Golding Essay

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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Sir William Gerald Golding was born in 1911 in Saint Columb Minor in Cornwall, England, to Alec Golding, a socialist teacher who supported scientific rationalism, and Mildred Golding (née Curnroe), a supporter of female suffrage. As a child, William Golding was educated at the Marlborough Grammar School, where his father worked, and later at Brasenose College, Oxford. Although educated to be a scientist at the request of his father, the young Golding developed an interest in literature, becoming devoted first to Anglo-Saxon texts and then to poetry, which he wrote avidly. At Oxford he studied natural science for two years and then transfered to a program for English literature and philosophy. Following a short period of time in which he worked in various positions at a settlement house and in small theater companies as both an actor and a writer, Golding became a schoolmaster at Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy and was involved in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, after which he returned to Bishop Wordsworth's School, where he taught until the early 1960s.

In 1954, Golding published his first novel, Lord of the Flies, which details the adventures of British schoolboys stranded on an island in the Pacific who descend into barbaric behavior. Although at first rejected by twenty-one different publishing houses, Golding's first novel became a surprise success. E.M. Forster declared Lord of the Flies the outstanding novel of its year, while Time and Tide called it "not only a first-rate adventure story but a parable of our times." Golding continued to develop similar themes concerning the inherent violence in human nature in his next novel, IThe Inheritors], published the following year. This novel deals with the last days of Neanderthal man. The Inheritors posits that the Cro-Magnon "fire-builders" triumphed over Neanderthal man as much by violence and deceit as by any natural superiority. His subsequent works include Pincher Martin (1956), the story of a guilt-ridden naval officer who faces an agonizing death, Free Fall (1959), and The Spire (1964), each of which deals with the depravity of human nature. The Spire is an allegory concerning the protagonist's obsessive determination to build a cathedral spire regardless of the consequences.

In addition to his novels and his early collection of poems, Golding published a play entitled The Brass Butterfly in 1958 and two collections of essays, The Hot Gates (1965) and A Moving Target (1982).

Golding's final works include Darkness Visible (1979), the story of a boy horribly injured during the London blitz of World War II, and Rites of Passage (1980). This novel won the Booker McConnell Prize, the most prestigious award for English literature, and inspired two sequels, Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989). These three novels portray life aboard a ship during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize for literature for his novels which, according to the Nobel committee, "with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today." In 1988 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Sir William died in 1993 in Perranarworthal, Cornwall. At the time of his death he was working on an unfinished manuscript entitled "The Double Tongue," which focused on the fall of Hellenic culture and the rise of Roman civilization. This work was published posthumously in 1995.

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