William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies (1954)
This was the last of my four reads for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, so if you are one of the many people who complain about having had to read The Lord of the Flies in school, just imagine reading it for the first time in the final wee hours of a Read-a-Thon morning, after entirely too much coffee and sweets on the tail end of a long day of classic reading. Yup: intense.
Whereas with Platero and I, I found myself putting down the book regularly to just sit and muse on the section I’d just read, with The Lord of the Flies, I found myself putting down the book regularly and rocking my head in my arms, wincing and squinting.
It didn’t start out that way.
“Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along. Ralph saw it first, and watched till the intentness of his gaze drew all eyes that way. Then the creature stepped from mirage on to clear sand, and they saw that the darkness was not all shadow but mostly clothing. The creature was a party of boys, marching approximately in step in two parallel lines and dressed in strangely eccentric clothing.”
It started out as a beach story, with children.
No, of course it wasn’t like that at all. But I have kind of a thing for End-of-the-World-stories ::waves to The Writer’s Pet:: so I wasn’t scared off by this element of the tale. The attempt to order the inherently disordered? What is more conflict-ridden, what is more revealing, than that? It’s riveting stuff.
“I agree with Ralph. We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English; and the English are best at everything. So we’ve got to do the right things.”
But the “right things”? In a group of boys (all under the age of 13), defining “right” is not always as easy as it might have seemed when you were in the habit of simply following rules that adults set forth.
What happens is both fascinating and disturbing and the events raise questions inherently relevant to readers today. What defines good leadership? What happens when there is no clear set of rules in place? In the absence of law, at what point do people begin responding as a single body, setting aside rational thought in favour of instinct and primal desire? At what point do people set aside a care for the “common good” in favour of individual success or satisfaction, and do we reach that point sooner than we might think?
As an exploration of human nature, The Lord of the Flies might as well have been written yesterday. At an incidental level, in community groups and gatherings, even in family get-togethers, we can recognize changes in the way people interact, when solitary, with another person, and alter yet again in a larger group. Take out the monitoring system, remove societal inhibitions, and imagine the surprises that could ensue.
I know that many students who had it as a text in school hated it; I can understand that because there is a brutality to the story (and one scene, in particular, which is unforgettably disturbing). Nonetheless, at the same time, it is one of the few classic novels I’ve read in which young people are accorded the central roles. They are the agents, the catalysts, the centre of all action.
And of course, we were all young once. And we might not be all that different from the characters in this novel were we in the same position. Which is the truly horrifying part of this story.
What did you think? Have you seen either of the films?
PS I read this as part of Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, but it also counts towards the 1% Well-Read Challenge.