Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Fiction | Classic
“William Golding’s classic tale about a group of English schoolboys who are plane-wrecked on a deserted island is just as chilling and relevant today as when it was first published in 1954. At first, the stranded boys cooperate, attempting to gather food, make shelters, and maintain signal fires. Overseeing their efforts are Ralph, “the boy with fair hair,” and Piggy, Ralph’s chubby, wisdom-dispensing sidekick whose thick spectacles come in handy for lighting fires. Although Ralph tries to impose order and delegate responsibility, there are many in their number who would rather swim, play, or hunt the island’s wild pig population. Soon Ralph’s rules are being ignored or challenged outright. His fiercest antagonist is Jack, the redheaded leader of the pig hunters, who manages to lure away many of the boys to join his band of painted savages. The situation deteriorates as the trappings of civilization continue to fall away, until Ralph discovers that instead of being hunters, he and Piggy have become the hunted: “He forgot his words, his hunger and thirst, and became fear; hopeless fear on flying feet.” Golding’s gripping novel explores the boundary between human reason and animal instinct, all on the brutal playing field of adolescent competition. –Jennifer Hubert” -Goodreads
pooled ink Review:
This book is a staple in many English/literature classes in school but I was unfortunate enough to have it skipped in my own education. Hoping to remedy the situation I finally got around to purchasing it for myself to read. On one hand I wish I’d never read it because it’s incredibly dark but on the other hand I am glad I read it because it speaks loudly about society and human nature which, as a human, is always important to study.
Wow, well, where to start? Perhaps with the big picture/the main theme presented by Golding: Civilization versus Barbarianism. Throughout the book one witnesses humankind’s natural descent into savagery, something which Golding argues is innate and thus present within all of us in some capacity. One often wonders if humans are born good and one may never know, the ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debate is perhaps one of the oldest ongoing debates in philosophy. Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that humans were born as a tabula rasa (“blank slate”) where their soul in born unmarked and thus is shaped by the world it finds itself in. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaims his belief that humans are born good but become corrupt due to external factors and influence of the world. Golding, however, seems quite firm in his belief that evil resides in all of us as a natural part of human beings. A dark thought but one that is easy to understand just by glancing through history.
*caution: minor spoilers ahead*
In Lord of the Flies there are two opponents but perhaps four particularly important characters: Ralph (democratic leader), Jack (ruthless dictator), Piggy (rationalist; weak), and Simon (innate goodness). Ralph is quickly elected the group’s leader by a large majority vote and he consistently pushes forth the importance of order, fairness, and civilization. He uses a conch shell as a horn to announce meetings and as a tool for symbolizing who may speak thus forcing everyone to take turns. His first actions as leader include building a signal fire for rescue and constructing huts for shelter. Jack, however, champions primal instincts over chores. He quickly becomes absorbed and obsessed with the hunt after his first try leads to him failing to summon the will to kill the captured pig. His hesitance is quickly squashed as he rushes downhill into a world of blood, power, and selfishness. While Ralph believes power should be used for the common good, Jack believes that those with power should be allowed to wield it however they see fit. Their rivalry blooms early on in the very first chapter as a simple disagreement but it escalates with each chapter and death hurries to cling to it.
Although life on the island soon develops a rhythm (something which I find unsurprising as humans do seem to be creatures of habit) the power and ideology struggle between Ralph and Jack continues to hold the story’s focus. As Jack rises in standing and grows as a leader he unapologetically utilizes and manipulates darker forces to gain power often pushing Ralph to lie, feign bravery, give in to peer pressure, or overcompensate to avoid looking weak or made a fool before the other boys and risk hurting his high standing amongst the group. It shows how much easier (but not necessarily better) it is to play dirty. For despite Ralph’s good intentions even he sometimes stumbles and descends into reckless acts of savagery.
This book reveals several facets of the concept ‘survival of the fittest’ and one major example is the character Piggy. Piggy is fat and wears glasses, both which peg him as weak and thus despite his intellect and rational thinking no one pays him any attention. Only when Ralph, their enthusiastic and confident leader, issues a command or announces a suggestion (almost always just repeating what Piggy had said) does anyone listen. Piggy is the weakest, Piggy is often separated and left behind to stay with the littluns, and Piggy generally serves as little more than a target for torment as entertainment.
Simon portrays an innate goodness and connection to the earth. Golding poses that everyone contains innate evil but suddenly there is Simon who is a stark contrast against such a statement. Simon finds his ideas of goodness from within while the others learn goodness and morality from the world and thus the longer they remain stranded on the island and away from the world’s constant reminders of right and wrong the boys (except Simon) descend further into barbaric selfish behavior escalating as early as chapter two when their careless behavior and excitement causes a little boy to burn to death.
Several isolating TV shows or movies explore similar concepts (Lost, Flight 29 Down, The 100, The Maze Runner, and many more) but The Lord of the Flies gets to the grit of it almost instantly standing out as horrific, shameful, and terrifying all heightened perhaps by the fact that in this book the characters are all boys ages 6-12 while in those TV shows or movies the characters are often adults. Children are often seen as innocent or pure but this book makes no hesitation to say otherwise. Only fools do not see how cruel children can be even in a constantly monitored society.
A major theme throughout the book is the fear and presence of “the Beast.” At first it is just the littluns who claim to see it at night and so the older boys dismiss it as a nightmare. But soon the nightmares plague more boys and they become worse and worse every night. Later the boys claim to have bona fide sightings of the Beast causing their fear to explode and Jack uses their fear to feed his own rise to power. A particularly creepy scene is when Simon runs off to his little haven, a beautiful and peaceful spot in the jungle, but when he arrives he sees a pig’s head impaled on a stake and swarmed by flies. The head appears to move and talk and the Lord of the Flies tells Simon that he will never escape him for he lies in all human beings. This is highly significant because the head was pierced by Jack’s tribe who dismembered the pig in a bloody act of supremacy and thus the head symbolizes the darkness within human kind.
Simon later brings up this interesting realization that the Beast perhaps isn’t some monster in the jungle but a savagery or evil that exists within them all and is slowly surfacing and overwhelming them. But before he can unveil the Beast to the group all the other boys have descended into a sort of frenzy from dancing and chanting wildly at Jack’s feast and so when they see Simon stumbling out of the jungle they mistake him for the Beast and they rip him apart with their teeth and bare hands killing the boy.
So yes, at this point the island is ruled by Jack leaving only Piggy left at Ralph’s side. Ralph becomes depressed and conflicted at the memory of their murdering Simon but Piggy simply refuses to believe it ever happened. At this point the book climbs to the ultimate pinnacle of climax and violence for after Jack steals Piggy’s glasses (and thus the power to make fire) an ultimate power struggle between Jack and Ralph breaks out launching them into a fierce fight. As Piggy tries to break up their fight and attempts to remind everyone of the importance of order and rescue, Roger sends a boulder rolling down the mountain that crushes the symbolic conch shell of order and knocks Piggy off the mountain killing him.
I don’t consider telling you these deaths as spoilers because if you didn’t see them coming then you have more to learn of this world. Simon’s goodness could not possibly survive in such an island controlled by bloodlust. And Piggy, as the weakest member, had his days numbered from the moment he was given the nickname. ‘Survival of the fittest’ right?
Although the entire setting of this book takes place on an island, Golding continually punctures their isolated reality with reminders of the bigger world surrounding them as the time period of the story is during World War II. As the boys fight for power over the little island, whole countries fight for power over the world. Golding shows how wars are civilization’s bursts of savagery, something that occurs when the desire for power overwhelms and trumps the desire for peace.
Basically, you should read this book. It won’t fill you with fuzzy warmth or happiness or even an inkling of satisfaction, but it will open your eyes wider to the human condition and lead your thoughts down an explorative wandering path of philosophy. Sure philosophy in many ways is like a convoluted maze of Penrose stairs, but despite the impossibility of declaring any definitive conclusions it somehow still progresses us forwards.
The Lord of the Flies is disturbing look into the human condition and Golding’s suggestion that an innate evil lies within all human beings that must be tamed by civilization and constant supervision or else it will unleash itself and smear the world with bloodlust and power. Far from comforting but a scarily insightful story, this book is a recommended read for those who contemplate the goodness in life or the evil in the world and wish to hear an uneasy but contending opinion.
Purchase here: Lord of the Flies
P.S. Random opinion time: You know, I never actually liked Ralph despite his representing civility and order and democracy. I texted one of my friends after only being 14 pages into the book complaining that I could already tell that I wouldn’t like Ralph. True he’s no Jack but he actually shows darkness just as early on. The fat kid’s real name is not Piggy but does Ralph care? No. The one thing Piggy requested was that he not be called Piggy and yet Ralph just laughed and laughed and teased and teased and thus the fat kid is permanently dubbed “Piggy.” Ralph becomes the leader and, for the beginning of the book at least, he wields substantial influence over the other boys. Even though I’m sure it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference for any real length of time, Ralph still could have insisted on using Piggy’s real name and treated the kid like an equal and not just some chump to make fun of and torment for sport. He’s so clearly one of the superior minds of the group and yet he’s degraded into a lump of excess flesh. It’s no coincidence that the fat kid’s nickname is Piggy and that the island boys become more and more obsessed and twisted with the hunt and slaughter of the island pigs. I don’t care what morals and sensical ideals Ralph was campaigning, he was still a bully and a jerk. Ugh, kids.
Meet William Golding!
Sir William Gerald Golding was a British novelist, poet, and playwright best known for his 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. He was awarded the Booker Prize for literature in 1980 for his novel Rites of Passage, the first book of the trilogy To the Ends of the Earth. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983 and was knighted by the Queen of England in 1988.