Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Published by Faber and Faber Limited, 2002
How I discovered this book: I first saw it years ago in one of those “most challenging books to read before you die” kind of lists and the title caught my attention. I always wondered what it meant.
Review: This a very disturbing book and I have mixed feelings about it. I will do my best to explain this without giving major spoilers. Although, I might digress just a little on some considerations about what I believe to be the novel’s symbols and meanings.
First things first: what’s the story about? Lord of the Flies is a story about a group of boys, with ages between 6 to 12 years old (more or less), that find themselves alone on a deserted island somewhere in the South Sea’s, victims of an airplane crash in the middle of what we are lead to believe to be a war. The book describes the boys’ fight for survival against the harshness of nature and their inner beasts. The plot itself is pretty simple.
Once the boys find each other, they vote for a leader to decide things and bring some order to the group. Ralph, who is the oldest of the boys, showing all the qualities of a natural leader and an overall good nature, is voted to be “chief”. Jack, another older boy who wanted to lead the group resents this fact. He is also a natural leader, but instead of Ralph’s logical self, Jack is a bully with a strong tendency to give in to his darkest pleasures. All he can think of is hunting and killing the pigs around the island to get meat, while all Ralph can think of is getting things in order and light a signal fire to be rescued. These two boys represent what can be considered the good and the evil side in human nature. We then have other characters, like Piggy, a chubby boy who is bullied by everyone, but is the most intelligent and mature of the group; Simon, an innocent boy from the older group, who enjoys the simple things in the island, has a very positive attitude towards things and is the most emotionally balanced character in the lot; the twins Sam ‘n’ Eric; Roger, a bully who follows Jack…and so on. As the days pass by, the younger boys (the ‘littluns’) start saying that they saw a beast. The fear of said beast starts driving the group apart, creating a total caos in the island.
What made me enjoy this book and, at the same time, feel disturbed by it were the themes William Golding approached, e.g: the basic tendencies of human nature, morality vs immorality, individual vs common good, how easy it is to give in to our darkest instincts, the loss of innocence, what is survival and what is murder, civility vs savagery, to have power and be popular, etc. The fear of the beast lead the boys to do unthinkable things. Or were they always inclined for violence all along and the fear was just a trigger to let their true natures run loose?
I felt that the book demanded an answer to this question. Every character and object in the novel screams of symbolism. I believe the author wanted to transmit a very specific message: that human beings are dark by nature, and when cast away from moral and social conventions we show our true animalistic and murderous selves. The Lord of the Flies (or the beast) symbolizes the darkest evil that resides in all human beings. Its appearance in the form of the sow’s head and its conversation with Simon during what I presume to be an hallucination is one of the most creepiest things I have ever read. After some research, I have found out that the name “Lord of the Flies” is a literal translation of Beelzebub, and by appearing in the form of the animal’s head it might represent the human willingness to succumb to the temptation of animalism. Jack eventually gains power in the island, the boys embrace their darkest instincts, the thirst for blood. They forget what’s civil, moral and logical to live only for pleasure and the adrenaline of the kill. Behind the tribal painting faces that serve the purpose of a mask, the boys begin to show their true natures, as if they are hidden from morality and could assume a new identity that allowed them to be free.
However, despite acknowledging that Golding did a great job conveying this message, there are some things that put me off the book. Several times I felt bored with the story and its pace, specially in the beginning. There is a lot of repetition in the first chapters and long descriptions about things that are not that important. Also, the book is very predictable. I started reading knowing very little about the story and what it represents, still I was able to predicted almost everything from the beginning.
Moreover, the only characters I sympathized with were Simon and Piggy, probably because they were truly good kids that ended up being victims. All the characters are very stereotyped, as if they were just basic archetypes used to transmit the big message. We have the bright leader, the rebel, the fat kid, the innocent, the bully…but that’s just it. There are no further development. Perhaps that was the intent of the author, to use them just as symbols for roles were we all fit inside society, in one way or another.
Finally, the message of the book isn’t new to me. We all know that human beings have a dark side that will break loose if we don’t have some sort of authority. What can we expect from kids, particularly teenage boys, abandoned in a deserted island? People can go crazy when driven by fear, they became dangerous. This isn’t news, we have two World Wars to prove how dark we can be and more episodes of human cruelty than we’ll ever be able to record in history.
Overall: I enjoyed Lord of the Flies for reminding me that we all have darkness within us and we must try not to give in to it. Still, I wish the book wasn’t so predictable and pessimist regarding human nature. I would also have enjoyed it a lot more if the characters were further developed, with background stories for example. Nevertheless, I do recommend this book. It can be quite disturbing but I really liked the metaphors/allegories/symbols and the concerns it brings to light.
Quotes worth mentioning:
“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”
“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life,where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”