Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down

Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down

Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down

Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down


Politics and History in William Golding provides a much needed politicized and historicized reading of William Golding's novels as a counter to previous, universalizing criticism. Paul Crawford argues that an understanding of fantastic and carnivalesque modes in Golding's work is vital if we are to appreciate fully his interrogation of twentieth-century life.

Golding's early satirical novels question English constructions of national identity in opposition to Nazism and the "totalitarian personality." For Crawford, Golding can and must be studied in the wider European tradition of "literature of atrocity." His early novels, especially Lord of the Flies, are preoccupied with atrocity, whereas the later work betrays a greater concern for the status of language and literature.

In Golding's later fiction, like Darkness Visible, the fantastic and carnivalesque are used in an increasingly nonsatirical manner to complement first modernist and then postmodernist self-consciousness and indeterminacy. Even his critique of class and religious authority, which carries through all of his fiction, gives way to more lighthearted productions -- a symptom of which is his crude, absurd attack against the English literary industry in The Paper Men. This reduction of satire marks a decline in Golding's political commitment and the production of more complex and arguably less satisfying novels.

The fantastic and carnivalesque are foundational to both the satirical and nonsatirical approaches that mark Golding's early and late fiction. No previous study has analyzed this structure that is so central to his work. Politics and History in William Golding examines this writer's work more fully than it hasbeen studied within the convoluted context of the last half of the twentieth century. Crawford directly links Golding's various deployments of the fantastic and carnivalesque to historical, political, and social change.


We are post-Auschwitz homo sapiens because the evidence, the photographs of the sea of bones and gold fillings, of children's shoes and hands leaving a black claw-mark on oven walls, have altered our sense of possible enactments.

—George Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays, 1958–1966

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night…. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

—Elie Wiesel, Night

IN MOVING BEYOND THE EARLIER CRITICAL RECOGNITION THAT Golding interrogates English “immunity” from totalitarian violence and the institutionalization of this brutality in its class structure, we need to show how this attack is achieved through the use of fantastic and carnivalesque modes, modes that amount to Juvenalian or noncelebratory satire in opposition to merely universal or ahistoricist readings. As such, the fantastic is a technique of “literature of atrocity, ” significant in terms of the Holocaust experience, and its theme of demonization joins the noncelebratory carnivalesque in foregrounding exclusionary gestures toward the Jews. Yet Golding's attack on English constructions of national identity in opposition to Nazism is obstructed by the fabular and hence indirect form of critique in both Lord of the Flies (1954) and The Inheritors (1955).

Contrary to those who claim the fantastic mode is escapist, Golding uses it in Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors to interrogate contemporary events and map out the violent superstition behind the exclusion and at-

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