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Analysis of William Golding's fiction Tiger, Virginia Marie

Abstract

This dissertation proposes an inclusive and extensive examination of the fiction of William Golding with regard to both theme and structure. Golding's essential view of man's nature, the dissertation contends, is that it is rationally inexplicable; his is essentially a religious vision, for he holds that man's nature contains a mystery or "darkness." Each fable is a variation on a common preoccupation, for in them Golding explores the dictum of Proverbs 23:18 that "where there is no vision, the people perish." In the five fables here examined the dissertation argues that Golding constructs a mythopoeia which he considers relevant to contemporary man. In Golding's view, contemporary man lacks vision; he experiences mystery only as malignancy not holiness. Man abstracts from his violence and projects it as fear of a demon which will destroy him. Thus in the fiction the central symbol for the spiritual dimension is darkness and the central symbolic episode is the nightmare world where character undergoes atavistic reordering. By use of the fable form, remote settings, circumscribed point of view, and an unusual structure, Golding strives to make the life of the spirit become a reality, at least in the imaginative realm. The specific structure of a Golding fable involves two frames—pattern and counterpattern—and is described in the dissertation as "an ideographic structure." Following the plot's major movement there is in all the fables a coda ending which reverses the expectations of the first movement. Towards the end of each fable the reader moves from the protagonist's point of view and enters abruptly into another character's point of view on the same situation. Golding intends that the two perspectives are to be linked, not contradictory. The bridge between the apparently contradictory perspectives is to be built by the reader who is driven.by the paradoxical structure of each fable to accept paradoxes of existence which are to Golding symptoms of the spiritual world. Other technical features contribute to the fiction's emphasis on the spiritual; chief among these are the subversion of literary models and the use of what is called "the confrontation scene." Each fable has its genesis in another writer's view of the same situation. Thus, for example, Lord of the Flies ironically subverts Ballantyne's Coral Island while Free Fall gives a sensual inversion of the spiritual values of Dante's Vita Nuova. Such a strategy of indirection informs the confrontation scene, a massively sculpted episode which functions in the individual fable as a single crystallisation of that fable's total ideographic structure. In it the protagonist is forced through some fearful but ambiguous purgation to encounter his own psychic landscape and thus the scene brings about the kind of thematic conjunction between two worlds which occurs in structural terms in the specific fable. The dissertation examines the validity of these propositions in the fiction up to and including The Spire. The "Introduction" and individual sections in subsequent chapters place Golding's notoriety in the context of contemporary criticism. Over the years a rigid interpretation has developed which sees the writer's engagement as a religious apologia where each new novel is a tour de force, showing by means of contrived allegory man's depravity sub specie aeternitatis. Such a literary cliche is damaging to a contemporary author, it is argued, since it makes him the victim rather than forger of his own reputation, forever feeding the doctrinaire orthodoxy of literary presuppositions. Golding's numerous comments in interviews indicate his unease here. There is a progressive evolution from an externally wrested structure where pattern sublates pattern to an internally realized structure. There is a parallel thematic development as the darkness of man's heart as represented in Lord of the Flies modulates into the central opacity of man's heart as represented in The Spire. Throughout its seven chapters, the dissertation incorporates into discussion of the fables Golding's minor works—autobiographical essay in The Hot Gates; two short stories, "The Anglo Saxon" and "Miss Pulkinhorn"; the novella, Envoy Extraordinary; two unpublished plays, "Break My Heart" and "Miss Pulkinhorn," as well as extensive conversations which were conducted with Golding by the dissertation writer over a period of two years. Unpublished material such as this was made available by the author himself and represent, in the context of Golding criticism, the first instance of treatment to date. The "Conclusion" closes on a brief examination of The Pyramid and its modified use of some of the technical features already explored.

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