There are 17 books in my reading stack. I just counted. Granted, some of them are library books. And some have been in the stack a long time. Lord of the Flies was one of the latter. Nevertheless, I finally finished it, as I do most in my stack. I like to complete things I start.
In Lord of the Flies, I think William Golding put together an entertaining and thought provoking story, it is a compelling piece of fiction. Having said that, it did take me nearly two years to finish, and I might have skimmed a little in the second half.
Set in the 1940’s, a group of young English boys six to twelve years old find themselves deserted on a tropical island after the plane they are flying crashes. There are no adult survivors. The book describes the boys’ formation of a miniature society, and the eventual breakdown and collapse of that society.
By Golding’s own admission, Lord of the Flies has a well defined plot line, calculated to provoke thought. Hence, it has been categorized as a fable, implying a moral to the story. Fable aside, I found the narrative interesting on its own accord (though containing disturbing elements).
On the last page of the book, the main protagonist weeps for “the end of innocence [and the] darkness of man’s heart…” I would suggest an alternate title to this book might be, The Loss of Innocence.
An obvious point from the book is the innate evil inside us humans. Golding suggests that, left to our own devices (sans the curbs of societal boundaries) we would tend downward, following out natural urges to the lowest denominator. To wit: savagery, even head hunting.
I found Simon the most interesting character, though he’s not the main character. Literary critic James R. Baker made this observation:
“Simon, call him prophet, seer or saint, is blessed and cursed by those intuitions which threaten the ritual of the tribe. In whatever culture the saint appears, he is doomed by his unique insights.”
Golding summarizes Simon’s role in this quote from an interview:
“So Simon is the little boy who goes off into the bushes to pray. He is the only one to take any notice of the little ‘uns-who actually hands them food, gets food from places where they can’t reach it and hands it down to them. He is the one who is tempted of the devil: he has this interview with the pig’s head on the stick with Beelzebub, or Satan, the devil, whatever you’d like to call it, and the devil says, “Clear off, you’re not wanted. Just go back to the others. We’ll forget the whole thing.”
Well, this is, of course, the perennial temptation to the saint, as I conceive it, to just go and be like ordinary men and let the whole thing slide. Instead of that, Simon goes up the hill and takes away from the island, removes, discovers what this dead hand of history is that’s over them, undoes the threads so that the wind can blow this dead thing away from the island, and then when he tries to take the good news back to ordinary human society, he’s crucified for it…”
The unique epiphany Simon had was this: the irrational superstitious fears of the boys would never be alleviated by hunting down and destroying a physical “thing,” because the object of their fear was within themselves.
Says William R. Mueller, in his analysis of the book:
“The ‘ancient, inescapable recognition’ is that the Lord of the Flies is a part of Simon, of all the boys on the island, of every man. And he is the reason ‘things are what they are.’ He is the demonic essence whose inordinate hunger, never assuaged, seeks to devour all men, to bend them to his will. He is, in Goldings novel, accurately identified only by Simon. And history has made clear, as the Lord of the Flies affirms, that the Simons are not wanted, that they do spoil what is quaintly called the ‘fun’ of the world, and that antagonists will ‘do’ them…
He [Simon] carries with him a deeper revelation; namely, that the Beast (the Lord of the Flies) is no overwhelming extrinsic force, but a potentially fatal inner itching, recognition of which is a first step toward its annihilation.
The ultimate purpose of the novel is not to leave its readers in a state of paralytic horror. The intention is certainly to impress upon them man’s, any man’s, miraculous ingenuity in perpetrating evil; but it is also to impress upon them the gift of a saving recognition which, to Golding, is apparently the only saving recognition. An orthodox phrase for this recognition is the ‘conviction of sin,’ an expression which grates on many contemporary ears, and yet one which the author seemingly does not hold in derision.”
Indeed, lecturing at John Hopkins University in the spring of 1962, Golding bluntly stated that Lord of the Flies was, in short, a study of sin. He expounds,
“The theme [of Lord of the Flies] is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable.”
For a book that is required reading in schools across our land, I was surprised at the orthodox overtones. For instance, the obvious message that man is basically evil, rather than basically good. Or that the first step towards redemption is recognizing that evil within us. I believe this realization is the first step towards reconciliation with God as well. Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached, “Repent!” Repentance implies we have something we need to repent over.
Though Lord of the Flies was entertaining, I really started digging it when I began reading critics discussions regarding its literary value. There were layers of meaning woven through the story I had missed in the straight reading.
I became fascinated with how Golding put so much thought into every element of the story. Nothing was written without effect. Even the way individual sentences were worded often was not accidental. The speech of the boys subtly changed over time and conversations frequently held double entendres and innuendo.
In a related vein, I’ve began studying the Gospel of Mark recently and similarly, what has become fascinating to me about Mark is its’ literary quality. There is a flow and a point to everything written, like in Golding’s classic.
When you look under the hood of Lord of the Flies, you begin realizing the author is no dummy. Similarly, when you look under the hood of Mark, you begin realizing that author is no dummy either. There are depths of meaning in Mark that are not obvious from the casual reading.
Ok, enough on this. I wonder how many people have voluntarily written a review on Lord of the Flies? yikes, nerd alert.