Lord of the Flies by William Golding

william golding

Okay… If you want something that thoroughly examines how humans regress to an uncivilized state in the absence of society, read or watch The Walking Dead. Or any number of books or shows that try to explore this topic. I… don’t think that Lord of the Flies does a good job at this.

Alright so I know a lot of you have read Lord of the Flies in high school, but in case you’re like me and haven’t yet, here’s the gist. A group of British boys are on a desert island – apparently their plane crashed and they’re the only survivors. Ralph, one of the older boys (they range from around 6 to 12, I guess), is elected as the leader and he tries to organize things a bit – they make sure that they’re on an uninhabited island, he designates a group of hunters, and he decides that they should keep a signal fire burning up on a mountain, because the smoke being seen is their only way of getting rescued. He meets a little resistance at first from Jack, the leader of a group of choir boys, but Jack is appeased temporarily by being in charge of hunting. Things happen…

(This next part gets very spoiler-y, so skip ahead if you don’t want to know some of the major stuff that happens in the book.)

As the days go on, the boys mostly just screw around and eat fruit all day and no one is doing much actual work. Jack becomes obsessed with killing a wild pig, to the point that he abandons the signal fire to go hunting and the fire goes out – right when a ship can be seen in the distance. This sparks a bit of a feud between Ralph and Jack – Ralph tries to maintain order and stresses the point of the signal fire, but all Jack really cares about is hunting and believes he would be a better leader than Ralph. Jack and his group of hunters (and the youngest children) become more and more savage – they are obsessed with hunting, don’t care about keeping a signal fire lit, and eventually separate from Ralph and his small group of Piggy, Simon, and the twins Sam and Eric. Things continue to deteriorate between the two factions, culminating in the murder of two of the boys. The savage hunter boys and Jack are chasing Ralph down to kill him and end up setting the jungle on fire to smoke him out. Ralph runs to the beach, where he runs into a naval officer who saw the smoke and came to investigate (it’s the jungle fire that Jack sets, not a signal fire, that finally gets them rescued). The naval officer is shocked at how quickly the boys forgot how to be civilized.

(End spoiler-y bits.)

I don’t have much to say about the story or characters – all of the characters except for Simon (the one kid who just wanted to hang out and appreciate nature) annoyed me. The plot was weak, the dialogue wasn’t great, and the overall storyline wasn’t particularly thrilling. The kids were ridiculously stupid about some things. It was messed up to see kids being so horrible to each other, but I already knew about that going in so the shock value was lost on me.

From the beginning, one major thing bothered me – where are the girls? Apparently it’s a given that this is an all-boys school or something, so fine. But if you’re going to write a book that truly examines how humanity breaks down outside of society, then you shouldn’t leave half of the human population out of it. So okay, for some stupid reason, William Golding decided to leave females out of it. Then why include such a wide age range of boys? The younger a child is, the easier it is for them to retreat to feral behavior – they’ve had less time under the influence of society’s rules for how a civilized person should behave. Those youngest kids of course found it easier to just screw around all day instead of worrying about the more responsible aspects of trying to get rescued. Having so many young kids around instantly gave Jack and his savage behavior some power in numbers. PLUS the fact that Jack apparently arrived on the island as the leader of a choir group means that he automatically had kids with him that were used to following his lead. From the very beginning of the book, most of this group of kids seem predisposed to eventually fall in line with Jack, who is all about hunting and has a desperate desire to be the leader.

So what I guess my main complaint is that if the purpose of this book is to take a look at how quickly humans turn into a bunch of barbarians without civilization around, it doesn’t do a very good job at taking a true look at humanity to start with. This group of kids includes NO females, has a bunch of kindergarteners, and has a group of kids that are already friends with one of the “leader” types. This is not an ideal sampling of humanity. I think it’s easily arguable that things would have gone much differently in a group with females, who are all around the same age group (or a much wider range of age, to include some teens or adults), and who either don’t know each other at all or who have several smaller cliques of friends.

According to something that I read on Sparknotes, the ending (if you read it you know what I’m talking about) is supposed to show how blurred the lines are between civilization and savagery, and that his overall tone of the book implies that human instinct is naturally more often primal and savage. When I finished the book, I typed “why are there no girls in lord of the flies” into Google and there were a few links explaining about it being a group of schoolboys, but there was also this article about how Golding attempted to rape a girl when he was 18. In Golding’s personal papers, he talks about how he tried to rape a girl, he acknowledges his cruel side, and said that had he been born in Nazi Germany, he would have been a Nazi. He also apparently purposely manipulated his students into arguments so that he could watch how it played out. Now knowing THAT, I think of the ending as Golding’s own approval for Jack’s savage behavior because he himself had a serious, sadistic dark side.

Lord of the Flies as any sort of reflection on humanity and our inner struggle between society and savagery is a joke. It’s a worthy topic, but not one that the book tackled well. Maybe because William Golding was a sick bastard who thinks we’re all a bunch of blood-thirsty barbarians inside. Who knows.

Sarah Says: 1 star

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10 comments

  1. I’m hoping to re-read this soon so I skipped the spoilery bits 😉 I haven’t read this since I was 20ish? I didn’t know those little tidbits about Golding. He sounds like quite the tool. :/

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  2. I remember watching this movie in high school, but I don’t think we read the book. I do have it on my shelf and hope to read it eventually … I think a LOT of books pin humans as blood-thirsty barbarians!

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  3. See, this is why I haven’t read this book. To be honest I would have been really surprised if you had come and written that you loved Lord of the Flies. Even though I admit the premise is intriguing (and that was way before Lost and all those other TV-series/books :p) I don’t have high hopes that I’d enjoy this book at all. On personal level, any story where humans are put into conditions where the animal inside comes out make me nauseous (that’s my thing, of course), and it makes me think very depressed thoughts about mankind in general. So I don’t want to read those books to begin with

    The question about author’s person and his creation is intriguing of course. I can’t deny I get affected if I know that writer was a [insert profanity], but then again it makes sense to try and observe those two things separately (O.S. Card is major homophobe but I still like Ender’s Game…) Then again, since creation is clearly affected by writer’s personality and experiences, it *cannot* be viewed separately. Fascinating :p

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    1. I feel the same way about O.S. Card – luckily, in the cases of both Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies, I read the books before I realized what jerks the authors were.

      Ender’s Game (luckily) doesn’t seem influenced TOO much by Card’s homophobic ways other than the teasing between the kids – it doesn’t really affect the overall story. Whereas with LotF, I think Golding specifically wrote it because his dark side was so evident to himself and he thinks most of humanity is like that. And I still really love Ender’s Game, although I won’t buy any books by Card now. I didn’t really like LotF before I knew all that about Golding, so I definitely won’t read anything else by him now.

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  4. There aren’t any females for a reason. William Golding specifically was asked this question a lot. Why aren’t there any females? He said it was for two reasons. One reason was the possibility of sex and other sexual things. I mean if a 12 year old boy was left on an island for days with a 12 year old girl without any parental supervision. What do you think would happen? Golding didn’t want to get in to that so he just made it all boys.
    The second reason why there weren’t any girls is because males have always been dominant over women. Now don’t get me wrong we are in a changing society but its just the truth. Men are always the leaders of society. Now that doesn’t mean that females don’t affect the decision of the males but it the truth. Leaders like generals,the pope, the president, chiefs of tribes, exc. Golding wanted to show the unorganized and evil ways of human nature with the absence of government and law.

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  5. So I read this years and years ago, but oh my gosh I had no idea about Golding’s personal life! That really does kind of affect my whole viewing of the novel.

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