Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Rating: 4 Stars
William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983
Some books are a rite of passage. We trudge through them cursing the educators who deemed that they should be ‘required reading’; that our academic experience would somehow be incomplete without them. Under this duress, the book inspires fear and loathing, rather than instilling a love of the best there is in literature. It’s with great relief that we turn the final page, submit that last essay, and vow to never pick up that wretched thing ever again. Yet years later, the book continues to haunt, etched forever in our memory. Lord of the Flies is beautiful, ugly, and deeply disturbing; or as my thirteen-year old opined, “There was something seriously wrong with this guy.”
In the aftermath of a nuclear war, a plane transporting an unnamed number of English school-boys crashes on an uninhabited island in the Pacific. The boys range in ages from adolescents to kindergartners. They make tentative plans for their immediate survival while awaiting a rescue. Their ill-formed attempts at establishing a functioning society crumbles in the tug of war between the conflicting impulses of civilization versus savagery.
One reading makes clear why this book is beloved of English teachers everywhere – the abundance of themes, the simple yet sophisticated language, and characters that are universal archetypes. It’s a book that tantalizes with symbolism, and tempts the reader to assay imaginative interpretations.
However, I confess that this book appeals to me at its most basic level – as a riveting tale that has the blood pounding in your veins, and your nails chewed to shreds as you try to guess what’s coming next. As a story-teller, Golding ranks with the best. Where one may find room for argument is perhaps, in his seemingly dark take on human nature. As one of the book’s characters is prone to exclaim, “What’s grown-ups going to say?” The more painful question is, what would adults do that would be any different?
This is the crux of the intertwining themes. Golding was a school-master with a visceral understanding of the school-boys’ mentality. Though the clinical detachment of his tone is chilling, it is not so much misanthropy, as a potent warning of mankind’s proclivity for degeneracy. As he said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,
“…We need more humanity, more care, more love. There are those who expect a political system to produce that; and others who expect the love to produce the system. My own faith is that the truth of the future lies between the two and we shall behave humanly and a bit humanely, stumbling along, haphazardly generous and gallant, foolishly and meanly wise until the rape of our planet is seen to be the preposterous folly that it is.”