Lord of the Flies

From Academic Kids

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Lord_flies_cover.jpg
A Lord of the Flies cover

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author William G. Golding. It was Golding's first novel, and was published in 1954. Although it was not a great success at the time — selling fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print — it went on to become a bestseller, and a required reading material in many schools and colleges. It was adapted to film in 1963 by Peter Brook and again in 1990. The title is a reference to Beelzebub (the source is from the Hebrew name Baalzvuv בעל זבוב), a synonym for the Devil.

It is generally regarded as a classic of postwar English literature, as it depicts the regression into savagery of a group of schoolboys stranded on a deserted island without adult supervision, in the aftermath of a plane crash, while fleeing wartime Britain.

Contents

Plot summary

A number of boys crash land on an island, amid rumours of an atomic war. The first two characters to meet are the athletic, somewhat heroic Ralph and a bespectacled, fat boy known only as Piggy, who use a conch to call the other boys to them from across the island. One other potential leader arises from the boys - Jack, who had been leading a choir. Ralph, in fact, is elected as leader, and early on the book is full of optimism of what the boys expect to be fun. This is reflective of Ralph being a kind, democratic character, and Piggy his less popular, but intelligent back-up.

However, early on there is talk of a "beast" - scaring a lot of the boys. The boy's first attempt to work together towards being rescued ends up in them starting a signal fire (lit by Piggy's glasses) which goes out of control, scorching half of the island. The life on the island continues to be disorganised - the major players (Jack and Ralph) have differing aims for the island, and the only person willing to co-operate with the building of shelters is Simon - who is often seen as representing religion, goodwill and spiritualism in the novel.

The descent of the boys into chaos starts, ironically, with the potential of rescue - but Jack had led a group off hunting rather than tending to a signal fire, and the ship sails past. The ensuing argument sees Piggy's glasses broken. Jack continues through the book as a tyrant, as do other members of his choir - the irony of the way these angelic children change is no accident.

A dead parachutist lands on the island, and the twins: Sam and Eric (Samneric, as they become known) assume it is the beast - causing mass panic. An expedition to investigate ends in Ralph, Jack and Roger going up the mountain, and coming back down even quicker. Jack denounces Ralph as a coward, and leaves his chiefdom to create a new tribe. This new tribe is quickly able to hunt down a pig, and they decide to host a feast. Here, Jack orders a ritualistic dance - and Simon, who has just run down from the mountain to break the news about the beast being a parachutist, is mistaken as that very beast and is beaten by the crazed boys, ultimately falling off of the cliff where he dies.

Ralph has seen his tribe dwindle in number. The larger, less civilised tribe of Jack however need to steal from them - Piggy's glasses allow them to light a fire. An overly optimistic Piggy demands them back, but has a strategically placed boulder dropped onto him by Roger, a friend of Jack. Jack fails to kill Ralph at this meeting, and the next day his tribe try to hunt him down. In doing this, they set up a forest fire, which is seen by a passing naval vessel - one of the ship's officers comes ashore and rescues the boys. Ralph's bare escape from death is tinged with irony, and as he begins to weep for "the end of innocence", so do all the other boys. The rescue had come at an awful price.

Analysis

It has been said that the author's view on society is such that civilization is merely a thin layer, and that all of us are really savages underneath. If the checks and balances of civilization fall away, the real, savage nature of humans surfaces. One can see such examples in the real world, e.g. Cultural Revolution in Communist China or mob behaviour during the French Revolution and other revolts. This is illustrated in the book; upon arriving on the island, many of the boys quickly began to lose their civilised behaviour and form tribal groups.

Perhaps the book is written by Golding to undermine or criticise a few ideas and concepts:

Golding's book also seems to reject giving anarchism any credibility as a political system, due to the way in which the island becomes a vessel for chaos - although people may argue that anarchism never features in the book, and fascism is the cause of the trouble. It can be said that the characters all being children reveals that no matter how apparently innocent humans are, they still are evil. Equally, the fact that there are no grown ups could be seen as a comment on the roles of maturity in society.

Individual characters are also seen to represents systems of belief or elements of society:

  • Ralph is democracy. He relies on humanity being good - and thus fails.
  • Jack is fascism. He rules with terror and has no consideration for others.
  • Roger is equally evil - a henchman of Jack.
  • Piggy is science and technology. He is unpopular, but needed by Ralph the leader.
  • Simon is religion and spirituality. He is kind and nice - but ultimately fails. His appearance in the book is riddled with suggestions of biblical passages and characters, which would lead some to believe that he represents Jesus himself.
  • Samneric were initially twins - Sam and Eric. They are generally good, but easily scared and overpowered - representing the public.

(It is because the book is so ripe for analysis that it is a common set text for GCSE English literature)


Different objects also symbolic of other things:

  • Conch - Democracy as it is used to call the boys together for their meetings.
  • Parachutist - Thought to be The Beast. Shows that they would not be scared of an actual beast, but of their own selves as humans.
  • Hair - The boys' hair is the only sense of time given by Golding. Also, as the boys' hair grow wilder, so do they.

Also, the island itself is part of the symbolism. There is no real threat on the island. If the boys had just organized themselves, they would have realized that nothing on the island could have ever provoked them into such violence. There are no men, no wild animals, no traps, nothing. This ties in with Golding's idea of man being born evil.

Coral Island

In the 19th Century, R.M. Ballantyne wrote a book called Coral Island. It portrayed three boys; Ralph, Peterkin and Jack (two of these names are transferred to Golding's book; Peterkin is altered to Simon, which is an allusion to the Bible "Simon called Peter") landing on an island, much like that in Lord of the Flies. They have great adventures, and generally represent pompous British Empire attitudes - the book is not a realistic projection of what boys on a deserted island would do. However, it was very successful.

A number of references to Coral Island are made in Lord of the Flies, as Golding wrote it as an indirect response.

Notes

  • The novel was written while Golding was teaching at Bishop Wordsworths School, a Church of England grammar school for boys in Salisbury, England. He taught English there from 1945 to 1962. It was because of this that The Times could comment that "Golding knows exactly what boys are like."
  • An episode of The Simpsons titled Das Bus was a parody of Lord of the Flies, mirroring it in many ways. For instance while trapped on an island, they use glasses to make a fire and also hunt pigs.
  • Nick Hornby commented that a newer novel, The Beach is: "A Lord of the Flies for Generation X".

See also

External links

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ISBN numbers

he:בעל זבוב (ספר) ja:蝿の王

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