“… symbol itself has become fact…”


“Pincher Martin by William Golding is a peculiar novel in which the momentary vision of Christopher Martin, a drowning sailor, makes a long story. In this novel, at least two decisive facts are consistently repressed or shut out of Martin’s consciousness, and various hallucinations take the place. One of the repressed facts is, of course, death; the other is what might be called “castration.” These facts are re- placed by various symbols and fantasies, but Christopher Martin cannot or will not distinguish between facts and symbols. For him, symbol itself has become fact. It is a series of symbols in his hallucination that weaves a complicatedly diversified plot. In this hallucination, I could identify two contrary forces whose dynamic interaction develops the plot. Even the words used in this novel are influenced by the inter- twinement of contrary forces. It is the nature of these forces and their plotmaking function that I would like to clarify, from the psychoanalytical point of view, in the following argument…

…Shipwrecked in mid-Atlantic, he is marooned on a tiny island and, like Robinson Crusoe, struggles to survive, waiting for rescue. But a severe thunderstorm gradually submerges the rock to which Martin clings desperately. In spite of his tremendous efforts, he sinks under the water, leaving the centre and the claws behind. Such a dramatic hallucination is, however, occasionally invaded by uncanny reality. In such a case he manages to check the invasion. For instance, the rocks in the middle of the sea are actually his teeth which his tongue touches, but he persistently shuts this fact out of his mind. This rock is an arena on which he fights a magnificent battle. He builds up his heaven and hell on this decaying and creviced molar. In Martin’s hallucination, there is no symbolical relationship between rocks and teeth. The distinction between symbols and facts is completely lost. This is clearly shown in the following passage, where the decaying rock in the sea and the old, aching tooth are entirely merged together in Martin’s consciousness:

His tongue felt along the barrier of his teeth – round to the side where the big ones were and the gap. He brought his hands together and held his breath. He stared at the sea and saw nothing. His tongue was remembering. It pried into the gap between the teeth and recreated the old, aching shape. It touched the rough edge of the cliff, traced the slope down, trench after aching trench, down towards the smooth surface where the Red Lion was, just above the gum – understood what was so hauntingly familiar and painful about an isolated and decaying rock in the middle of the sea. (p. 174)…”

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