William Golding’s novel Pincher Martin considered to be one of his best novels which deal with the theme of death and the struggle for survival, as analogous to Ambrose Bierce’s short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in which the character struggles for survival and thus fail. Throughout Golding’s novel, the image projected is that of a man that has been thrown out from a torpedoed ship struggling for survivor, laying over a rock in the North Atlantic. This man seems to be an unpleasant person who spends 7 days remembering his actions. As told in the first lines of the novel “He was struggling in every direction, he was the centre of the writhing and kicking knot of his own body. There was no up or down, no light and no air. He felt his mouth open of itself and the shrieked word burst out. “Help!”.”1 At first the reader seems to sympathize with this man, who remains unknown until now. As the novel progresses it seems as if he wins his struggle for life. But so far as the second page he dies. Throughout the novel Pincher Martin, is a man driven by his ego struggling desperately to avoid from dying. Similarly to the narration and structure of Bierce’s short story, Martin as Payton Farquhar dies and fails in his attempt to evade the death which has occurred since the very beginning. In this essay I will attempt to describe the way in which Martin struggles for survival without success, being thus the main theme of the novel. I will also discuss the importance of form which helps in conveying the structure of the novel.
William Golding’s novel is a complex work of art, and emerges as one of his most significant expressions denoting his capacity to combine content and form. Pincher Martin conveys a simple story of a drowning man and his struggle for survival. As mentioned before the reader becomes sympathetic with the main character because of his will to live and the drama he goes through. Martin, the naval officer is thrown into the North Atlantic when suffering an attack from a submarine. Once he is lying on the ocean, he begins his struggle for survival and finds a rock in which he settles and tries to find a way of escaping.
Throughout the novel, Martin’s recollections of his life and thoughts are constant. This convention offers an insight into Martin’s secret life and hopeless situation on his position in the rock. Golding seems to focus on Martin’s situation rather than explaining whether Martin died within the second page of the novel or suffered during seven days. Martin’s struggle for survival, his ongoing suffering and his death become sublime. Regarding time, it can be said that the novel is narrated and structured as an expansion of time before Martin’s tragic end, caused by his position as a drowning man.
Through the novel Martin is described by a third person omniscient narrator, the reader perceives the story to be real. Golding’s usage of such convention makes Martin’s struggle for survival seem more dramatic and convincing in the sense that the reader may believe the protagonist to be alive, as in the case of Bierce’s protagonist Farquhar who goes through the same situation himself.
Psychology plays a very important part in the novel, since, Martin suffers from isolation. Such isolation tends to make Martin become aggressive at times. Martin is said to be lying alone with no other company than the elements provided by nature, to which he tries to defeat in order to survive. Martin’s aggression relies not only in these elements but on God as well is aggressive against God. Golding’s portrayal of Martin as a rather aggressive man becomes essential in becoming familiar with his personality.
As the novel progresses the survival-adventure situation is prominent. Martin is stuck in the middle of a fight against death. By being lying on the rock Martin starts having tormenting flashbacks of his past. He recalls his childhood, and even being in the bathroom. As mentioned before the recurring theme of the novel is Martin’s struggle for survival, which of course is unsuccessful.
Form plays a very important role which has an impact on the story. The novel revolves around one single character which receives a name, although several pages after the beginning. Christopher Martin’s life before drowning is determined by means of his memories. He is portrayed as an unpleasant and moody man and his struggle to continue living. Although there are no characters interacting straight in the novel, Martin becomes the hero, since his struggles for survival increase in importance. Martin struggles (apparently) during seven days it becomes obvious that he is in constant agony. Each day’s agony is essential in viewing and literally living through his point of view, his road to death. Even though, his thoughts are difficult to grasp and unconnected, they put forward his willingness to continue living.
In order to develop the tragic intensity of Martin’s situation on the rock and his aim at fighting against the nature’s forces and death he is portrayed with the intent of giving a larger scope of the novel. Memories of his past and Nathaniel’s picture serve to intensify the feeling of guilt in him. As the days progress his personality changes, the last three days of his life are vital to the novel. In the fifth day he becomes a neurotic. On this day he talks a bout God’s grace and rescue in his imagination. Agony abides him having as a result his difficulty in distinguishing between reality and illusion. On the sixth day he had completely gone mad. All his efforts on surviving and remaining sane were unsuccessful. On his last day of struggle, the process of death and his journey to the afterlife are being described.
To conclude I will attempt to say that the events leading up to Martin’s struggle for survival accurately give the reader a case of anxiety, and finally, the reader assumes the protagonist’s death as he undoubtedly meets his end. Furthermore, there is a very smooth transition into a flashback. The flashback is very important in the sense that it tells of Martin’s background, and how he most likely came to be in his position in the ship. Golding’s descriptions of Martin’s flashbacks make the reader feel as he is trapped in the mind of the protagonist, and thus forget about the present timing of events, which leads to the construction of an illusion of Martin’s reality.
Through a first reading of the novel, one may perceive Martin’s desperate struggle for survival after being thrown out of his ship as a result of a torpedo attack. The reader goes through this struggle little by little. Throughout the novel Martin’s body and sense are being degraded, he suffers from fever, and thus causes him to have hallucinations along with his memories, which little by little give an insight into his personality and serve as guidance into the process of his journey into the afterlife.