Stranded. Alone. In the wilderness. We’ve all seen scenes of people whose only chance is to take on the elements through movies like Cast Away or Alive or on television through shows like Lost or Man vs. Wild. Deep down, it seems that there is some heroic appeal to hearing stories of survival through the most extreme circumstances. We want to see the the victim become the victor; a true underdog situation.
These romantic notions are what drew me to Williams Golding’s Pincher Martin, which is described on the cover as “A Brilliant Novel of Survival”. Golding’s Lord of the Flies is one of my favorites as even on the most shallowest level, it is a tale of survival. However, like Lord of the Flies, Pincher Martin definitely takes on a less romantic approach to surviving.
Pincher Martin begins with a man regaining consciousness in the ocean, and after waking up with his body filling up with water and an exhausting struggle to merely find air, he finds himself washed upon a rocky beach on a small island in the Atlantic. Our protagonist, Christopher Martin, slowly regains control of his limbs, drags himself along the rocks, and begins an descent into lunacy and choas.
I have often imagined what I would do in Martin’s situation. It seems logical to attempt to find a water source, a food source, shelter, and some sort of way to attract rescue, and these are the very things that Martin seeeks to do. However, the impressing stresses of these immediate needs conflict and overlap each other in such a way that Martin never really finishes any of these successfully (though he does eat and drink). Small annoyances start to distract Martin: the full circle panorama of oceanic horizon causes Martin to lose his sense of direction, the digestion of limpets knots his stomach, the rock on which he rests at night causes his joints to hurt. And through these things he begins to lose himself.
A few years ago, I went camping with a group of friends, and at our campsite stood a rock wall with a waterfall. At first, this feature was something we all thought highly of, but as time wore on it seemed that the waterfall’s volume grew louder and louder. I remember in the middle of the night, three of us thought we heard noises around the camp, so we trekked outside in t-shirts and boxers (and I had no contacts in, so I could not see anyway) looking for whatever creature we heard by the light of our dimly lit cell phones. We were mad! There was no creature! There was just a waterfall. The next morning, another camper admitted that during the night he felt that a tornado was upon us about to the rip the rock wall down on top of us all. The constant noise, seemingly insignificant, really threw off our senses. (I should mention, though, that there really was a thunderstorm that came through the night, and one of the tents took on about six inches of water.)
When Martin begins to list out his plan of survival, one point stuck out to me in particular. “Point three. I must watch my mind. I must not let madness steal up on me and take me by surprise… That is the real battle. That is why I shall talk out loud… In normal life to talk out loud is a sign of insanity. Here it is proof of identity.”
Identity. Martin wisely notes that if his identity is lost, then so is he. Yet, though knowing this, the competing stresses of survival… the small aches and pains… the spinning horizon, just like the waterfall at our campsite, distract Martin from holding onto his identity. And nature consumes him.
Am I so different from Martin? Does not this same thing happen to me? I started a new job in August, and along with teaching classes I have many administrative duties. It is not an uncommon occurrence for me to sit at my desk with a task at hand, and before I finish said task, my mind jumps to another quick and immediate task that must take preference. I don’t know how many times I have opened up an email, and before I finish writing the email, I am writing a homework assignment or confirming a time sheet. I must watch my mind.
To be honest, I did a little bit of research on Pincher Martin once I had finished it, because I did not pick up on all of Golding’s message. What I read is that while Lord of the Flies illustrates nature’s power to consume society, Pincher Martin demonstrates nature’s power to consume a personality. I want to take this a step further to say that it is easy to let the busyness of everyday life consume our personality.
There were times throughout graduate school that I was so focused on my studies that I struggled to think of anything else besides mathematical proofs. During the weekends, when the television floods my house with football, I have to concentrate to rid myself of images of read option and tackles. And now at work, if I am not careful, my personality gets consumed again through the labor that comes with being a professor.
Martin serves as a warning. We live life one day at a time, but sometimes the day-to-day distracts us from living. Don’t let the emails, doctor visits, car check-ups, and the like consume your personality. Take the time to think, to reflect, to appreciate what you have, to pray and fast, to share love with others, to be conscious of the day. Watch your mind. Fight for your identity. Don’t end up like Christopher Martin; at least, that’s my advice.
Pages: 191 FOA Pages: 4041 (Total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)