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William Golding: Free Fall

This is the story of Sammy Mountjoy and, in particular, his fall from grace. When and where this fall took place is the key point of the book. Golding cheats somewhat as the narrative is not in chronological order. All the way through, as Sammy misbehaves in various ways, the question is asked as to whether this is the fall from grace and the answer is, till the end, invariably no. As this is Golding, we should be aware that the sacrifice of another human is the central point.

Sammy is born in the aptly named Rotten Row. He commits acts that are potential falls from grace, as a child, including watching a girl urinating and himself urinating on a church altar. But these are not sufficient to have him fall from grace. When his mother dies, he is adopted by Father Watts-Watt. It is one of the teachers, Rowena Pringle, one of those sanctimonious Christians, who next challenges him by accusing him of reading dirt into the bible and drawing dirty pictures. Fortunately, the headmaster recognises his artistic talent. (He goes on to become an accomplished artist.) But Sammy is given a clear choice – between Miss Pringle’s burning bush, metaphysical energy if you will, and the science teacher’s rational approach to physical energy. He chooses the latter.

We follow Sammy and his peccadilloes through his life – marriage, politics, friendships. He is captured in the War and is tortured by the Germans in camp to reveal who is escaping and nearly betrays his comrades but this is not the fall from grace. No, the fall from grace occurs when he discovers his artistic vocation and draws a model. The model’s name is the Beatrice, innocent as Dante’s Beatrice, and the woman he will love and abuse. Golding has a slight twist on the fall, but the result is clear.

Publishing history

First published 1959 by Faber & Faber