Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Fifty-eight years ago, William Golding decided to write a book that would depict boys as boys truly were. (I know this not because I am a Golding scholar, but because I read the novel’s introduction). A response, no doubt, to the child-detective, boys’-own, let’s-save-the-day-and-then-have-lemonade style books in fashion at the time. He called it Lord of the Flies, crashed his boys’ plane and stuck them on a deserted island sometime during ‘the war’. He then spun a tale of survival, discovery, alliances, tribal power, danger and murder that has resonated with readers ever since it was published.

This would usually be when I give a brief precis of the story, but I’m not going to on this occasion as after many a survey it seems everyone in the entire world—apart from those who were in the exact same classes as me—studied this book at high school. And if by some strange chance they missed it that time, they—again, apart from me—studied the book at university. This is all well and good and, hey, at least they weren’t analysing episodes of Gossip Girl to attain their leaving certificates, but it does mean that I have found no-one to discuss this novel with who read it either recently nor as an adult. It is one of the two things that led a truly significant reading experience to be less fulfilling than it should have been. This had nothing to do with Golding’s story or writing and rather a lot more to do with me (perhaps a too-common theme of this blog) and how the novel made me feel. Now. As an adult.

You see, because although I’m sure there are crossover points between what an adolescent ‘gets out’ of Lord of the Flies, and what an older person does, I also think there may be differences, especially when the older person is not straightjacketed by curriculum and a 20-year-old Cliff Notes copy. I think those who have a bit of a gap between their ‘younger years’ and their current age might consider the messages of childhood and human nature differently than if they were 15 years old; I think it might make them feel differently.

I’m wondering if other adults have read this novel and despaired as I did. At the horrible situation; at those poor lost, ignorant children; at the characters’ complete inability to truly understand their motivations for their decisions and to rarely be able to express them; at the portrayal of the sickening way children (and adults) can treat each other; at the terribly insulting and officious way the grown-up world casts children; at the ways some of us gain power and others are shunned. I despaired and I think I got angry—I must stress again not at the novel itself but at the ideas it was discussing. Perhaps Mr Golding’s entire point. And the fact that he could do all this and tell an adventure story that still both appeals and affects people of all ages points to his triumph.

It took a while for these ideas, thoughts and feelings to stop spinning around in the back of my brain and become vaguely coherent. Instead I was a little like the boy-characters, knowing something was going on but not being able to express what it was.

·

EXAMPLE ONE

Boyfriend (opening front door in the evening): Hi, honey.

Me (grimacing with novel in hand): I hate Jack.

Boyfriend (who, like everyone else, read novel at school): Yeah, Jack’s not very nice.

Me: I hate him. I hate his guts.

·

EXAMPLE TWO

Boyfriend (different evening): Hi, honey.

Me: They freaking killed him. It was horrible. I cried on the train.

Boyfriend: I thought you knew that would happen.

Me: Well, sure, but it’s still horrible. Those awful, murderous, ignorant, hateful boys. You know how I said I wanted to have children? Well, I’ve changed my mind.

·

And that was the second thing. Not only did I crave an adult-reader to talk to about Lord of the Flies but just as I had finally come to peace with the notion that it might be very nice to start a family in a year or two, I made the mistake of reading a book that shows us how capable of menace and cruelty and all those things we like to put on adults, children can be. As someone who has never been too definite on the idea of motherhood, this was another mark in the ‘con’ column. Perhaps it’s a biological thing. It only occurred to me while watching (the very good) The Hunger Games film that really, what that story had to deal with so carefully was the fact that its main plot points revolved around children killing children.

Of course, Golding wasn’t trying to say that children were cruel (nor that they were power-hungry maniacal murderers). He was telling a story about children stranded on an island, a story everyone had read before, but this time the characters and their actions were portrayed realistically, and the realistic possibility was that it would not all end with lemonade.

I’m so very glad I read Lord of the Flies. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it and I’m glad it lived up to its ‘classic’ status. It’s still sitting with me now; somewhere in the back of my brain. Ralph, Jack, Piggy and Simon. The beast. The conch. The rock pool. The shelters. The fire. All the ideas William Golding wanted us to ponder. Or perhaps we just end up pondering. If you’re like me and didn’t have to read this novel at school, I urge you to give it a try. And if you’re one of the millions who did … read it again, even just so you can talk to me about it and how it made you feel.

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4 thoughts on “Lord of the Flies by William Golding

  1. I can’t talk to you about it until I re-read it, but I find your reaction/connection to The Hunger Games film interesting. The really gruesome parts (shades of Flies) have been left out. And the trilogy has been compared to Lord of the Flies, among other violet YA books. I did a write up on the trilogy on my blog. The books generated a lot of controversy that boiled down to appropriate ‘reading’ age so I could talk to you about those three books. NOW all that said, I could also talk to about 1984 if you’ve re-read that one. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Cheryl. I loved the Hunger Games trilogy myself, but I’m 31 years old and particularly drawn to distopian fantasies. I can imagine the trickiness in deciding on it’s appropriateness for strong readers who are still very young. Though I know the 10- or 11-year-old me would have wanted to read it and would have been affected by it in a strong and positive manner. I agree that the very ending is a little pat, but in a way I don’t mind as I think the author was attempting overall to show that even those who are seen as the most powerless can create change for the better, in the end. But I’m a bit of a sucker like that. I also suspect she gave it a tied-up ending for similar reasons to why JK Rowling wrote that rather awful epilogue to the Harry Potter series – so no-one else could take over the story at a later date.

  3. I’ve never responded to a blog before, but after having read your’s I feel a desperate need to do so. I am half-way through reading Lord of the Flies to my son who is in 6th grade and was told he must read a classic. The book was included on the list presented to him and I had a paperback copy on my bookshelf, and so our adventure began. I am concerned about some of the symbolism, that associated with the hog in particular, but I know he will understand it as a cruel method of killing a pig rather than a sexual reference. I have to tell you that reading this novel to him has given me a great teaching opportunity. Any time I can help my son understand how harsh words can be, how affected others can be by being bullied, how important it is to be brave and stand up for what is right, how necessary it is to listen to the voice of reason, to remain compassionate yet strong, and to be sensitized in the face of so much violence, I hope to take advantage. Please don’t be discouraged about becoming a parent. Children are so much smarter than we give them credit for, and so much more sensitive when they are able to connect with others. I have found that reading books aloud to my children has allowed us to connect with characters and share the pain, joy, frustration, anger, etc. together. I’ve read all of the JK Rowling books to my two older children, as well as the Hunger Games Trilogy and many other excellent YA novels, and they see clearly the difference between right and wrong. My son has experienced his share of bullying because he has ADHD and is “different,” but I think that he has been able to relate to many of the characters in these stories and has been armed, in a way. As long as our children can still see the horror, recognize it as such, and continue to be outraged by injustice, there is hope. I can’t believe there are people who want to hide these books from kids, when they have this glorious, beautiful way to show them the deeper meanings of things. The wisdom that can be found in them can give children something to grasp in reality. I find it wonderful to revisit books in this way because they are new again as I share the emotions of my children, but I have my own wisdom and understanding to draw from as an adult. Although it is such a painful story to endure, I am glad to read Lord of the Flies again, and I’m thankful for the role I have as a mother and the opportunities it presents.

    • Michelle, thank you so much for your passionate and articulate response, and for sharing your experience of reading YA books with your children. Your comment cheered me and gave me food for thought. I think your children are very lucky indeed. Cheers, Lauren.

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