I wasn’t particularly thrilled to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I remember my siblings having to read it for school and hating it, so I wasn’t expecting anything interesting. In fact I expected it to be a dry read maybe boring. I was wrong.
Lord of the Flies is the story of children stranded on an island after the plane supposed to take them to safety from the war crashed. They try to build an ideal society but under nature’s duress and because of a power struggle it fails.
I can see why teenagers may not like the book; it’s not easy really and the dynamics and balance of power is almost adult-like even if it’s written with a fantastic understanding of the relationships, as they develop between children.
I guess the book puts in opposition a number of concepts: democracy vs. dictatorship, social order vs. tribal savagery, rational vs. emotional. The first is somehow represented by the conch, which allows its holder to speak their mind during any meeting. The second opposition is represented by the rules set up by Ralph – have fun, to survive and to keep a fire going in case a ship passes by – and then by the lack of rules of the tribe Jack creates. Finally we have the character of Piggy who’s most definitely the rational one trying to make sense of what is happening and what needs to be done, whereas Jack and Roger are being led by their impulses and emotions, not all of them positive.
The element that stays with me though is Jack’s decision to use paint over his face; whenever he puts it on, he’s no longer Jack, he’s the Chief of the tribe. They’re no longer boys, as if the paint on their faces erased their individuality, their breeding, their identity to turn them into beasts really. As if the painting hid everything human about him and allowed him to commit acts of terrible consequences.
Once Jack succeeds in killing a pig, it seems he takes pleasure in the act of killing and doesn’t care too much about whether he’s about to kill a pig or a boy.
It made me think of a dissertation I had to write during my first year in university “is being free being independent?” Jean-Jacques Rousseau determined that there’s no freedom without laws, that the absence of rules leads to chaos. In many ways, this is what happens. The children are independent, without adult supervision, and after a short time they turn lazy and violent to the point of causing the death of at least 2 children that we know of, plus one whose fate is unknown.
Not an easy book to read, but a very interesting one. Do we lose our humanity as we try to survive in an hostile environment? Begs the question of nature vs. nurture in a way… and would it go as fast as it seems in this story?
A good book to read. And definitely something to think about.