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Submitted Literature

Free Fall

By William Golding


Golding’s novel, Free Fall, is a review of the life of an English artist, Sammy Mountjoy.  Narrated in the first person, it is a quest to find out where he lost his innocent freedom and began to live an inflexible, selfish life.  The novel presents an ongoing, irresolvable tension in Sammy’s life between rationality and irrationality, the body versus the soul - it is a tension that extends to his awareness of the limitations of art’s representation of reality and all forms of pattern making or explanation.  Free Fall ends with a sense of the irreconcilable status not just of materialist and religious interpretations of the world, but of other disjunctures such as text and reality. At the core of Sammy’s self-examination is his uncompromising pursuit and exploitation of Beatrice Ifor.  His determination to possess her regardless of the price is the point at which Golding locates Sammy’s loss of freedom and, indeed, his ‘fall’.  His recollection of being tortured by the Nazis during the war serves to critique his own torture and abandonment of Beatrice, which led to her incarceration in a mental asylum.  But the novel also deals with challenges to Sammy’s own state of mind.  A‘miraculous dimension’ intrudes into his life and there are explanations posited such as a mastoid-inducing blow that he receives in childhood from the church verger, by the trauma of incarceration in a P.O.W. camp where his highly creative or imaginative response to being locked in a dark broom cupboard renders it a torture chamber.  This self-generated ‘hell’ is a fitting punishment for his ‘crimes’ against Beatrice and affords a broad contrast between his cruelty and a heavenly and miraculous ‘fourth dimension’ which remains ‘indescribable’ (FF, 187).  There, like his victim, Beatrice, he endures a hellish nightmare that further erodes his sanity.

            At the end of the novel, Sammy’s uncanny vision at the gatehouse of the mental asylum of the goat ‘with horns of fantastication and the yellow eyes of lust’ (FF, 237) reminds him of his brutal treatment of Beatrice.  Whether what Sammy sees is a vision or an ornament of some kind remains unclear.  Hesitation on this point is exacted by a lack of any reference to an object and by Sammy’s resultant state of mind: ‘I thought to myself that I seemed not to be on the pavement but standing a little above it’ (FF, 237).  What is certain is that he has come to ‘the house of the pay-off’ (FF, 237) where he will examine his ‘own experiment’ (FF, 237), the abject Beatrice, who is the victim of his consumptive lust and disregard.  It is fitting perhaps that his mind is cast in some doubt by the goat ‘vision’ and levitation above the pavement.  He has not come through unscathed.


For a full critical reading of Free Fall see Crawford, P. (2002) Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down. University of Missouri Press: Columbia, pp.81-114. 

Key Themes:

  • Creativity and Madness

Reference: William, Golding. 1959. Free Fall. Faber and Faber, 1961


Professor Paul Crawford
Date Review Submitted: Friday 14th August 2009