account of the experience of a living man struggling for survival in the sea and on the rock; there seems to be no other way of reading it. Only towards the end does this mode of reading give way to a different kind of response and it is essential for the effect of the book that the transition should be gradual. If Golding succeeds in his intention, the 'twist' on the last page should serve only to make us look back on our experience...

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Terry Southern

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

No one could have written four more odd or outlandishly creative books than [William Golding] has. He has told us how it feels to go insane, to drown, to commit suicide, to be dead, to be a child—all in an uncannily convincing manner. He is certainly one of the most original writers of the day. But in his new book, The Inheritors, he tells us how it feels to be a Neanderthal man, and here he has perhaps gone a bit too far….

Fictional heroes with names like Lok, Oa and Fa somehow already suggest a questionable scope of dramatic action, allegorical or otherwise, and when each is saddled with an I.Q. of about 8, things are bound to be slow. The big question is: can the reader identify with a...

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Frank J. Warnke

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Golding fashion among undergraduates has not, as yet at least, reached anything resembling the dimensions of the Salinger fashion which was operative on American campuses even five years ago, but those who like [Lord of the Flies] like it with a passionate intensity which tends to fly at the throat of adverse criticism of any sort. The spell exerted by Lord of the Flies (and, for those who have read it, by The Inheritors) seems to reside in its combination of fast-paced and violent action, all-embracing and rather facile pessimism, and heavy-handed and obvious symbolism. Both books devote much energy to telling us that they are profound, and youth has a weakness for profundity almost as fatal...

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V. S. Pritchett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With Pincher Martin, for all its real claims as a breathless and mysterious tour de force, two or three things went wrong. Mr Golding had taken a dive into the chaos of a single consciousness; to do this makes hay of the traditional novel, which is a work concerned with the differences between people. Pincher Martin was a one-man scream of pain. The defence may be that Golding is a poet-novelist, an exponent of the anti-novel, that he is writing 'black' literature or reviving the Gothic tradition; and these are worth considering. But it did look as though a distinguished writer was about to go down into the underworld of fashionable paranoia. The inquisitional scene in Free Fall, with its...

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Nigel Dennis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One never has to read more than a few pages of a William Golding novel to know that it contains the essentials of good fiction. First and foremost, one feels the energy that has been put into it—the intensity of mental concentration that one responds to as if it were a strong physical act. Second, one notes the precision and discipline that funnel the energy into the chosen course, and without which energy is just a sprawling nuisance. "The Spire" is only 215 pages long, but a bad author would have run twice the length in breathless pursuit of the same end. For these reasons alone "The Spire" must be welcomed and admired….

In brief, "The Spire" is a short, tight book that shows the author's hand...

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Frank Kermode

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Spire] is a book about vision and its cost. It has to do with the motives of art and prayer, the phallus turned spire; with the deceit, as painful to man as to God, involved in structures which are human but have to be divine, such as churches and spires. But because the whole work is a dance of figurative language such an account of it can only be misleading. It requires to be read with unremitting attention, and, first time perhaps, very little pleasure. It is second-period Golding; the voice is authoritative but under strain. The style might have been devised by some severe recluse for translating the Old Testament; it is entirely modern, without the slighest trace of god-wottery, yet it is almost...

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William Barrett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Spire] is possibly the best thus far of William Golding's haunting parables of the human condition. The setting is medieval England at the time of the building of the cathedrals, but the atmosphere is at once so much of a never-never land and so full of nervous suspense that it seems like a cross between [Maurice] Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande and the high-strung melodrama of the early Graham Greene. The implications of Mr. Golding's tale, as always, are ominous for human nature. (p. 135)

Is Jocelin a saint, or a madman in the frenzied grip of an impossible ideal? Mr. Golding's answer is ambiguous. He does make powerfully clear that all faith rests on a quagmire, that our...

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R. C. Townsend

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Presumably one starts with the hope—if not the belief—that Golding's thesis [in Lord of the Flies] is wrong, that finally man is more than a beast…. [But] it becomes clear how unsure Golding is of that thesis and of his ability to make his fable suggest it. He thinks he would be unable (or he knows we would be unwilling) to move from the terms of one to those of the other and so he continually makes the jump for us. Thus Ralph and Jack become, he tells us, "two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate" and are later opposed as "the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill" and the "world of longing and baffled commonsense."… At one point Simon tries "to express...

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Gladys Veidemanis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

How do you account for the enormous appeal of [Lord of the Flies], especially to adolescents and college-age students?… It enables meaningful questioning about the nature of man, the aims of society, the structure of the social order…. Golding … appeals to students as a spokesman of their generation and of the situation in which they find themselves…. The book helps to alleviate—vicariously—feelings of guilt and fear which students have individually felt unique to themselves…. Just as young people struggle to overcome feelings of fear of the unknown, of the future, and even of themselves, so they see the working out of these fears by the protagonists of the novel…. Since high school students are...

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James R. Baker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Golding] satirizes the Christian as well as the rationalist point of view. In Lord of the Flies, for example, the much discussed last chapter offers none of the traditional comforts. A fable, by virtue of its far-reaching suggestions, touches upon a dimension that most fiction does not—the dimension of prophecy. With the appearance of the naval officer it is no longer possible to accept the evolution of the island society as an isolated failure. The events we have witnessed constitute a picture of realities which obtain in the world at large. There, too, a legendary beast has emerged from the dark wood, come from the sea, or fallen from the sky; and men have gathered for the communion of the hunt. In...

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Christopher Ricks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Hot Gates is art because Golding's] talents simply are not for those matters which aptly fashion themselves into 'occasional pieces': trips to America, reviews of books about otters and headmasters, and potted-boilers on Copernicus. Mr. Golding goes through the Copernican motions. Just occasionally something from the world of the novels brings life with it…. Mr. Golding's imagination is kindled by fantasy as it hardly is by fact—at least, not the brochure-type facts about Stratford-upon-Avon or the stale news about Creative Writing courses which are trotted out in this book. Sententious, over-written, trivial and lumpishly jocose, much of this volume stands to the novels as did that inept play The...

(The entire section is 377 words.)

J. D. O'Hara

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The ordinary work of fiction can be defensibly judged only by its own laws; if a novel's world is consistent with itself, its divergence from a reader's own understanding of reality is irrelevant. But fables are different. They claim to describe our objective world, not their own. Such works can and must be judged by the accuracy with which they reflect our world and the perceptivity with which they interpret it. So judged, Lord of the Flies is open to several objections.

Perhaps the basic objection is that its subject is irrelevant. It claims to demonstrate that man cannot begin anew and create Utopia. But the human race cannot start from scratch; whatever we do, think, say, and assume is...

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Harry H. Taylor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Lord of the Flies] Simon has been given the conventional characteristics of the mystic whose non-rational approach to the ways of knowing are presumably meant to reassert the mystery and to re-affirm the meaning of the universe beyond its apparent basis in natural law but, in point of fact, Simon first fails to do so and then brings back the truth of the opposite. We have been led to believe in the possibility of the mystery which we later learn the author himself is not willing to accept but, on the other hand, cannot quite abandon. However, I think it is possible to suggest how this confusion has come about, and the other half of the dual hero, the fat boy Piggy, will make this clear.


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D. W. Crompton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Spire is essentially a dramatic poem on the lines of [T. S. Eliot's] The Waste Land. Indeed in many ways, it is curiously similar to The Waste Land, and not the least in its power of arousing echoes which constantly refer one out to a variety of works and with varying degrees of significance. In some cases, the echo arouses little more than the pleasing sense of recognition…. At the other extreme, the myth of Balder is as essential to the construction of The Spire as the Grail legend is to The Waste Land and any reading which does not take account of it must necessarily be a partial one. (pp. 65-6)

The main myth connected with Pangall … is undoubtedly that...

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Roderick Nordell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

After the pretension of "The Spire" William Golding seems to be relaxing, or at least thudding down to earth, with "The Pyramid." Its ugly-jolly narrative is in the reminiscent, realistic vein of "Free Fall" rather than the mythmaking manner variously seen in "Lord of the Flies," "Pincher Martin," and "The Inheritors."…

Even among the crude humor, old-fashioned shock effects, vagrant symbols, and stitched-together set-pieces of the new novel, there are hints of the old thrust toward significance. "We cannot even think, without leaving a mark somewhere on the cosmos," says the narrator, making a nice point but one that is only loosely illustrated in the novel. Soon after, he yearns for absolution...

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David Spitz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Simon, it is clear, is the Christ-figure, the voice of revelation [in Lord of the Flies]…. He alone does not fear the false god, the messenger from heaven, the slain airman—a metaphor for history—who is dead but won't lie down…. Simon sees him and understands; he knows that "the beast was harmless and horrible; and the news must reach the others as soon as possible." Like Moses, then, he comes down from the mountain bearing the truth—which in Simon's case is that the beast is Man himself, the boys' (and man's) own natures. But when he comes out of the darkness, bringing the truth, he is not heard—for what ordinary man can live with so terrible an understanding? Like Jesus, he is killed. (pp. 24-5)...

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Stanley Cook

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Golding [would be] a major figure among contemporary English novelists had he written nothing but Lord of the Flies and would still [be] a major figure had he written nothing but his other novels.

Lord of the Flies is not the first time that parody has turned to a novel in its own right…. Stung by what he considers an unreal view of life, the novelist is too magnanimous to stop at exposing the faults of another but goes on, to show incidentally that he can do better, but mainly to tell the truth. This is not the whole truth, but the truth about a part of life—perhaps only for part of the time…. Golding, I feel, knows the truth about part of human nature part of the time. An...

(The entire section is 1305 words.)

James R. Baker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lord of the Flies is on the decline. (p. 447)

It is natural to tire of familiar things and to pursue instead the excitements which come with novelty and the sense of discovery. But I wish to argue in behalf of Lord of the Flies, not because I have discovered something startling and new to abash the jaded scholars …, but because the decline of Golding's book is a symptom of a dangerous tendency in our academic and intellectual life…. [All] of humanity is involved in explosive crisis and is on the edge of disastrous violence. It is hard to look steadfastly at this general picture…. We must somehow overcome our myopia, with its attendant illusions of efficiency and power, and we do...

(The entire section is 1470 words.)

P. N. Furbank

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The leading proposition in Golding's mind as a writer, endorsed alike by Freud and Christian theology, is that each of us recapitulates the history of the race. For Golding, the ink is not yet dry on the social contract. Civilisation, like Jocelin's spire rests on foundations still writhing like hell-mouth. This being his bent, his interests naturally concentrate on boyhood—that is, on the embryonic stage of the civilised human: for there animism and polytheism, matriarchy and the primal horde, are re-experienced one by one—as is the Fall, if you believe in the Fall. But indeed, for good or evil, Golding is somewhat tied as a writer to boyhood, for some imaginative block prevents him from handling adult life with...

(The entire section is 1339 words.)

A. C. Capey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The truth is that the author despises the boys [in Lord of the Flies]…. [His] knowledge and understanding are tarnished by cynicism, the product of a limited vision of human nature, a partial view of history and a schoolmasterish tendency to denigrate children. Cynical contempt appears time and again in the novel, characteristically in the form of gratuitous judgment by an adult observer. (p. 103)

Mr. Golding, in leaning too heavily on [an idea], causes it to split apart at the seams. The death of Piggy is an emblem of the Fall—the later reference to it makes that interpretation indisputable. But the power of Mr. Golding's art depends also upon the show—the shown significance of the...

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James Acheson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although critics have acknowledged that the narrator of Free Fall, Samuel Mountjoy, must not be identified with Golding, they have failed to distinguish clearly between Mountjoy's purpose in writing his narrative and Golding's in writing his novel…. [Critics] have taken the wrong approach to Mountjoy's assumption that it is possible freely to relinquish one's freedom of will. It is only when we recognise that this assumption is not shared by Golding that novel and narrative appear in the proper perspective: the narrative as Mountjoy's confession cum self-justification, and the novel as Golding's parable of the abuse of freedom. (p. 73)

Rather than having lost his freedom, [Sammy] has abused...

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Ronald Blythe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Darkness Visible] is a malign work which, in spite of the presence of the charred saint who wanders through it, gives few directions for recovery. One is thrown back and forth by the constantly alternating brilliance and obscurities in the writing, as well as being brought to a critical standstill by a sequence of great scenes….

[In his scarred inconnu, Matty], Golding has invented one of his most compelling characters.

Virtue on the scale which Matty so guilelessly practises is essential, for the rest of the action involves first, that peculiarly British form of furtiveness and retribution which is still profitably maintained by the popular Sundays; and, second, current...

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Paul Ableman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have … never met a more melancholy example of an author yielding to the intrinsically worthy impulse to tackle the world's problems and, by so doing, wrecking his own book than that represented by William Golding's [Darkness Visible].

I read the first part in a trance of admiration. It tells how a boy, nameless but later informally christened Matty, walks out of the heart of flame which is London's firebombed East End. Golding's prose flares white and rose with the blaze and plods with the charred victim. It groans with the long agony of his surgical restoration, brightens with the rare tenderness he encounters and peals with compassionate mockery at the scorn his repaired but...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

John Calvin Batchelor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

William Golding is a militantly spiritual Englishman who seems to have inherited … the fearless Puritanism that still shakes souls. Golding, like a Hellfire lay-preacher, attacks with words and shows no mercy for the ignorant, the weak, or even the arguably innocent. He does not blanch before the Puritan doctrines of total depravity and predestination, the cruel certainty that some will be damned regardless of what is done. To this reviewer's mind, Darkness Visible is a black novel made darker still by the fact that Golding permits, with the eloquence of a rhetorician holding out a vision of Paradise to exhausted sinners, one ray of hope to enter his tale before he slams shut the tomb on its tormented...

(The entire section is 1545 words.)

Joyce Carol Oates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Darkness Visible] is a difficult and in many ways a painful novel to assess…. The melodramatic plot, unwisely borrowed from Iris Murdoch, escalates frantically and becomes, at the end, not even trashily cinematic so much as electronic: Sophy and her kidnapper cohorts, Toni and her clichés about freedom and justice, are imaginable, if not credible, only as elements in a situation comedy gone askew. (p. 32)

Golding's embarrassing fictional stereotypes … and his heavy-handedly ironic attempt to create a visionary-moron … might be halfway redeemed if presented, as Iris Murdoch's similarly caricatured people often are, in witty or cogent or intelligent prose; but Golding's style here is...

(The entire section is 335 words.)