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[667] Lord of the Flies – William Golding

1flies

” Listen, Ralph. Never mind what’s sense. That’s gone—” (Ch.12: Cry of the Hunters, p.188)

After having missed this book in high school, I have deliberately deferred it because the story of a bunch of brats fending for themselves on an island (think the show Survivors but younger cast) just doesn’t appeal to me. But Lord of the Flies is more than a simple adventure story of boys on a desert island. In fact, the implications of the story go far beyond the degeneration of a few children. Set in an unspecified war period, a plane crashes, leaving a group of schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island. It’s a dream come true that they are alone free from adults’ nagging—except now they have to sustain on their own.

In a moment the platform was full of arguing, gesticulating shadows. To Ralph, seated, this seemed the breaking up of sanity. Fear, beasts, no general agreement that the fire was all-important: and when one tried to get the thing straight the argument sheered off, bringing up fresh, unpleasant matter. (Ch.5: Beast from Water, p.88)

The fair-haired Ralph is elected the chief to ensure order is in place and chores are completed. Exemplary of his leadership skills, Ralph insists on the maintenance of a fire signal so passing ships might spot them. He also builds shelters for the younger boys, known as “littluns”, in the group. The geeky and resourceful Piggy is his think tank. He befriends a choirboy named Jack, who turns out to be kind of a devil incarnate, the antagonist of the story. Both boys grow to loathe each other as the days pass—until when Jack and his hunters kill a sow and believe their role of being hunters could exempt themselves from other duties. With Jack getting hungrier for power, what was initially thought of as a blissful escape from the adults develops into something more sinister and unsettling.

Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are? (Ch.8, Gift for the Darkness, p.143)

To say the least the book is about loss of innocence. To accentuate such grim loss Golding uses half-formed boys, not men, who are perched between civilization and savagery in order to embody the central conflict between good and evil. The symbolic and metaphysical figure of the Skull, the pig head impaled on a stick the boys sacrificed to the imaginary Beast, identifies itself as Evil. So the book is not about boys becoming independent, but delves into a deeper and more disturbing meaning: the moral shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not only any political system however apparently logical or respectable. Ralph’s respectable idea of parliament and brain trust must come to clash with Jack’s forces of anarchy and the leaning to violence. The basic instincts of a marooned band of children could be translated onto a worldwide scale. Paralyzed by their fear of an unseen creature they call the Beast, they only resort to ritual sacrifices of flesh to appease the Beast. This book is a powerful allegory that recognizes the human capacities for evil and the superficial nature of human moral system.

202 pp. Penguin. Mass Paperback. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

14 Responses

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. My son and I have both read it and have had great discussions. There are so many layers to this one.

  2. Having read and taught the book many times, it is the Skull that still eludes me. I also wonder about the clash of the two versions of society on the island and its relation to WW2.

    • Yes I re-read some of the passages regarding the Skull and other important symbols in the story. I guess Golding is trying to make the point about how no matter how man strives to do good, there’s always the opposing force to overturn the good.

  3. I love the deeper meaning of this book; but I hate the book. Is that even possible?

    • Interesting point. It does have deeper meaning but what kept me from reading it is the premise of a bunch of lost brats.

      • I hear you. I only read it because I was teaching it … Otherwise I can’t say it appealed to me in any way, shape or form.

  4. One of my all-time favorites. There’s so much depth in the book. Glad you liked it too.

  5. For whatever reason, this is not a book I’ve ever had a desire to read. Maybe its too much a precursor to the YA craze, which I seem to be having a problem dealing with.

    • Yes I notice that this book has been on middle school reading list. The fact that it revolves around a bunch of brats turned wild was the very reason why I haven’t read it for so long.

  6. I’m pleased to see that you don’t have to be a teenager when you first read this book to like it. I was a teenager when I first read it. I loved it, but I’ve not read it since. I’ve a few students who read it each year, they usually like it. I do think it has much more to offer than a simple adventure story does.

    • I feel the same way about many classics that we were made to read in high school. The one off the top of my mind is Crime and Punishment. How would a 9th grader perceive the calculated mind of a killer and his redemption through the grace of a prostitute?

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