Following a world war, a group of school boys survives a plane crash on a deserted island and creates a hellish environment leading to savagery and murder. Two leaders--one civilized, one depraved--epitomize the forces that war eternally in the human spirit.
So, I did finally get around to reading this, and I I'm honestly not sure what to make of it. I have to say, I didn't always get along with the writing style, for reasons I can't entirely put my finger on. The fact that I often had trouble telling which character was speaking is probably part of it, but I don't think it's just that. I don't know... Sometimes it was oddly compelling, and sometimes it was mildly annoying, and I have no explanation for either response.
It is a powerfully symbolic book. The author has something very definite to say about human nature and the fragile veneer that is civilization. Just about everything plays into that, directly or metaphorically, and there's some pretty effective imagery behind it. On the other hand, I can't help but think that it's all a bit too symbolic. I mean, there are places where it's practically jumping up and down shouting, "Look at my symbolism! Look at it! Do you get the idea yet?" And while everything the kids do in the story is plausible enough, if you're in a cynical mood, they seldom felt to me quite like real, living, breathing kids. I always felt a certain emotional distance from them, which is too bad. I can't help but think that the more real and visceral the events in this book might have felt, the more effectively disturbing they would have been.
I also don't fully agree with the novel's view of human nature. Yes, there's a lot of ugliness in human beings, and yes, I can imagine something like this happening, but thematically, it just all seems a little too simplistic. It's also pretty clearly informed by certain colonialist ideas about the nature of "civilization" and "savagery" that are problematic. "Savage" here means both "violent, selfish, irrational and amoral" and "one of those people who paint their faces, go half-naked, do tribal dances and chants, and have beliefs that look to us like superstition." The truth is, of course, that people in tribal societies are as capable of being as prosocial as anybody, and this particular notion of savagery, which William Golding's own culture liked to congratulate itself on having long since overcome, is largely a myth, anyway. And the more I think about that, the less the whole thing works for me, however eloquently it might strive to make its point.
So. Whatever I was hoping for from this book, I don't think I quite got it. But I am glad to have finally read it, and it certainly did get me thinking a bit.
A plane crashes on a deserted island, leaving in its wake children – the only survivors. These children are British school boys, civilized kids with manners and well-versed in respect for authority. There are very small children – the “littluns” who don’t seem to understand the enormity of what has happened. And there are older kids, boys who quickly recognize the need for a leader, a chief of sorts. A new society is forming, and before long survival demands a return to one’s baser instincts.
Lord of the Flies is a classic. Penned in 1954 by Nobel Laureate William Golding, it is a novel which asks deep moral questions and examines what happens when the civilized world is stripped away and individuals are left to create their own society.
Two main characters emerge early on. Ralph is a sandy-haired boy who is quickly chosen to be the “chief” and who focuses on building shelter and maintaining a fire to attract rescue. He holds “assemblies,” where participants are called to participate with a blow from a conch and are designed to maintain order. Jack is a charismatic boy, the leader of a choir of boys, who quickly establishes himself as the hunter, tracking down the wild pigs on the island with a sharpened stick as a spear. Before long, Jack and Ralph are in a competition for leadership with Ralph being the voice of reason, and Jack appealing to the more savage aspects of the boys’ personalities.
Another character, Piggy, emerges as the philosopher and the scapegoat. Piggy is obese, bespectacled, afflicted with asthma, and a bit of a know-it-all. Despite his wisdom (or maybe because of it), he is bullied.
There had grown up tacitly among the biguns the opinion that Piggy was an outsider, not only by accent, which did not matter, but by fat, and ass-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination for manual labor. – from Lord of the Flies, page 60 -
There is also a fourth character, Simon, who plays an important role in the novel. Simon is a loner, but he is also reasonable and practical and gifted with an insight which the others lack. When talk of a beast begins, it is Simon who refuses to acknowledge a physical beast and instead recognizes that the beast is the fear within them.
These four characters – Jack, Ralph, Simon and Piggy – take center stage in a novel about the disintegration of morals and the descent into savagery.
I first read this novel in high school…and my memory of it is inexact. Of course, I remembered Piggy for his victimization, but in terms of theme, my memory was lacking. During this re-read, the story returned to me and I found it so much more compelling from my adult point of view. Classic literature is defined as something which stands the test of time…and there is no doubt that The Lord of the Flies meets that definition with its memorable characters, shocking twists of plot and ruminations on what it means to be human. Written in the 1950s, it could easily have been penned today.
Lord of the Flies is a novel which will generate great discussion in book groups and in the classroom. It is not an “enjoyable” read, and yet it is an engaging one. There is a good deal of violence in this slim book and I found myself anxious as the plot unfurls and it becomes obvious that things are going very, very wrong.
This is a classic, dysptopian-type novel about good vs. evil, but it also forces the reader to look within and to examine his or her role as part of a larger society.
I have a few more problems with the story. There is a plane crash and a homicidal child maniac just happens to be on board? Only children live and no adults? None of the children are injured in the crash? The children dress in rags because there was no luggage in the crash? Suffice it to say, there are many instances in which the reader must suspend disbelief in order to take much away from the story.
If this book proves anything, it is that some books don’t improve as a person ages. I did not like it in high school. I still do not like it as an adult.
I had an audio version of the book, read by the author. (The recording was copyrighted 1977 - Golding died in 1993.) He introduced the book by explaining why he wrote the story about a group of boys, and not girls or a mixed group. After the story, he talked about how different - and contradictory - interpretations have arisen about what the book means. He said the story is about the importance of rules in society. I found the book to be, at turns, fascinating and disturbing, but always totally believable. He shows the whole spectrum of personalities - the thinker, the follower, the hunter, the leader. He also demonstrates how each one has the ability to move a group towards a goal, or hold it back, depending on the group, the goal, and the relative strength of the other people involved. I found it to be a remarkable distillation of the way that modern society operates on a global level. I think this will be one of those extraordinary books that are unforgettable, and I hope to read it again in the future. I highly recommend it.
But dammit that's it, isn't it. Golding's first novel became iconic because he encapsulated the human condition. He was I believe no theologian, but he narrated an Augustinian gloom of the world: humanity is depraved and is so from the moment we step out of the womb or a crashed aircraft or whatever. Piggy will always be killed. Oh. Sorry. Was that a spoiler?
Except Golding didn't depict that at all. He tried to. That humanity has a volition to hyenaesque behaviour has been well expressed by a myriad artists in the entire darkened kaleidoscope of available media. Some even incorporated females into their narratives. Ooops - did Golding forget them in his pastiche?
Wooden stereotypical characters doth not a fable make. When Golding later scored a Nobel it certainly was not for Lord of the Flies. Wooden characters do predictable things, behaving like a bunch of silly twitty English Public Schoolboys until such time as they end up behaving like silly twitty English Public Schoolboys without any meandering super-ego to check their id-iotic impulses. See what I did there?
The characters are devoid of personality. Piggy is a walking cliche. Jack and Ralph are dueling cliches. Simon seems reasonably unimportant, pops up a couple of times doing unimportant things, then doesn't. Samneric prove that Golding doesn't know enough about twins. War paint serves as a symbolic outer skin so weak as a vehicle of meaning that the boys might as well have worn trench-coats proclaiming (in Latin, of course) we are walking advertisements of the thin veneer of human decency.
Basically, it's all terribly spiffing until it's not. There. I've spoiled it for you. My assessment of the book in the mid-'70s hasn't changed. Life's too short and then shit happens.
This is an excellent book which appears to be a simple story but actually looks at the human condition and Britishness in particular. The tale purports to be that of a group of English boys being repatriated from the far east during the Second World War. Their plane crashes onto a desert island but the pilot is killed. The boys set up a community and try to delegate jobs. The system quickly collapses and the boys split into two rival gangs. Children are murdered and man's inhumanity to man soon comes to the fore.
The ending, when a fire is spotted by a passing Royal Navy ship is priceless. The officer who comes on to the island to investigate is saddened by what has happened and comes up with the immortal line, "I should have thought a pack of British boys ... would have been able to put up a better show."
From boys (biguns and littluns) to savages with no names (‘This was not Bill. This was a savage whose image refused to blend with the ancient picture of a boy in shorts and shirt. ’) and finally back to little boys (simply all of them), Lord of the Flies explores this transformation where priorities shifted from being rescued to being dominant – represented by hunting, both for food and for complete control of the island. What happened? A sense of survival? A need to outshine others? Pride? Uncontrollable raw instincts? (Including sexual)
In this short book, Golding tells the story of a group of shipwrecked boys, their initial organizational structure, their descent into something completely different, and their ultimate rescue, minus at least 3… Of course, nothing can be simple in this symbolic and visually descriptive book. It’s difficult to escape the images of an oasis – beaches, trees, conveniently with fruit trees, coconuts to use as holders, fresh water, a reachable high point to have a fire, piglets for meat. The decline to savagery took a rapid turn upon the vicious hunt and kill of the sow – the representation of mother and mother-nature – plus an added gruesomeness via an implied sexual element.
“Here, struck down by the heat, the sow fell and the hunters hurled themselves at her. This dreadful eruption from an unknown world made her frantic; she squealed and bucked and the air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror. Roger ran round the heap, prodding with his spear whenever pigflesh appeared. Jack was on top of the sow, stabbing downward with his knife. Roger found a lodgment for his point and began to push till he was leaning with his whole weight. The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified squealing became a high-pitched scream. Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her…… Roger began to withdraw his spear and the boys noticed it for the first time… ‘Right up her ass!’”
Golding’s word choices and phrases are simple yet powerful. Exhausted boys are “The boys laid, panting like dogs.” And after the night of savage dance that took Simon’s life: “Memory of the dance that none of them had attended shook all four boys convulsively.”
What in our human nature manages/controls our savage senses? Our ethical nature, not government or society, at least according to the epilogue note from E. L. Epstein.
On relief and on the pain of memory – once the burden is removed, upon the appearance of the naval officer:
“Ralph looked at him dumbly. For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the glamour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood – Simon was dead – and Jack had…. 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 island; 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.”
~ BUT ~ who is to save the adults from our savagery – as we go to war (reference the rescuer being a naval officer) or have other acts of violence? I think that’s the ultimate unanswered question from Golding.
This time around, I read it for fun. Ralph, Piggy, Jack and all the others are so awkwardly mid-20th century British that you can't help but want to be friends with them. Once the story gets going though, and the boys de-evolve into something timelessly primal, nearly everything all the way to the final moment is perfectly executed. The pacing, the character development, and that right amount of horrific violence that still causes me to shudder when I recall it—all of it is inspired.
I think the book is one of the strongest argument I know of in favor of cultural institutions - man is but an animal until he has learnt otherwise.... It is scary then, seeing so many of our traditional cultural lighthouses being under attack - mostly by indifference and lack of knowledge, and the loss of historical sense spreading. A must on any shortlist - if the goal still is cultivation
William Golding explores human nature by demonstrating to the reader that without guidance and order the primitive nature of man will resurface. This book is, without a doubt, pure symbolism from cover to cover. The "story" wrapped around the inner-message of the novel accentuates the authors views and the message is delivered loud and clear.
The premise is that during the world war, an areoplane of school children being evactuated from Englad, crashes on a desert island. Miraculously many of the children escape unharmed but no adults do, nor does any useful remment of wreckage remain either. The story starts some indeterminate time later, although none of the children have met up, until the "hero" Ralph finds a conch shell and a recent aquiantance the fat asthmatic, glasses wearing intellectual "piggy" teaches him how to blow into it and make a noise that summons the others.
Rules are quickly invented and a society of kids forms to try and lok after themselves and keep a signal fire going, however kids are rapidly divereted into hunting and bathing.
This is where the whole books fails, its a very plesant island, no ticks, leaches, insects, bogs, or much else. Fortunetly there are pigs and dry wood. The children are also poorly portrayed to my minds, they are described as varying in age between 6 and 12. However the elder behave far older than 12 and the younger far less.
Believable factions form and the Chiefship changes hands.... with dire results for the pigs, the sgnal fire, and those in the wrong faction.
I wasn't much impressed. It is a short book, fortunately, easily read, but for a contempary novel it requires too much suspension of disbelief, and is over hyped for its classic status.
Characters: This is why this book has the status it deservedly has. Character development is what drives everything, and it's frightening and fascinating at the same time to see how outer circumstances influence behaviour, and how civilisation is something that is easily changed and lost. To see the changes in the characters is mesmerizing.
Style: It's an easy read, as far as the prose goes. Smooth, with no fancy decorations or artsy bits. The power is in the descriptions, not so much in the dialogue, though that is solid too.
Plus: The gradual deconstruction of modern civilisation.
Minus: The middle parts felt a touch too long.
Summary: One of those books you just have to read.
I enjoyed this, the most famous of Golding's novels, though not as much as I had thought. Perhaps the characters are stuck in their time; perhaps the religious undertones don't work as well now as they used to; perhaps it was just me.
Having said all of that, I do think that the Lord of the Flies is a well-written book, and certainly worth remembering. It's made me want to read more by Golding.