Lord of the Flies, William Golding

A still from the 1990 film adaptation (dir. Harry Hook)

Now is probably a good time to admit that I think being stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere is one of the coolest things ever.  From Blue Lagoon to The Swiss Family Robinson, island life is amazing!  Of course I have never been stranded on an island before, and after reading Lord of the Flies, I think it’s coming off of my to-do list.

Written in 1954 by William Golding, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Lord of the Fliesbegins with a group of British boys who have just survived a plane crash while being evacuated during an unnamed war. We first meet Ralph and Piggy who discover a conch shell which Ralph uses to gather all the survivors of the crash together on the beach.  From the group of boys that assembles we are introduced to Jack, who leads a small group of choirboys, while Ralph seems to take charge of the rag-tag group of other survivors, including many ‘littluns.’ When the first order of business becomes voting a new chief, Ralph is elected and starts his stint by stating the two main goals of the boys; to create a smoke signal in order to be rescued, and to have fun. This very quickly unravels and following the rules loses priority. In ensuing assemblies the ‘littluns’ bring up a beast they have seen lurking around the island.  While the ‘bigguns’ quickly dismiss this fear, it soon captivates the boys leading them to hunt the island for it.

Jack and Ralph are both natural leaders, but with very different approaches.  Jack is quick to criticize, ignore and chafe under Ralph’s rules while his focus narrows increasingly on hunting pigs, which he wants badly to kill. Ralph, on the other hand, tries to impose a civilization among the boys until they can be rescued, but is insecure about his increasingly shaky leadership.  Other key characters include Piggy, a whiny, yet thoughtful lieutenant to Ralph, twins Samneric, and Simon, a shy and peaceful boy who together with Ralph and Jack take charge of organizing the community. As the novel progresses we see Simon come face to face with the Lord of the Flies, an incident of great consequence. In the close, Ralph’s struggle for rationality finally collapses under the novels’ main theme of innate human savagery, and the story ends in murder and a violent manhunt that not all survive.

The language and slang used in this novel were very easy to follow, and I must admit it was interesting to be in twelve-year-old boys’ heads.  I kept on wondering what would have happened if an adult had survived the crash with them, but the story would not have been quite so interesting then!  The book seemed to be missing some sort of appealing aspect though, maybe in its storytelling or flow.  Its era will hinder its appeal to younger audiences, but touches on aspects of life that will give all readers pause to consider.  It is a very short book one could quickly finish, but I think the story will stay with you for much longer.

For me this novels’ best feature were the themes Golding introduced. From Ralph and Piggy we see a learned civility which they struggle to maintain, while Simon crumbles under his inherent, natural goodness.  Jack, meanwhile, quickly gives in to a deep-rooted savage behavior which many on the island find appealing. In the end we are shown an ironic juxtaposition to the surrounding war, a madness which, for a few days on an island, also took hold of a small group of boys.

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2 responses

  1. I’ve always loved allegory – this is such a great example of how a story can be appealling to both younger readers and adults simultaneously, depending on how deep you dig!
    I read this in school in grade eleven, where it’s taught as an allegory. We learned a lot about Apollonian vs. Dionysian archetypes, and superego vs. id – style thinking. I know, blah blah blah… but if you’re interested it’s worth reading the wikipedia page to gain some more insight into some of the symbolism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_the_Flies#Allegorical_relationships

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