“Kill the pig. Slit his throat. Spill his blood.”
I guess Lord Of The Flies can be classed as a dystopian novel in a loose sense; it seemingly takes place in the midst of a future war where young boys are being transported to an unknown destination. There seem to be some obvious parallels with the widescale evacuations of many young children in the UK, out of the cities and into the country during the Second World War.
The plane crash lands, or is shot down. From the wreckage and the scar it causes in the uninhabited jungle, a group of boys emerge to discover they are stranded on an island, alone and away from the eyes of adults. Here they bond, they play, they laugh, they tease, they build, they survive, they hunt, they fight, they kill, they murder, they transform.
“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”
“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”
A brief synopsis yes, but Lord Of The Flies must be one of the most read pieces of literature in schools. In my secondary school it was not a part of our syllabus yet I always remember a poster that hung on the wall of our English department, depicting a group of scruffy dirty schoolboys in a jungle.
This is one of those books that have found their way onto my ‘to-read’ list not because I’m necessarily interested in the subject or plot, but because it is one of those books that is considered a classic – a must-read – and in fact a book that most people have read. As I am on a mission to drink up as much literature as I can, books like Lord Of The Flies seem like a no-brainer when trying to absorb the classics of the past century.
I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the book, rather it was one that I needed to get under my belt so that I could further enjoy novels that were more up my street. However I soon felt some regret at this viewpoint, as Lord Of The Flies quickly gripped me as its core themes are those which appeal to me greatly.
The prose is rich and vivid – vitally important when your characters, a group of schoolboys, and your setting, an uninhabited Pacific island covered in dense jungle, are so fundamentally different. Bringing these two worlds together, and how the boys initially react and then adapt to their surroundings is fascinating in its own right.
“Along the shoreward edge of the shallows the advancing clearness was full of strange, moonbeam-bodied creatures with fiery eyes. Here and there a larger pebble clung to its own air and was covered with a coat of pearls. The tide swelled in over the rain-pitted sand and smoothed everything with a layer of silver. Now it touched the first of the stains that seeped from the broken body and the creatures made a moving patch of light as they gathered at the edge. The water rose further and dressed Simon’s coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble. The strange, attendant creatures, with their fiery eyes and trailing vapours busied themselves round his head. The body lifted a fraction of an inch from the sand and a bubble of air escaped from the mouth with a wet plop. Then it turned gently in the water.
Somewhere over the darkened curve of the world the sun and moon were pulling; and the film of water on the earth planet was held, bulging slightly on one side while the solid core turned. The great wave of the tide moved further along the island and the water lifted. Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon’s dead body moved out towards the open sea.”
And then we are introduced to the mentality of certain boys. Friendships are begun, bullies are established, weaknesses are highlighted. Soon the setting could be anywhere – truthfully, it doesn’t matter. The difference is the lack of rules, the lack of guidance and morals.
“What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”
While the descent into savagery is a long-time coming, when it does arrive it is no less shocking, and positively terrifying in its childishness. The various putdowns, insults, scorns are delightfully powerful as we witness the victims blush and snarl and swear and cry as the group descends upon them, whether it be at a meeting or being the butt of a joke, to running through the jungle.
It appears that the plane that was shot down contained only children from all-boys schools. Golding made the decision to keep the children as boys on the island. I can see why; with girls and boys the subject of sexuality will eventually raise its head, and with the age of the children at little over ten and the tone of the content as it is it could have been a difficult and controversial task. But would the overall outcome have been any different with girls? It seems unlikely. I don’t think the boy’s descent into savagery is because they are boys. Golding strongly suggests that the human condition leans more towards savagery, violence and chaos, as we how the boys are swayed by fighting and fear of a beast that haunts their dreams.
“Maybe there is a beast…maybe it’s only us.”
The beast is nothing. It is driven by the fear and savagery present within the boys’ subconscious. But as night begins to fall with darkness looming, away from the safety of the daytime fear only grows stronger. The titular Lord Of The Flies (a literal translation of Beelzebub) is actually a severed pig’s head, which taunts Simon during a hallucination.
“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.”
Simon’s mouth laboured , brought forth audible words. “Pig’s head on a stick.”
“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!’ said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with laughter. “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 the way they are?”
There are many conflicts and symbolism within the book and it’s very much an allegorical novel. Ralph is the protagonist, and wants order. Jack is the antagonist, and wants to hunt and fight. Their conflict can be seen as civilisation vs savagery, or leadership vs desire for power, or even good vs evil. The loss of innocence.
“The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the islands; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
I’m glad I went back to visit Lord Of The Flies.
Recently added to my to-read list, Animal Farm and The Old Man And The Sea, some other scholarly books from my youth.