I encountered the boldfaced expression while reading, and would like to know what it means:

He lay still and considered sleep. But it was a tantalizingly evasive subject.

Think about women then or eating. Think about eating women, eating men, crunching up Alfred, that other girl, that boy, that crude and unsatisfactory experiment, lie restful as a log and consider the gnawed tunnel of life right up to this uneasy intermission.

  • William Golding, Pincher Martin, Chapter 6

I assume that "this uneasy intermission" might mean "sleeping", since he is struggling to fall asleep. But I wonder why his tunnel of life is "gnawed." And I also wonder whether "right up to" means "right next to," or "leading up to."

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    I think you are on the right track to understanding this uneasy intermission. I would guess right up to means leading up to this moment. As far as the rest of the metaphor goes, I have no idea. I went through a William Golding phase and read most of his books. I found many of his metaphors too dense and too based in personal experience for me to fully understand them. I just moved on and kept reading.
    – EllieK
    Feb 17, 2022 at 16:25
  • @EllieK, Thank you very much for the comment. I agree that Golding's metaphors are very dense. Come to think of it after reading your explanation, "the gnawed tunnel of life" could mean that his life is a tunnel through which he passes, and that tunnel is gnawed by some teeth (as there are references regarding the teeth, and being eaten, in this novel). He probably feels that his life is partially eaten, though not eaten altogether... Feb 18, 2022 at 5:17

1 Answer 1


This is literature, meaning that any answer I give you is simply my analysis and opinion of its interpretation. That being said, I can offer you my opinion on this passage.

It appears to me that “this uneasy intermission“ does indeed refer to the narrator’s sleep, or at least the present moment, which may also serve as a sort of “intermission“ to his dark train of thought. The “tunnel of life“ may refer to the kind of linear path that life seems to take from each individual’s perspective, and may also highlight the limitations of the narrator’s point of view (hence the phrase “tunnel vision”). In my eyes, “gnawed“ is used as a reference back to the narrators thoughts and musings on cannibalism and eating. It also served to convey how ragged and mangled the concept of “life” is in the narrator’s eyes.

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    Thank you very much for the explanation. I really agree that "this uneasy intermission" refers to the narrator's sleep, because he is now struggling to achieve sleep, which might give intermission to his thoughts. And the idea that "tunnel of life" can also mean the limitations of the narrator's perspective is very enlightening. True enough, because the tunnel is enclosed, and we only know what we experience within that tunnel of life. "Gnawed" would refer to the concept of "eating", and could also mean that the narrator sees that his life is mangled and ragged. Feb 18, 2022 at 5:23

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