Author: William Golding
Genre: Fiction Novel
Main Characters: Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, Roger, Samneric
Publisher: A&A Publisher (India)
First Publication: 1954 (Worldwide); 2013 (India)
Lord of the Flies is a classic piece of literature by British novelist William Golding who received the Nobel prize in literature for his contribution to realistic narrative art. Lord of the Flies was his debut novel which has been recommended reading in academics for many decades. The novel’s story has been portrayed on the silver screen twice, first in 1963 and later in 1990. When I first read the summary, I found a public policy perspective that underlined the importance of governance in human life.
The one-liner about of the book may not be as catchy as what the book delivers to its readers. A bunch of stranded boys struggling for survival on an uninhabited island might sound like just another novel story, but Lord of the Flies has quite surprising details in it. The words used in the title engage you in reading until the end in an urge to get the true essence. While the first half passes in finding what the Lord of the Flies means, the second half narrates why it is named like that! Interestingly, the amalgamation of incidents and their impacts on simultaneous occurrences in the novel will make the reader think for a while to absorb the true meaning of ‘lord’ in the title.
A group of boys aged 6 to 12 years finds themselves alone on an uninhabited island after a plane they were traveling crashes due to unknown reasons (for them). They manage to assemble themselves and set basic rules that everybody decides to follow! Over time, the priorities and actions of a few and horrifying and sometimes mystic assumptions introduced by others lead them into extraordinary situations! The story turns horrifying when conditions lead to the loss of lives, sometimes merely due to provoking an emotion of someone. The best thing about the narrative is that it changes reader’s expectations as they are introduced to new elements of the island where things are happening. The reader’s desire keeps changing from basic survival (shelter and hunting), protection of vulnerable from other community members, need for rescue arrangements (the fire), etc., as they dive deeper into the story.
I found the book somewhat perplexing in some places. I had to read it twice to understand what the author has to convey through his cavernous portrayal of happenings. This might not be the case with regular readers, though! The realization of the situation from the protagonist’s point of view and understanding his position demonstrates why Golding was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1983.
Did the boys explore the island and hold its total ownership? If yes, then whether and how did they manage to develop a sustainable surviving strategy? How did they realize that they need to be rescued from that island? How were they recovered from the island? The answers and the journey to the climax are action-packed and successively hit new heights throughout the text.
When the boys meet at the platform for the first time, they come to know that there is no grown-up among them and they have to take care of their own! The classification of boys as `biguns’ and `littluns’ (as used in the book) based on thin differences in their ages further divides the group into `governing’ and `governed.’ The two biguns, Ralph and Jack, coming from different sociological backgrounds try to understand the situation from their perspectives. After acknowledging that the island is uninhabited, they tell their priorities to everybody. Ralph, backed by Piggy (another intelligent fat bigun), prioritizes rescue plans and self-protection, while Jack prefers hunting. Jack believes in Ralph’s priorities until he succeeds in hunting a pig. His successive hunting victories and command over the choir make him feel privileged over others.
On the other hand, Ralph, who was chosen as leader by all during their first meeting through an open voting process, tries to respond rationally to the situations he is introduced to. The awkward struggle of decision-making, utilization of resources (Piggy’s glasses to start the fire, picking up boys for hunting, etc.), implementing the ideas (keeping up the fire, making shelters, hunting pig for the feast, etc.) hold the reader’s attention for a long time. Interestingly, littluns, forgetting the real-world needs, prioritize ‘the beast’ who, according to them, might find them all and kill everyone!
The incidents and boys’ responses tell that a person’s priorities affect their behavior in public life. Being a meaning-making entity, humans show affinity towards people in a society whose priorities are aligned with that of theirs! The choice of Samneric to keep the fire up and not to join hunters, the selection of hunters to follow Jack’s orders to hunt a pig and have a feast, Piggy’s dependence on Ralph for his safety, etc., show that priority affects human behavior!
Conch Vs. Spear
Symbolism has been frequently used in the Lord of the Flies to render various social elements. ‘The conch and the platform’ used by Ralph to address the gathering shows the presence of social order. The spears and paints used by choir boys depict the command and control ideology. The importance of the conch against the spear has been explicitly mentioned several times during arguments. Simon’s perception of the Lord of the Flies and their imaginary conversation takes the whole storyline to a new psychological and philosophical level. It shows how an individual understands different things under contemporary social influence. The fear and excitement of the beast were rooted so deep in his subconscious mind that he started interpreting the things that he wanted to see them like!
In search of a rationale
Though the fiction is based on a convenient setting, it makes the reader uncomfortable with several brutal and shocking incidents. This might be because of the boy’s irrational behavior! Golding convinces the reader that what they think to be unreasonable in the ordinary world is rational from the boy’s perspective. Boys, who were being trained for modern civilization, were suddenly exposed to the stone-age environment. Remember, they were not adults; they were boys! The adults are the ones who were fully trained, but the boys were not! They tried copying the grown-ups in some situations by putting themselves in adults’ shoes and thinking like them. Piggy did it most of the time, but it didn’t work! At one point, in a tone of frustration and curiosity, Ralph asks Piggy, “What makes things break up as they [grown-ups] do?”. Ralph and Piggy try to act like elders as it was the most rational way of rescuing themselves. One such outcome of their thinking might be the idea of lighting up the fire.
Awakening of animal instinct
The boys acted like how most humans would have acted on an island without any modern civilization training! They started understanding and responding to their surroundings based on their life-world. They started making meaning out of every single thing! Their definition of the beast, rescue, hunting, feast, etc., justified their actions. Over time, the surroundings started dominating their brain, which soon awakened animal instincts within them. Those who denied the majority’s decision were detached from the group irrespective of the correctness of the majority’s decision! Soon, the paradigm of social order shifted from democracy to autocracy. Jack, who possessed power since the beginning, struggled to use it, and Ralph, who had authority, could not lead the group due to lack of power.
The presence of civil order, which holds all sections of the society together, was missing. With every passing day, the boys became more wild, so wild that they did not bother to kill anyone who tried to contradict the majority! The killing was justifiable because there was no space for law and order!
The Real Beast
The review of the Lord of the Flies cannot be completed without knowing the beast. The impact of the novel is so profound that the incidents will keep roaming in the reader’s mind for days (sometimes for weeks or months). The thoughts that readers consider as the author’s takeaway message appears to be superficial as the chapters unfurl. The real fear lies with the beast! The fear of the beast from the external world is originated from the one living inside everyone’s head.
Our priorities, symbolism (interpretation), and rational/irrational behavior originated from the internal beast with whom we love every moment. It is that inner beast who tries to prevent us from thinking for everyone (societal benefits). Some people may call it survival instinct; some may not! Irrespective of what people call it, they must acknowledge its presence inside them. Defeating the inner beast can only open the doors of true knowledge and enlighten people to realize new intellectual insights.
From a public policy perspective, the Lord of the Flies shows why authority and power must necessarily accompany each other. They cannot sustain themselves on their own! It is interesting to know whether the boys figure out how to coexist with their interests and rescue or their conflict of priorities leads to a catastrophic situation. Golding’s trailblazing way of portraying incidents makes it an eternal piece of literature for everyone to read.