Experiencing the manic frenzy that surrounded the world’s introduction to the dystopian worlds of the Hunger Games or Divergent trilogies, it was no shock that my next wish was to explore another dystopian yet controversial novel written long before the authors of the former trilogies were even born ‐ the Lord of the Flies.
Published in 1954 by William Golding and initially receiving limited success, the Nobel Prize winner’s novel went on to become a bestseller. Aptly named for one of the greatest symbols in the novel, Lord of the Flies follows the journey of a group of English boys between the ages of six to twelve who become stranded on an unknown island when their plane crashes. The pilot is killed in the crash, evidently deserting the kids with no adult supervision but themselves.
The novel then sets a gradual progression in the behaviour of the boys. Initially, the boys are excited to be alone on an unknown island with all the freedom to do what their hearts desire. Soon enough, however, fear of the unknown catches up to them, effectively instilling in all a paranoia that ran so deep it forced them to harbour resentment and anger towards each other, causing many of the older boys to resort to extremities and violent tendencies.
From the beginning, one can see a great difference between the two main characters ‐ Jack and Ralph. Ralph seemed to be the golden boy, the “modern star student,” with the good looks, charming personality, and ability to be liked by everyone. Jack, on the other hand, could be seen as a stereotypical jock ‐ arrogant and conceited.
In addition to the contrasting personalities of the two, Golding also carefully crafts his message through the symbols he uses. Beginning from the conch, a shell on the island that symbolizes power and authority, Golding portrays a regular civilization ‐ one diligently but precariously tied together through rules and societal expectations. The boys continue to respect the judicial system so common in England at that moment, the norms of society that they grew up in.
This image is harshly shattered, however, near the conclusion of the novel, when Golding, without reserve, tears down any semblance of a democratic society. The boys, some more than others, become cruel, vindictive, evil, entering into a power struggle and unable to maintain structure.
This, then, is where the main purpose of Golding’s novel is clearly conveyed. Through the transformation of civilized English boys into heartless barbarians, Golding puts forth the broader message that without the restricting binds of proper civilization, humanity will revert to its natural evil manner of conduct, living with a cruelty and single-mindedness only associated with savages.
Written in third person, Golding cleverly portrays the perspectives of different characters, allowing the readers to see their change of character throughout the novel. Though conveyed in a simple and clear manner, the topic in itself is a great deal more controversial. Some may believe the novel to be excessively cynical. It can be seen as unrealistic, veering away from the bounds of reality into a world where young children are brutal, a world that many can say simply cannot exist. Still, others agree with the main theme of the book, believing that it reflects aptly the behaviour of some who do live in our world.
While one can agree that Lord of the Flies may seem farfetched, perhaps it is only because current society has managed to hold on tightly to a realm of authority and greater power. Imagine if people were not limited by the police force and other authorities. What if there were no governments, no laws, no legal consequences? How confidently can one say that the people of the world would not resort to extremities, deception, and even violence?
Essentially, Golding portrays humanity as inherently evil, and that lack of an orderly civilization with laws will only result in the reveal of mankind’s inner savage, leading to the eventual downfall of civilization. While the author may not necessarily believe that everyone is internally evil, his novel serves to show how man without governance is very capable of losing all self-control. Jack, in this case, would be that one corrupt being capable of ruining all of humanity, able to influence and persuade others until they see cruel actions as the norm.
Though darker, and definitely set in a more realistic scenario than the Hunger Games or Divergent trilogies, this old classic is worth a read for those willing to explore different perceptions of our own people. Perhaps Lord of the Flies may not be appealing to all given the dark theme, but Golding’s essential message is intriguing enough to be delved into. It certainly makes one wonder: can humanity really cause its own death?