Finally, I’ve read Lord of the Flies after years of people making reference to it in conversation and me laughing along like I know what they’re talking about. William Golding’s classic novel examines civilisation verses savagery and how quickly morality can dissipate when there is no one to exact justice.
The story follows a group of school boys who are stranded on an island following a plane crash. They’re forces to fend for themselves after discovering that no adults made it to the island. In the first few pages of the novel we are introduced to a number of key characters the first being Ralph, a slim, fair haired attractive boy. He’s later elected as leader having impressed the other boys using Piggy’s intellect. Being both eloquently and diplomatic he seems the natural choice, however as time progresses he begins to lose his ability to articulate himself. The need for communication is emphasised throughout the novel pointing to moments where the boys limited ability to compromise leaves them stranded. A conch found by Ralph and Piggy acts as a totem, ‘who holds the conch may speak,’ every time someone is prevented from expressing themselves the power of the conch is chipped way, as is the stability of the democracy.
When Piggy is introduced he is described in such a way as to be a perfect target for bullying. He is plump and wearing both glasses and a windbreaker. Ralph runs away from him in the first few pages. When Piggy catches up he explains his limitations on account of his asthma. Piggy is taunted and ridiculed throughout the novel, for being fat and physically inept, Jack is particularly brutal towards him. Piggy becomes increasingly symbolic of intelligence, reason and sense but regularly overwhelmed by the brute force of other boys.
Jack is introduced after appearing on the beach with a choir of boys marching in perfect step. He thrives on power, nominating himself as leader and becomes mortified when Ralph is chosen instead. He is a strong and intimidating character and quickly becomes obsessed with hunting and killing. He stabs a knife into a tree for emphasis twice within a few of the first few pages, hinting at his internal compulsion towards violence.
One of the most prominent ideas within the novel is that humanity is inherently savage. When Jack and the choir first appear on the beach Ralph thinks it’s a creature. This description forebodes the later fears that a beast inhabits the island. As the novel progresses the boys begin to see monsters. This behaviour escalates to blaming a creature for there actions until they become the monster they’re so terrified of.
The fame of Lord of the Flies is partly due to it’s controversy at time of release. How could Golding suggest, that school children would be capable of such monstrosity! It was also particularly graphic for it’s time. The novel takes you smoothly through the escalating behaviour in such a way that as a reader you become desensitised to it. There were a few moments when I thought, wait… they did what?! Reading over sections to ensure I’d taken in what had happened. Oh, ok, they’re just leaving the beast a nice offering…wtf…
It’s also rich with symbolism and heavy on foreshadowing, everything means something making it a great second read as you spot the clever hints and masterful use of language. Overall, a worthwhile read even if it can be a bit much at times. The British stiff upper lip gets a superb outing, however I’m not sure the novel is all that better for it. It’s also a very cynical view of youth, even if many parts ring disturbingly true to life I’m sure we’d all like to think we’d put on a better show than that if the situation arose.
Have you read it?
What did you think?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!