Pincher Martin: No Sanity When You'Re Stranded
Length: 1391 words (4 double-spaced pages)
In the novel, Pincher Martin, written by William Golding, Christopher Hadley Martin goes through a psychological transformation when he is stranded on an uninhabited island. The author associates his internal change with external change, by forcing Christopher into isolation and with the use of strong symbolic language. This seclusion triggers his transformation and ultimately results in his death. Christopher begins his journey when he is the only survivor of a torpedoed destroyer during World War II. He has the rigid mentality of a soldier throughout his whole ordeal. Golding argues that when placed in extreme isolation and given the right circumstances, man will return to the innate barbarism that was instilled in him since birth. Golding's modernist ideas greatly influence this novel, proving that separation of man and animals is not definite. Eventually, Christopher regresses to his natural savage instincts and loses his mind on the huge barren rock that he is stranded on. Christopher Martin transforms from an intelligent, determined man, into a secluded, insane animal. His path to destruction begins with a relentless attitude, while struggling to stay afloat in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.
While wrestling with the sea, Christopher displays valiant courage and determination to survive. He tells himself: "I won't die! I wont!"(17). Christopher's courage seems to falter for some time and he finds himself, "frightened again not with animal panic but with deep fear of death in isolation"(10). At all times, Christopher is absorbed in thought; even when he is not conscious. While he was not externally aware, his conscious "was moving and poking about among the shape-sounds and the disregarded feelings like an animal ceaselessly examining its cage"(32). Here, Golding depicts Christopher not as just a man stranded on a lonely rock, but also as an animal trapped in a cage. Christopher believes that, "In normal life to talk out loud is a sign of insanity. Here it is a proof of identity"(81). He continually talks out loud as a reassurance of his sanity and as his sanity goes downhill, his thoughts become inwardly expressed instead of being stated out loud. Christopher challenges the wilderness when he states: "I don't claim to be a hero. But I've got health and education and intelligence. I'll beat you"(77). However, to beat such a strong enemy, Christopher has to have a plan for survival.
To survive, Christopher discovers four main points to succeed.
He decides that as long as "the thread of life is unbroken it will connect a future with the past"(81). While secluded, Christopher finds that his present becomes identical to his past, as he does whatever it takes to survive. To do so, he must have, "drink and food and shelter"(81). Most importantly, Christopher must "keep [his] grip on reality"(82). Not long after establishing all these rules, he starts to hallucinate all the time and daydream about past confrontations. The author switches from present happenings on the island to random conversations and events. This helps illustrate the stress that Christopher's mind must be going through due to isolation and seclusion. In one situation, he has a conversation with a rock, in which the rock repeats everything he says. Christopher states: "'Plenty of identity in here, Ladies and Gentlemen [he] heard the rock say, men"(86). The fear of isolation becomes overwhelming when he can't get to sleep, and realizes the reason he cannot is because he is, "'afraid to'"(92). His courage seems to dwindle, but Christopher always maintains a jocular attitude on his downward spiral into mental and physical sickness. By keeping a positive demeanor and reassuring himself, Christopher probably saved himself from going insane earlier than he did. He tells himself everyday that he "shall be rescued today" and that he "hasn't done so badly"(98). Christopher reminds himself every day to "be intelligent" and to "stay alive!"(159). But his happy attitude quickly fades and he demands that he get "off this rock!"(162). Christopher often experiences highs and lows in his experience. One minute he wants to get "off the rock" and the next he decides he "must hang on. First to my life and then to my sanity"(163). Unfortunately, his newfound grip on sanity does not last long and delusions begin to take control of his life.
The piercing hold of hallucination still clings vehemently to Christopher. The hallucinations have stemmed from severe isolation and acute food poisoning, which in turn has poisoned his mind. As the hallucinations progressively get worse, so does his focus on reality. Christopher questions his own take on sanity when he asks, "Is it better to be sane or mad?"(170). He does not know "where to draw the line between the man whom we consider to be moody or excitable, and the genuine psychopathic manic-depressive"(173). This question is frightening because it applies to Christopher in every way. When did he go insane? Is it just a mood? He answers by simply stating: "The whole problem of insanity is so complex that a satisfactory definition, a norm, has never been established"(173). It is hard to know the answer to these questions because there cannot be a "normal" insane person. If looked at closely it is found that the "solution lies in intelligence"(173). It is this intelligence, which "distinguishes us from the helpless animals that are caught in their patterns of behaviour, both mental and physical"(174). The author portrays Christopher's body as separate from his mind, or "centre"(175). It seems as though his centre was "wielding the exterior body as by strings"(175). Christopher comes to a strange epiphany that he "was always two things, mind and body. Nothing has altered. Only [he] did not realize it before so clearly"(176). He becomes more animalistic and savage with every passing day.
Christopher begins to talk to a rock again, and he asks it if "a madman would see the gulls as flying lizards -- wouldn't he, my sweet? Say he would! Say he would!"(179). He solemnly notices that he is a "poor mad creature clinging to a rock in the middle of the sea"(180). Christopher's isolation gets the better of him. He cries out, "I'm so alone! Christ! I'm so alone! Because of what I did I am an outsider and alone"(181). He has finally given up and sees that there "is no hope"(181). This is one of the turning points. Christopher finally admits that he is "going mad"(188). He has a revelation in which he sees that man "goes on four legs till Necessity bends the front end upright and makes a hybrid out of him he is a freak, an ejected foetus robbed of his natural development"(190). He finally loses all of his sanity when he begins to stab a rock with his knife and tells it to "bleed and die"(193). The deciding confrontation is the argument Christopher has with himself. Christopher understands what is happening to him and that "last of all, hallucination, vision, dream, delusion will haunt you they will fetter your attention to them and you will be nothing worse than mad"(194). The second he realizes that this is the last straw before he breaks, "the hallucination was there"(194). Christopher has a fight with his fermented mind, which leads him to his death. His "centre" fought until the very end, even after his body had given up, until he could go no longer. His rage made him "vomit in a mode that required no mouth. It screamed into the pit of nothing voicelessly, wordlessly"(200). This explicit language demonstrates Christopher's true self. He never gave up, even if his body did. But this unwillingness to give up ultimately drove him to his tragic end.
The author uses intense action and imagery to create the feeling of darkness and madness, to illustrate the discovery in Christopher's consciousness. The change in consciousness that Christopher experienced, was an unavoidable fate brought on by severe isolation and distress. It was self destructive and frightening. It is arguable whether or not Christopher would have faired better not putting up a fight in the beginning. But this is not in his character as he was trained in the Navy. His mentality would not allow him to do anything else but put up the best fight he could. Christopher's soul fought on even after his body was dead, proving that man will do whatever it takes in the mode of raw survival.