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