Lord of the Flies is a book that examines the shadier side of human nature, the savage brutality of even the most civilised groups. William Golding portrays the events of a group of boys being shipwrecked on an island, with little chance of being rescued. Over time their own fears, needs, and wants begin to control their mini-civilisation, leading to disruption and unrest.
The isolated nature of their group means that it’s natural human-instinct for one of them to become a leader but when the boys split off into separate groups new leaders are born and factions are formed.
The book opens with a group of British boys becoming stranded on an island during the beginnings of a nuclear war.
With Ralph as a leader, and Piggy as his second in command, they begin to establish a functioning society out of the castaway boys. With no adult supervision the group divides itself up it age ranges; littluns, boys around the age of 6, and the biguns, who are age 10 to 12. It’s here that they begin to form a culture similar to their previous.
Although Ralph has bravery on his side, Piggy is clearly the intellectual, always thinking ahead and how each of the group’s actions will affect their chances of survival.
Importance of law
Lord of the flies delves deep into the issue of law, and why we must obey them in order to form a productive society. You see, human beings by nature are complex creatures. We each have our own drivers for life; whether this be for fame and fortune, for love and romance, or simply to survive.
Initially, the boys do a good job of creating an effective environment, that will allow them to survive on the island whilst signalling for help. Ralph, the leader of the group, articulates to everyone to stick to the rules. This way they all stay in line and Ralph gets to remain in charge.
The rules are the only thing we’ve got
However, when obstacles are placed in their way we begin to see the true motives of each individual/group. Whilst they will often work together to overcome said obstacle, they do so for different reasons and try to leverage their reasoning upon completion.
Factions of society
The boys live in constant fear of not only their rescue from the island but also the island itself. After a battle above the island, a pilot parachutes down onto the mountaintops. With gusts of wind, his parachute begins to open and close, making it look as if he’s moving.
The sight of a man, seemingly still alive frightens the boys as they believe the island is now inhabited by a beast. A beast that they’ve come to dread.
Reactive to the situation, Jack, a rival of Ralph, forms a second faction that grows due to its offer of protection of all those initiated. Jack himself, has an aggressive streak, which offers those on his side the courage to face any challenges which the island might throw at them. They’re all given roles within the faction; night-watchmen, hunters, tribal dancers etc.
The group ultimately slaughters a sow, and as an offering to the beast, puts its head on a spike outside of their camp.
There comes a point when there are only Ralph, Piggy and one of the older boys remaining in the original group. This makes them vulnerable as evidenced in the stealing of Piggy’s glasses, used to start fires for cooking, and smoke signals for rescue. When Ralph and his group approach Jack’s tribe to gain back possession of the glasses, one of Jack’s hunters drops a boulder down onto Piggy; killing him. The tribe then capture the remaining members of Ralph’s tribe and imprison them, leaving only Ralph to fend for himself.
Jack leads his tribe on a hunt to find, and kill Ralph. In doing so, they start a fire to smoke him out of hiding but it quickly consumes the majority of the island. A ship that happens to be travelling nearby sees the smoke from the fire and arrives just in time to save Ralph from the other schoolboys.
Lord of the Flies is an interesting book on so many levels. On the surface, it is a book about schoolboys trying to survive on a shipwrecked island but dig a little deeper and there’s plenty more to uncover.
Portraying signs of society as a whole, the lengths that some will go to in order to survive, as well as how culture plays a large part in our decision making.
Golding also uses the idea of a social order through political systems, i.e. Governments (Leaders in Ralph and Jack), Legislation (Holding the seashell when talking) etc. He similarly explores the natural turn towards violence when decisions don’t go your way. This is shown with the choir-boys who later become savage hunters and eventual killers. Only in a forced environment of ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ can such an event occur.
Overall this is a book that well and truly lives up to its accolades, including making it to number 25 on the reader’s list (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) and number 41 on the editor’s list. If you have it sat on your shelf, or see it sat in a bookshop window then go and pick it up.
Have you read Lord of the Flies? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Leave a comment below to join the discussion.