William Golding. The Novelist of British Post-War Era

Evil nature of human, religious symbolism and ever-present pessimism

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2018

37 Pages, Grade: 5.0 (PL-System)


Table of Contents


Chapter One - Cultural Background to British Literature of 1950’s
1.1. The Angry Young Men
1.2. The New Theatre of the 1950’s

Chapter Two - William Golding – the Novelist of British Post-war Era
2.1. Early Years
2.2. The War and Its Impact on Golding’s Writing
2.3. After the War
2.4. Golding’s Early Works
2.5. Later Works by Golding

Chapter Three - William Golding’s Symbolism
3.1. Symbols and Their Meaning in Lord of the Flies
3.2. Brutal Homo-sapiens vs. Gentle Neanderthals – The Inheritors
3.3. Synthesis of Good and Evil – The Spire



William Golding is a name likely to last, and not only for Lord of the Flies, a fable about a party of boys from a Cathedral Choir School marooned on a Pacific island. A teacher, Golding knew something of boys, and his strong tale is believably reported through the eyes and idioms of Piggy, Ralph, Simon, Jack and Co. As com­mander of a rocket ship in the Royal Navy, Golding also knew something of how people behave in emergencies.1

The title of my project: William Golding - the Novelist of British Post-war Era allowed me to present one of the most imaginative writers of 1950’s of England from a several different perspectives. The decision behind choosing such topic was dictated by the previous interests which emerged as a result of my earlier contacts with the British culture.

Various British novelists and playwrights who emerged in the 1950’s expressed disaffection with the established socio-political order of their country2. Their impatience and resentment were especially aroused by what they perceived as the hypocrisy of the upper and middle classes. They were called Angry Young Men - a journalistic catchphrase originally used by British newspapers after the success of the play Look Back in Anger by the playwright John Osborne.

Evil nature of human, religious symbolism and ever-present pessimism. Few novels as brief as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies raise so many fascinating questions. Are human beings evil and how does evil arise? What is the nature of isolation? Why and how do we choose our leaders and what are a leader’s responsibilities? The list could continue for several pages and still barely touch the peak of the mountain, yet each is a significant one worthy to be considerate.

In order to gain an insight in the above mentioned aspects that can be associated with the history of British literary history after war, as well as with hidden reasons behind Golding’s view of life as presented in his writings, I have decided for the following division of my project.:

The first chapter - Cultural Background of British Literature in 1950’s, shall deal amongst others, with the development of the new theatre and also the movement called Angry Young Men.

Chapter Two, titled William Golding – His Life and Works will present the biography of the writer remembered mostly for his great contributions to modern literature. Despite his father’s protests, Golding eventually decided to devote his career to literature, where he became one of the most famous English novelists ever. It was war where Golding lost the idea that men are inherently good, he lost the belief that humans have an innocent nature. Even children, he learned, are evil. The depiction of his shattered ideals and sad vision of the world are being presented in his most famous novel, Lord of the Flies.

Chapter Three is going to be devoted to the presentation and explanation of the symbols used by Golding in Lord of the Flies. I have also decided to include the aspect of the original sin which in case of Lord of the Flies foreshadows the children’s evil nature opposed with their rare innocence. Consequently, I discuss the true nature of evil – as presented in Golding’s brilliant novel about the Neanderthals – The Inheritors; and finally I compare and contrast the previous positions with the third novel – The Spire in connection with the Christian symbolism. I will try to expose the similarities and differences between paganism and Christianity – the motifs so often raised by Golding in his novels.

During the process of my thesis writing, I have been using not only literary sources, library resources and the magazines’ extracts; I have also decided to explore the Internet where I have found various entries – some more valuable, some less, but all of them interesting.

Chapter One - Cultural Background to British Literature of 1950’s

1.1. The Angry Young Men

Political harmony at home gave scope to experiment and innovation in the arts. After a infertile decade in the 1940’s, the fifties saw major works from many distinctive novelists, several of whom had begun writing before the war, like Joyce Cary, Angus Wilson and Iris Murdoch - among the most significant. British drama also experienced a renaissance at this period, from the avant-garde work of Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter, to the social realism of such figures as John Osborne. The latter’s Look Back in Anger dated on 1955, created a great excitement with its contemptuous rejection of social change in Britain since 1945. The ambiguous, romantic phenomenon of the angry young man was born.

Encyclopædia Britannica gives a following description of the movement:

[...] various British novelists and playwrights who emerged in the 1950s and expressed scorn and disaffection with the established sociopolitical order of their country. Their impatience and resentment were especially aroused by what they perceived as the hypocrisy and mediocrity of the upper and middle classes.3

The Angry Young Men were a new breed of intellectuals who were mostly of working class or of lower middle-class origin. Some had been educated at the postwar so-called red-brick universities at the state’s expense, however, a few were from Oxford. Although not an organised and ideologically coherent artistic movement as such, the work of the theirs was characterised by particular dissatisfaction with the so-called Establishment, an outspoken irreverence for the British class system, its traditional network of pedigreed families, and the elitist Oxford and Cambridge universities. They showed an equal contempt for the postwar welfare state, and their writings frequently expressed blatant anger and frustration as the postwar reforms failed to meet exalted aspirations for the real changes.

The trend was evident in John Wain’s novel Hurry on Down and in Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Their novels and plays typically feature a rootless, lower-middle or working-class male protagonist who views society with scorn and sardonic humour and may have conflicts with authority but who is nevertheless preoccupied with the quest for upward mobility4 ;Osborne’s Jimmy Porter became a figurehead: an intelligent, articulate, university-educated man denied his opportunities through being the wrong social class.

By the late 1950’s, Angry Young Men’s work became established enough to seem somewhat limited and therefore similarly to that of the Beat movement in the United States, the movement was exhausted in the early 1960’s. Most of the films that were made from their work were dubbed kitchen-sink dramas, as acknowledgement of how successful they had been in pushing working-class issues to the forefront of English culture. Kitchen sink realism was an English cultural movement which developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in theatre, art, novels, film and television plays. It used a style of social realism which often depicted the domestic dirtiness of working class Britons, living in council flats and spending their off-hours in grimy pubs to explore social issues and political controversies.

The films, plays, and novels using this style were often set in poorer industrial areas in the North of England, and used the rough speaking accents and expressions used in those regions. John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger, for example, was set in a dirty, filthy one-room flat in the Midlands.

1.2. The New Theatre of the 1950’s

It was assumed at the time, and it continues to be assumed, that John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger, which opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 8 May 1956, marked either a 'revolution' or a 'watershed' in the history of the modern British theatre.5

The transformation of the English theatre in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was both gradual and truly radical. Before 1956 British drama, and the London stage in particular, had been far more open to new influences, also those from abroad. The theatre could fall back on its inherited tradition of plays and acting styles, especially in remakes of Shakespeare and in revivals of more recent Irish and European dramas.

The London theatres of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s became to be the real challenges to the theatre-goers, while the repertoires of West End theatres and the provincial ones have been selected so as not to offend the sensibilities of audiences quite satisfied with a light-hearted plays, divided into three acts with two bar-intervals.

Look Back in Anger certainly shocked its first audiences. After Look Back in Anger, out went the country drawing-room with its platitudes and its sherry; in came the provincial bed-sitter with its noisy abuse and its ironing-board.6 The accepted theatrical illusion of a neat and respectful society was replaced by dramatic representations of untidy, antagonistic groups of characters provoking each other, as well as playing on the society’s nerves. The social class of these characters may not have changed, but their social assumptions and their conversations definitely had.

When writing about the theatre in fifties one cannot forget about the two native playwrights – Terrence Rattigan and Christopher Fry. The first one was born into a distinguished family. His father, Frank, was a qualified Arabic speaker and was considered to be an unconventional diplomat. When Frank was born, his father, William Rattigan was Chief Justice of the Punjab. However, despite the social status that the Rattigan’s had achieved over the years, they were not wealthy. As a member of the lower upper-middle class in the inter-war period, the young Rattigan received education at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford. His privileged intellectual background was reflected in his plays. For a decade after the Second World War, he was one of England's leading playwrights, but the eruption of the “kitchen sink” realism of English drama in the mid-1950’s diminished his critical reputation.

When he was 25-years old, Rattigan achieved his first success as a playwright with his light comedy French Without Tears, which was a smash in the West End. In the post-war period, he established himself as a major English dramatist with The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea, and Separate Tables, all of which were made into successful motion pictures.

Rattigan plays displayed unique talent and detailed plots; emotion was veiled in the best English middle-class tradition, but it was still there - lurking from the depths. The typical Rattigan play was a sympathetic, witty study of middle-class people in emotional distress. There was often a love triangle, or a conflict of generations. Rattigan’s themes were personal: the illogicality of love; the conflict between idealized love and love as realized in the here and now; the pain of lost promise; and the defeat of potential greatness by human weakness. The themes in Rattigan’s plays were found beneath the surface: nothing was worn on the sleeve. According to Rattigan’s biographer Geoffrey Wansell, he had learned how to mask his feelings, while he was a homosexual in an era in which anti-gay sentiment was blooming, and persecution of those suffering from what was once termed "inversion" was all too real for him.

The upper-class Rattigan's sympathy with the wounded outsider, and with the insider compromised by his or her emotional choices, can cer­tainly be related to his own discreet homosexuality […]7

Rattigan, opposite to his father, whose multiple love affairs were carried on in secret, behind his wife’s back, was very discreet about his own same-sex affairs. As did the characters in his plays.

In 1956, the English stage was revolutionized by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, in which emotions were allowed to "all hang out." Overnight, Rattigan’s dramas of emotional repression were deemed old-fashioned.

The latter of the above mentioned playwrights, was Christopher Fry - regarded in the decade after the Second World War as one of the brightest talents of the English stage and was hailed as the man who would bring about a new Elizabethan age of verse drama in the English theatre.

Fry's attempt to revive the fortunes of poetic drama both derived from, and was contemporary with, T S. Eliot's later experiments in the same genre. Like Eliot, Fry saw poetry as the vehicle for a re-exploration of religious mystery in the theatre; unlike him, he never quite found a voice or a subject which satisfactorily echoed the essentially agnostic prosiness of modern life and thought.8

His best known plays, The Lady's Not for Burning and Venus Observed, conveyed an optimism about humanity and a sense of divine providence that were a great comfort in a world coming to terms with the newly revealed horrors of the Holocaust and the Atom bomb.

A product of the Religious Drama Movement which launched TS Eliot as a dramatist, Fry wrote about a world untarnished by original sin. His endings were always happy; the Lady, audiences knew, never would burn. Great actors vied for his favour: Gielgud, Olivier, and Scofield. Critics praised the light capricious comedy of his verse and compared its romantic rhetoric and lyric soliloquies to Shakespeare. The plays were huge commercial hits; at one point Fry had four plays running in the West End at once.

And then again - suddenly, in the mid-1950’s, another playwright’s star began to fade. With the arrival of a new generation of playwrights, the Angry Young Men led by John Osborne, Fry’s metaphysical comedies immediately seemed odd, and within a few years he had become one of the forgotten men of English theatre.

A modest, courteous man of great serenity, Fry took great pleasure in seeing his plays performed in unexpected places from Czechoslovakia and even Albania to backwoods America9. Meanwhile, he continued to write for films and television. He also translated works by Anouilh, Rostand, Giraudoux and Ibsen.

In the early 1950s Christopher Fry enhanced his already considerable reputation by translating into English two plays by Jean Anouilh Invitation au chateau in 1950 and LAlouette in 1955 and one by Jean Giraudoux La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu also in 1955.10

All an all – we can read in Anders that the most significant foreign novelty to be played in London scene, in the years directly preceding the appearance of Look Back in Anger was Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot.

The success of Waiting for Godot in London cannot simply be put down to a yearning for innovation on the part of a theatre-going intelligentsia; the play also contained distinct echoes of a truly 'alternative', but often despised, British theatrical tra­dition, that of music-hall comedy. In Beckett's hands, however, that tradition had been transformed by a sparse, but none the less definite, musicality and by a dialogue rich in literary resonance.11

Samuel Beckett’s work has extended the possibilities of drama and fiction in unprecedented ways, bringing to the theatre and the novel an awareness of the absurdity of human existence. In The Myth of Sisyphus from 1942 Camus as the first one, had put forward the idea of the absurd, a philosophical reaction to the unintelligibility of life, which under the German occupation of Paris had become greater than usual. Becket, educated in Ireland, North and South, he settled afterwards in Paris and produced his fiction and drama in English and French, translating himself out of the language in which he first wrote each text. Having begun literary life as a modernist and promoter of the reputations of Proust and Joyce, in the years before and after the Second World War he found his own way and continued to develop this way without compromise until his death. His relatively few pre-war publications included two essays on Joyce and the French novelist Marcel Proust, we can read in Encyclopædia Britannica.12

Beckett's dialogue, for which Waiting for Godot is particularly remarkable, is the most energetic, densely layered, and supple written by any twentieth-century playwright; his comedy, whether visual, verbal, ritual, or even, at times, slapstick is amongst the most subtle and surprising.13

During his years in hiding in unoccupied France, Beckett completed a novel, Watt, which was not published until 1953. After his return to Paris, between 1946 and 1949, Beckett produced a number of stories, the major prose narratives – in 1951 Molloy, Malone meurt - Malone Dies in 1951, and L'Innommable - The Unnamable in 1953, additionally to two plays, the unpublished three-act Eleutheria and the one which he is the most known-one: Waiting for Godot. It was his first real triumph, which came on January 5, 1953, when Waiting for Godot premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone. In spite of some expectations to the contrary, the strange little play in which “nothing happens” became an instant success, running for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone and enjoying the critical praise of dramatists as diverse as Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh, and William Saroyan who remarked, “It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre.”14

The traditional novel as it developed in the West may be summed up with the phrase: "Action is character and character is action.'' But Beckett's characters mainly refuse to act. Someone once described "Waiting for Godot'' as a play in which nothing happens, twice.15

A drama, said Aristotle, is the imitation of an action. In Waiting for Godot nothing happens. Indeed, famously, nothing happens twice. Vladimir and Estragon await the arrival of Godot, a name which adds a French diminutive ending to “God”. But, whoever he is, he doesn’t arrive. The play ends:

vladimir: We'll hang ourselves tomorrow. {Pause.) Unless Godot comes.

estragon: And if he comes?

vladimir: We'll be saved.

Vladimir takes off his hat (Lucky's), peers inside it, feels about inside it, shakes it, knocks on the crown, puts it on again.

estragon: Well? Shall we go?

vladimir: Pull on your trousers.

estragon: What?

vladimir: Put on your trousers.

estragon: You want me to pull off my trousers?

vladimir: Pull ON your trousers.

estragon: (realizing his trousers are down). True. He pulls up his trousers.

vladimir: Well? Shall we go?

estragon: Yes, let's go. They do not move. CURTAIN16

Beckett continued writing, but more slowly than in the immediate post-war years. Plays for the stage and radio and a number of prose works occupied much of his attention. His work has been described by himself and others as an art of impoverishment, an art of failure. In parallel to the work of certain Modernist architects and composers he was exploring the radical potential of the idea that ‘less is more’.17 Although Beckett gradually came to be recognized as the most important dramatist writing in English in the second half of the twentieth century, his work initially struck many early critics as emerging from a largely foreign tradition of symbolic and philosophically based drama. In part due to the above mentioned qualities, his work appears to have survived and transcended all attempts to categorise it or assimilate it into traditions such as Existentialism, Modernism, or the Absurdist movements with which Beckett was loosely associated in the sixties and seventies. His work has been intensely and internationally studied by critics, produced on stage and TV, and continues to be greeted with more or less equal proportions of fascination, devotion and curiosity.

In order to complete this chapter devoted to a presentation of the changes both in the cultural and political life of post-war Britain, there is needed one more sub-chapter. The one which is devoted to the development and modifications which the British mass media undergone in this period.

What was the situation of the novelists and what were their greatest achievements of the times? Undoubtedly William Golding is one of the finest representatives of this genre. The following chapter will present Sir William Gerald Golding - English novelist who in 1983 won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his parables of the human condition. He attracted a cult of followers, especially among the youth of the post-World War II generation18.

Chapter Two - William Golding – the Novelist of British Post-war Era

Though not an exclusively prolific writer, and also not the one amazingly popular outside of Britain apart from his success with Lord of the Flies, William Golding was recognized worldwide as one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. His success is mostly due to the universality of his themes and because he wrote what he wanted to write regardless of what the popular market wanted. In his novels, he never avoided exploration of the dark sides of human-beings, showing the uncomfortable parts of ourselves. As I have already mentioned – on a basis of the quotation from Alexander:

William Golding […] is a name likely to last, and not only for Lord of the Flies, a fable about a party of boys from a Cathedral Choir School marooned on a Pacific island. A teacher, Golding knew something of boys, and his strong tale is believably reported through the eyes and idioms of Piggy, Ralph, Simon, Jack and Co. As com­mander of a rocket ship in the Royal Navy, Golding also knew something of how people behave in emergencies.19

His novels, such as Lord Of The Flies, The Inheritors, or Darkness Visible, are thoroughly deep, straightforward portraits of the darkness in human’s soul. His stories push normal characters to the edge of existence, where we are able watch the ugliest parts of them emerge.

On the other hand, the author of these books was a gentle man, who was called by his own students “Scruff”20, while he was teaching at Bishop Wordsworth’s School. He was an extremely learned man, with a sharp wit and sense of humour, also - with knowledge and concern over mankind’s fate in the face of atomic weapons and the smashing power of ecological disaster yet to come. The winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature, William Golding is definitely among the most popular and influential British authors to have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century.

2.1. Early Years

All of the biographical sources begin in the same manner, so one cannot avoid being typical - William Gerald Golding was born on 19th September 1911 in the village of St. Columb Minor near Newquay in Cornwall21. His father, Alex, was a schoolmaster, while his mother, Mildred, was active in the Women's Suffrage Movement, the biographical accounts state that the mother was a person of great imagination and was able to depict in a stories which she told to her children, the most scary and dramatic visions of Cornish ghosts22.


1 Alexander, M., A History of English literature, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, p. 366

2 "Angry Young Men." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

3 "Angry Young Men." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

4 Ibid.

5 Sanders, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, OUP, 2002, p. 587

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., p. 588

8 Sanders, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, OUP, 2002, p. 588

9 Interview with Christopher Fry by Raymond H. Thompson - http://www.lib.rochester.edu/Camelot/intrvws/fry.htm

10 Sanders, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, OUP, 2002, p. 589

11 Ibid., p. 590

12 "Beckett, Samuel." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

13 Sanders, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, OUP, 2002, p. 560

14 William Saroyan about Waiting for Godot staging as quoted in http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc7.htm

[15] Beckett's brightness on dark days by Askold Melnyczuk, 06/30/96 - http://www.samuel-beckett.net/boston/bright.html

16 Online text of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett - http://samuel-beckett.net/Waiting_for_Godot_Part2.html

17 Sanders, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, OUP, 2002, p. 560

18 "Golding, Sir William." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

19 Alexander, M., A History of English literature, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, p. 366

20 Ibid.

21 "Golding, Sir William." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

22 Friedman, Lawrence S. William Goldin, New York: Continuum, 1993, p. 23

Excerpt out of 37 pages


William Golding. The Novelist of British Post-War Era
Evil nature of human, religious symbolism and ever-present pessimism
Jan Kochanowski University of Humanities and Sciences in Kielce  (UJK)
5.0 (PL-System)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Golding, literature, war, dissatisfaction, symbolism, The Spire, The Inheritors
Quote paper
MA Marta Zapała-Kraj (Author), 2018, William Golding. The Novelist of British Post-War Era, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/470984


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