Rating: 5 out of 5
Since I’m currently reading Mockingjay, the last novel of The Hunger Games trilogy, I thought I’d blog about a literary classic also dealing with children committing brutal acts of violence. Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s first novel published in 1954, tells the tale of a group of young British boys who become stranded on a deserted island after their plane crashes. The book demonstrates how quickly our base instincts kick in when we find ourselves distanced from civilization.
Although there’s many characters, the main ones are as follows: Ralph, the fair-haired protagonist; Piggy, the overweight outcast with glasses; Simon, the peaceful martyr; and Jack, the savage antagonist. At first the boys attempt to maintain order by making up rules, such as only speaking when holding the conch shell, but naturally chaos resumes as Jack and his cronies become obsessed with hunting “the Beast,” a creature they believe is roaming the island. The “Lord of the Flies” is a pig’s head which Jack puts on a stake as an offering to the Beast–thus, a symbol for evil and blood-lust.
The story itself is pretty basic, but its deeper themes and parallels are what really makes this novel special. Biblically, the “Lord of the Flies” can represent the demonic power of Satan, and Simon acts as a Christ-figure who clings to morality before becoming a sacrifice. The novel also has ties to Freudian psychoanalysis, with Jack, Ralph, and Piggy symbolizing the id, ego, and superego respectively. How these boys interact on the island reflect how our minds battle everyday between what we want and what’s best for the common good.
As if those parallels weren’t enough, Golding’s novel also becomes a historical allegory for World War II. As a member of the navy himself during the war, Golding recognizes the effects of violence on society. As the boys are quarreling among themselves, the men of Britain are behaving just as brutally on the battlefield. When man and boy meet at the end of the book, it’s heartbreaking for the reader, who realizes that when left to our own devices, we all act like children–and simultaneously, lose the innocence of our childhood.
There are two film adaptations, 1963 and 1990. I haven’t seen the older version in black-and-white, but I hear it’s better than the newer movie–which thinks a bunch of American kids spouting profanity (both inaccurate characterizations) is what makes a story provocative. Don’t bother watching it, just read Golding’s masterpiece.
Favorite Quote: “His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink” (Ch. 4)