Issue 1990

William Golding: Universal Pessimist, Cosmic Optimist


British novelist William Golding, winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature, is best known for his first novel, Lord of the Flies, which has sold over seven million copies in the United States alone and has been translated into more than fourteen languages. Often thought of as a pessimistic writer, Golding calls himself “a universal pessimist and a cosmic optimist,” distinguishing between the universe, as the sum of man's empirical knowledge, and the cosmos, as the totality of all there is, including God and man. In his novels, Golding investigates the presence of an innate evil in man underlying a veneer of civilization, concluding that man's propensity for evil is far greater than it is for goodness. Often accompanying this dominant theme is his concern with the questions of original sin and man's free will, all of which help to create a fable-like quality within his work.