Dan Sandman

23: Pincher Martin by William Golding

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 06/06/2014 at 12:00 pm

Pincher Martin by William GoldingWilliam Golding’s third novel Pincher Martin is about a man stranded on a a rocky islet (very small island). It is arguably an existential novel, meaning a fiction which highlights the importance of individual choice within humanity. Whereas Lord of the Flies by William Golding deals with the behaivour of a relatively small group of public school boys, Pincher Martin focuses on the choices of one man. In my opinion, this approach when combined with Golding’s mastery of the English language, produces a powerful statement about human consciousness, memory and ingenuity. As Francis Wyhndham in the London Magazine put it: –

“[…] the classic predicament of man pitched against the elements is treated with the distinction of style, the off-beat poetry and unsentimental humanism that have established Mr Golding’s contribution to the novel as the most original in recent years.” (inside cover blurb of my nicely worn Faber edition)

In other words, Golding turns the story of a man stuck with nothing to do – potentially boring – into an exciting adventure exploring the inner workings of a lost mind, analyzing the deterioration of a shattered body, and detailing the crumbling of a helpless soul. And as the man battles for survival, shifting existentially between past and present, the reader is swamped along with awesome force. Here is a flawed character, clinging on to existence, clawing to find identity by talking out loud and giving names to rocks; a wanderer bombarded by the weather, eating muscles and anemones, trying to keep his sanity by finding intelligent things to say and to do.

By thinking carefully about the books ending and by taking note of its full title Pincher Martin: The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin, it is possible to deduce that an outer body experience has occurred following Christopher’s death. There is a sense of this being a depiction of purgatory – as in the gateway between heaven and hell where souls are either cleansed or sent to suffer – and there being a judgement to be undertaken. Indeed, by discovering an extract from Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature by Alistair Fowler, I was able to discover that the nickname “Pincher” comes from the name of the strict naval judge and British admiral William Fanshawe Martin (1801 – 1895). This overwhelming evidence has made me rethink the entire novel.

It certainly will warrant several readings and further discussion.


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