Every man and his dog has heard of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It is a novel that many recognise as a modern classic, and has often found itself under the scrutiny of literature students across the English speaking world.
So despite my assumptions that most of you are already familiar with the basic premise of Lord of the Flies, here is a quick rundown of the narrative anyway – a group of school boys find themselves stranded on an island after their plane crashes, killing the pilot and crew in the process. At first the boys revel in excitement, with no adults around they are free to do as they please, but as time goes on the boys begin to struggle. Bitter rivalries are formed and tempers begin to flare with frightening consequences.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that the novel has, on numerous occasions, been banned in public libraries and classrooms across the US for it’s depiction of “extreme violence” and use of profanities. In fact it would be impossible to talk about Lord of the Flies without discussing this…yes the novel is graphic to a certain degree, yes it contains deeply uncomfortable and sometime upsetting themes and displays of violence, BUT this alone cannot explain the full “horror” of the book.
Let me elaborate by saying that for me, the truly terrifying thing about this novel can be split into three parts: firstly Golding doesn’t just describe what is happening but implies so much more than is said outright, leaving the reader to their imagination; secondly the characters are children, not wholly innocent but too young to have developed the ruthlessness and savagery of adulthood; thirdly the novel is not set in some dystopian future, the characters have grown up in the”civilised world” yet once the familiar surroundings of law and order are removed, their moral values are forgotten with alarming speed. Piggy effectively becomes the voice of reason, literally caught in the middle in his attempts to placate and mediate tensions between both Ralph and Jack, whilst trying to steer the group towards reason and ultimately safety. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that this is not without difficulty…
The tug of war that exists between Ralph and Jack for much of the novel is one of the central themes of Lord of the Flies, and most importantly allows Golding to challenge the reader on a number of topics…who should decide the rules we live by? How do you maintain order of the masses? How fine is the line between civilised society and barbarism? Are humans separated from animals only by law? What happens when we take punishment into our own hands?
If you’re still reading this, you’ve probably realised that Lord of the Flies isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But what it is, is a fascinating exploration of what could happen to all of us when fight or flight kicks in and there’s no higher power, so to to speak, to dole out the consequences. In other words there’s a reason why Golding’s novel is still so popular and widely discussed, but it’s about time you find out why for yourself.