[schema type=”book” name=”Lord of the Flies” description=”A dystopian novel about a group of young British boys marooned on an deserted island who try to govern themselves with tragic results.” author=”William Golding” publisher=” Faber and Faber” ]
When Lord of the flies was published in 1954 very few people could have predicted that it would go on to become a worldwide success.
In the book we read about the story of a group of children being evacuated from an area at risk from fallout in a nuclear war who are marooned on an idyllic desert island following a plane crash. We watch as the boys make attempts to secure their situation by electing a leader and building a smoke signal. From the very beginning, however, trouble rears its head when the members of a choir group refuse to support the election process and instead form a hunting party to search for food. As time goes on the choir becomes ever more powerful with its leaders playing to the boys’ adolescent delusions about the ‘beast’. This paranoia becomes so powerful that the boys, in a frenzy, turn on one of their own mistaking him for the beast, and kill him.
In the aftermath another child, Piggy is killed and the island set on fire. Fleeing for his life from the murderous choir the leader happens across a Naval Officer who came from a nearby ship alerted to their presence by the raging fire consuming the island.
Over the years the book, with its no holds barred portrayal of the human capacity for savagery that is present even from a very young age shocked and upset readers. Even today, many decades later, the book with its clever intermingling of story and allegory continues to have the power to shock the reader.
10. The book is a reaction to the Coral Island by R M Ballantyne
The Coral Island by RM Ballantyne started the craze for ‘children as heroes’ stories such as Swallows and Amazons. These tales show children in the very best possible light, facing adversity but coming through it with their integrity and dignity intact. The Coral Island tells the tale of three boys Ralph, Jack and Peterkin who are shipwrecked on a Polynesian island. They learn how to survive and even thrive in their environment and battle external problems such as pirates and bloodthirsty natives and even manage to convert a native woman to Christianity.
The book became an instant hit and required reading for children at school both in the UK and the US as well as being translated into lots of other languages. As the 20th Century progressed, however, critics started to view the book as being overly imperialistic with racist undertones. When Golding wrote Lord of the Flies he was inspired by the story of the Coral Island but looked at the premise from a completely different point of view.
The names of the three main characters in the book Ralph, Jack and Piggy, are reminiscent of and in some ways caricatures of Ballantyne’s heroes. However, the inspiration is parodied when, instead of acting as an idyllic crucible to forge the ‘British Spirit’ of the boys it causes them to descend into an anarchical savagery so extreme that when the British Naval officer arrives to rescue the boys he is shocked that British children could have ended up like that.
In this respect the book, which appears at first glance to be the epitome of the good old fashioned children’s adventure story turns out, instead, to be its antithesis.
9. The book frequently makes top book lists
When the book was first published it did not give any indication that it would go on to become a bestseller. Its first run in the US sold less than 3,000 copies. Since that time, however, it has gone on to become one of the most celebrated modern books of all time. Perhaps because it is on the required reading lists in many English language schools around the world most people are aware of the book and its story. As a result it is frequently voted onto top book lists.
In 2005 TIME magazine listed it as one of the best English language books published between 1923 (when TIME was first published) and 2005 (when the list was compiled). Random House’s The Modern Library also compiled a list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th Century and Lord of the Flies made it onto both the editor’s list at number 41 and the reader’s list at number 25. When the Radcliffe Publishing Course published their rival list Lord of the Flies made it to number 8.
The book is also able to hold its own against novels in other languages. In the 2003 BBC survey of Britain’s favorite novels of all time, The Big Read, Lord of the Flies came in at number 70. The book has been successfully adapted for film, stage and radio.
8. Lord of the Flies is one of the most banned books in the US
Despite appearing on required reading lists at grade school and university in the US from around the 1960s Lord of the Flies has been one of the most challenged books in the US with many attempts being made to get it banned from schools. The ground for the challenge range from it being considered ‘demoralizing…implies that man is little more than an animal’ to it being considered as including ‘excessive violence and bad language’. Other complaints focus on the fact that the book is, at times, profane and contains references to ‘niggers’. Other complaints simply said that the book was ‘inappropriate reading’.
Despite the fact that the book tackles distressing and difficult themes its aim is to educate against rather than to glorify in these concepts. It shows us the capacity of the human spirit for the very worst of excesses and the importance of civilization. The lesson may be hard to swallow but it is an important one nevertheless. In addition to this the book has tremendous educational value that stems from the manner in which it is written. It is an allegorical novel that is rich in themes, symbolism and a host of plot and character devices all of which are taught to high school students. This book then, offers them the opportunity to see what they have been taught in action while learning valuable and important lessons on the human character. Added to all that it is a ‘cracking good read’ which will hold students’ attention far longer than a more anodyne book.
Those who seek to censor should remember that the dark side of humanity cannot survive when light is shined upon it, a failure to discuss evil does not protect us from it, it makes us more vulnerable to its predations.
7. The conch shell is an allegory for democracy
Immediately following the ‘plane crash that brought the boys to the island two of the children, Ralph and Piggy, find a conch shell with beautiful, vibrant colors on the beach. Piggy persuades Ralph to blow into the conch to make a sound and attract the attention of all the survivors.
As the children gather they assume that Ralph (who looks the part compared with the overweight, longsighted Piggy) was responsible for bringing them all together and (with the exception of the Choir who already have their own leader) elect him as the leader of all the survivors. All the boys agree that the conch gives the person holding it the right to speak with all other boys obligated to listen.
As the novel progresses its colors fade and the conch starts to lose its power as the boys do what they want. Even towards the climax of the novel, however, it still has the power to command respect, when Piggy holds up the conch the boys all listen. It is only when Roger pushes a boulder down to kill Piggy that the conch is crushed and its power destroyed. From that moment all fetters of ‘normal’ behavior are removed from the children.
The conch therefore is a powerful visual and literary symbol of the democracy which the boys strive to create and which the innate chaos and darkness within them finally overcomes. In the cold war climate in which the book was written democracy was seen as a vital bastion against the communist danger so it is not surprising that in the book the destruction of democracy presages the arrival of anarchy and chaos.
6. Piggy, although physically vulnerable, is the most adult of all the children
Piggy is one of the unlikely heroes of the tragic tale. Along with Ralph he is one of the first characters we meet. He is overweight, has poor sight and suffers from asthma. Nevertheless he is pivotal to the group’s early survival. He knows that the survivors need to band together and tells Ralph to blow the shell. Ralph may be the leader but Piggy is so much more than a side-kick he is the éminence-grise, the advisor who makes Ralph’s rule possible. His glasses are the only means the boys have to make their signal fire. In many ways Piggy should be one of the most powerful boys on the island.
Perhaps the other would be leaders such as Jack realize this because as so often with groups of children they start to bond by lampooning Piggy who becomes almost a legitimate target. He is not completely innocent, however, he participates in the murder of Simon and, the following day, refuses to see his actions for what they are claiming it was all an accident.
As the power of the conch starts to wane and Ralph loses his grip over the other children Piggy does everything he can to defend it. He knows that there is no beast, he knows that the children must maintain their civilization because without it they are nothing and vulnerable individuals such as himself will suffer. Piggy dies defending this ideal when he gives an impassioned speech calling on the boys to uphold the law and look for rescue just as the boulder is sent down to smash him and the conch.
In the entirety of the book, Piggy is the only boy who understands the true nature of the problems that the boys face and, in that regard, he is the closest thing to an adult presence that the children have available to them. When he dies, all is lost.