William Golding Analysis


Born in Cornwall, England, in 1911, William Gerald Golding grew up to become one of the most celebrated British authors of the twentieth century. Best known for his classic novel Lord of the Flies, Golding earned a Booker Prize, a knighthood, and the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature for his work. Written primarily in the devastating aftermath of World War II, Golding’s literary contributions are notable and unflinching examinations of mankind’s eternal struggle between order and chaos, civilization and barbarism, and good and evil.

William Golding’s father was a science professor at Marlborough Grammar School, while his mother was a participant in the women’s suffrage movement. Brought up by educated parents, Golding spent part of his childhood being educated in his father’s own school. Even at a young age, Golding was interested in writing; he first attempted to write a novel at the age of twelve. Though his parents hoped that he would one day become a scientist, Golding studied science for only two years at Oxford University before switching over to English literature. Golding’s first work, a book of poetry titled Poems, was published shortly before his graduation from Oxford. After graduating in 1935, Golding spent a few years acting and directing for various theater companies. He then took a post teaching English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Wiltshire. Golding’s years spent teaching young British schoolboys helped inspire his famous novel Lord of the Flies. In 1939, Golding married a chemist named Anne Brookfield, with whom he would go on to have two children. Despite his passion for teaching, Golding joined the Royal Navy shortly after the beginning of World War II.

While in the Royal Navy, Golding was involved in several battles, including the chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. He was also commander of a landing ship during the...

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Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

William Golding’s first and only book of poetry, titled simply Poems, was published in 1934. Envoy Extraordinary, a 1956 novella, was recast in 1958 in the form of a play, The Brass Butterfly; this work, set in Roman times, uses irony to examine the value of “modern” inventions. Envoy Extraordinary was published along with two other novellas, The Scorpion God and Clonk Clonk, in a 1971 collection bearing the title The Scorpion God.

Golding also produced nonfiction; his book reviews in The Spectator in the period 1960 to 1962 frequently took the form of personal essays. Many of his essays and autobiographical pieces were collected in The Hot Gates, and Other Occasional Pieces (1965). A Moving Target (1982) is another set of essays; An Egyptian Journal (1985) is a travelogue. Golding also gave numerous interviews explaining his work; these have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Sir William Golding is without doubt one of the major British novelists of the post-World War II era. He depicted in many different ways the anguish of modern humanity as it gropes for meaning and redemption in a world where the spiritual has been all but crushed by the material. His themes deal with guilt, responsibility, and salvation. He depicts the tension between individual fallenness and social advance, or, to put it differently, the cost of progress to the individual.

Golding’s works portray a period in which the last vestiges of an optimistic belief in evolutionary progress collapsed under the threat of nuclear destruction. In creating these works, Golding moved the classic British novel tradition forward both in stylistic and formal technique and in the opening up of a new, contemporary social and theological dialectic.

Golding was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (elected in 1955), and in 1983 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1979 for Darkness Visible and the Booker Prize in 1980 for Rites of Passage. He was knighted in 1989.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Discuss why the norms of civilization break down so quickly in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. What are the individual steps of the breakdown?

What is the “price” of erecting the spire in The Spire? Is it worth the price?

Discuss the symbolism of the sea voyage to Australia in The Sea Trilogy. What are the symbols that seem to typify Golding’s view of human nature?

Discuss which of Golding’s novels seem to best exemplify modern society’s search for spirituality and which novels most mark its absence.

Golding frequently talks of The Fall. What does he mean by this idea, and how does he show that its effects may be overcome, if at all?

Which novels seem to best show Golding as a writer of hope and which as a deeply pessimistic writer?

Discuss Golding’s use of fire in his novels. What is its function?

What does the word “epiphany” mean, and what is the importance of epiphanies in Golding’s novels?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baker, James R., ed. Critical Essays on William Golding. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. A collection of the best essays on Golding’s novels through The Paper Men. Also includes Golding’s Nobel Lecture and an essay on trends in Golding criticism.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Lord of the Flies. Broomall, Pa.: Chelsea House, 1998. Of the many collections of essays on Golding’s best-known novel, this is probably the best.

Boyd, S. J. The Novels of William Golding. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Provides a chapter on each of Golding’s novels through The Paper Men. Includes a full bibliography.

Dick, Bernard F. William Golding. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An excellent introduction to Golding’s life and works.

Dickson, L. L. The Modern Allegories of William Golding. Tampa: University of Southern Florida Press, 1990. Renewed theoretical interest in fantasy and allegory have produced this reading of Golding’s novels, suggesting a useful balance to earlier studies that looked to psychological realism.

Gindin, James. William Golding. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1988. Golding’s novels are paired in essays that compare them. Additional chapters examine themes in Golding’s work and its critical reception.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark, and Ian Gregor. William Golding: A Critical Study. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967. Still one of the standard critical accounts of Golding. A full analysis of the first five novels, showing imaginative development and interconnection. An added chapter deals with three later novels.

McCarron, Kevin. The Coincidence of Opposites: William Golding’s Later Fiction. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995. Analyzes Golding’s late works, from Darkness Visible to Fire down Below.

Page, Norman, ed. William Golding: Novels, 1954-1967. New York: Macmillan, 1985. Part of the excellent Casebook series, this volume consists of an introductory survey, several general essays on Golding’s earlier work, and eight pieces on specific novels through The Pyramid.

Redpath, Philip. William Golding: A Structural Reading of His Fiction. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986. Explores how the novels create meaning, especially through their structures. They are treated thematically, not chronologically as in most studies. Offers suggestions for the future of Golding criticism.