What do you consider to be the key message of ‘The Spire’, and how does Golding present this?
Since Golding is writing about the human condition, there are a great many ‘messages’ that could be considered. However, a recurring theme that follows Jocelin is that of cost and sacrifice – most particularly, is it worh sacrificing lives in order to achieve something like the spire? The element of cost is one Jocelin keeps returning to, and it plays a large part in his realisations at the end. As a man of faith, sacrifice is clearly a large part of his life. If Jocelin was not the dean, or not a priest at all, he would be unlikely to have such undying faith and willingness to sacrifice for it.
Jocelin is the sort of man who can easily become obsessed, and so sometimes the moral implications of what he does do not seem important. What I think Golding is attempting to show is that all elements of an action must be carefully considered before it is carried out. All possible consequences should be thought through and fully accepted. From the very beginning, Golding mentions sacrifice, sometimes in more subtle ways than others. On the first page, a reference is made to ‘Abraham and Isaac’.
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At surface level, this story seems irrelevant – Jocelin is exultant, convinced he is finally able to do the will of God, and thr story of Abraham could be seen as a tragic one. Abraham is told by God that he must sacrifice his son, and because of his blind faith, he agrees. However, at the last moment an angel stopes him. Perhaps Jocelin looks up to Abraham, admires him for his strength of faith. Perhaps it demonstrates from the very beginning how far he is willing to go to build his spire ‘for God’. Or perhaps Golding is hinting at something more critical of religion.
Is it possible that God was testing Abraham to see if he would refuse? Why would a loving God order such a barbaric and pointless death? It could be that Golding is showing here how religion can be misleading and convince people to do absurd and terrible things, just to prove something. This also links to the ‘faith vs reason’ conflict that occurs througout the novel. Jocelin’s faith drives him to neglect reason, to the cost of others. The earliest instance of sacrifice is in the way the Church services are halted.
Jovelin tells himself very early on ‘I must go on as I have always done’. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that this is exactly what he isn’t doing. The services are moved to the Lady Chapel and Anselm complains that no candles have been lit. This could be symbolic of the loss of light in Jocelin’s mind – he is being led solely by faith, not by clear reason. However, Golding could also be showing the loss of faith itselve – the candles could be a symbol of belief and trueness to God, which is being lost in favour of a man-made thing.
This is reference later whern Jocelin talks to himself about the sacrifices he has made and mentions ‘Him. Her. Thou. ‘ Pangall represents sacrifice in the most literal sense. Golding first present him complaining to Jocelin about the workmen and how they treat him. He tells him of his great-grandfather, who saved the cathedral from burning by carrying out the burning wood in arms ‘roasted like pork’. This is a portent of what happens later. Pangall also utters the ominous words ‘One day they will kill me’.
Jocelin dismisses his worries very quickly, though he does try to talk to Roger and make the men stop. Roger says that Pangall is ‘their way’ of bringin luck. Jocelin seems to accept this, and in a sense he then condemns Pangall. The workemn are pagans, and Pangall is disables. It could be that in Pangall, Golding has created a parallel to the pagan god Hephaestus, who was impotent and married to Aphrodite. Aphrodite, like Goody, had an affair with another man, and Hephaestus was taunted by the other gods in a similar way to Pangall.
In some ways, Pangall’s death is the most important event of the novel, though it is not actually made explicit. Jocelin does not know whether Goody consented to the death, and this comes to plague him later. The scene where he is killed is thick with symbolism. The workmen become bestial and animal-like, Goody is shown dishevelled with ‘a hand-torn slit’ in her dress, possibly to display her adultery. Pangall is buried with mistletoe, a pagan fertility symbol, which may be an attempt at irony on the part of the workmen.
Jocelin, however, does not seem to accept what has happened. He wonders later where Pangall is, showing this too has been put in his ‘cellarage’. By obscuring Pangall’s death so that the reader may not realise it has occurred, Golding could be suggesting how some things can have consequences that are not immediately apparent. Though it hardly seems to matter at first, Jocelin then becomes plagued by the thought of Pangall ‘crouched beneath the crossways’. Goody Pangall is another sacrifice that Jocelin makes for the spire.
Golding presents her as a nameless entity, never really described aside from her ‘thin white face’, red hair and green dress. Jocelin mentions the arranged marriage to Pangall, and this shows the reader how in a way he has already sacrificed Goody. He did not want her innocence spoiled, and so he condemned her to an impotent husband and a childless marriage. In this way, Golding has already shown us that Jocelin’s love for Goody is purely selfish. When he sees her up the spire with Roger, at first he denies it, and then decides quite firmly that ‘She will keep him here’.
This line stands apart from the others, as if Golding is drawing particular attention to it. It is here than Jocelin abandons his ‘daughter in God’. Though he could not know at this point that she was going to die, he does not decide to tell Rachel or ask them to stop purely because the act is wrong. This shows the way in which the spire has overcome his ethics and his sense ot right and wrong. It has become the most important thing to him. When Goody dies, it is as if Golding is presenting a chain reaction which Jocelin caused. The building brought Roger, who seduced Goody, which Jocelin ignored.
In this sense, Golding shows that the cost of such huge but ultimately meaningless things is often unprecedented and definitely not worth it. When Jocelin becomes ill towards the end, he beging to think more, and realises what the spire has actually cose him. At first he says ‘my back… Him. Her. Thou’, referring to his consumption, Pangall, Goody and God. He seems to recognise that these things were not worth trading for the spire. In the very last chapter, he exclaims to himself ‘I traded a stone hammer for four people’. It does not seem that he is referring to God now.
He talks about ‘bogus sanctity’ to Roger, so it seems he has not lost his faith, but instead believes that he never really had it. He speaks of religion as a ‘jewel… to be taken out and worn on feast days’. The ‘four people’ he refers to could be himself, Pangall, Goody and Roger, because by the end Rover has attempted suicide and his life is ruined. By referring to the spire as a ‘stone hammer’, Golding is showing how its worth has dramatically decreased when compared to the lives it has cost. Though Golding was a religious man, I consider this novel to be quite critical of Christianity.
The message that you should not blindly sacrifice anything for your faith goes against the teaching that God rewards unwavering belief. The story of Abraham and Isaac seems to resonate throughout The Spire, and it can be taken to mean several different things. It seems that one of the many themes and ideas Golding explores in this text is the cost of faith. His references the human sacrifices required by paganism also link to this. It is possible that he is criticising Christianity for believing itself to be above such ‘barbaric’ practises, and yet its followers still blindly believe in and obey a God they cannot see.