Name: Lord Of The Flies
Author: William Golding
For this months Classic Corner, I will be taking a look at Lord Of The Flies, the 1954 novel by William Golding.
As was the case with last month’s classic corner Animal Farm, I first read Lord Of The Flies at school, though I was in my GCSE years when I did so. The book was actually banned in some areas due to excessive violence though to my knowledge it hasn’t ever been banned in the UK and it explore show society breaks down among a group of boys who are castaways on a deserted island.
The novel begins in the aftermath of a plane crash. Two boys, Ralph and Piggy find each other and begin to talk about plans about what they need to do next. The characters allude to a war and an atomic bomb going off so we can assume that the boys were probably being evacuated somewhere, as was the case with evacuees in World War Two. The plane they were in however crashed and the pilot is missing, presumed dead. They find a conch on the beach and blow it which causes a number of boys to come out to meet them.
Ralph begins an initial assembly but they are interrupted by another group of older boys, all wearing the same school uniform and led by a boy named Jack. The boys decide that Ralph should be made chief of the island. Ralph decides he, Jack and a boy named Simon will explore the island to see if there are any people around. Ralph asks Piggy to do a headcount of the boys as they do. They climb a mountain and establish the island is deserted.
They return back to the group and they plan to light a fire on the top of the mountain so they can be rescued which all the boys run off to do, though Piggy tries to explain to Ralph that he couldn’t do a head count as none of the boys would listen or stay still. They light a fire using Piggy’s glasses but it gets out of control and burns half the forest below. In anger, Piggy tells Ralph that there is a missing boy with a distinctive birthmark but by then it is too late and we are lead to believe he died in the fire.
As time rolls by, Ralph and Simon are trying to build shelters on the island whilst Jack says him and his choirboys will hunt for meat and look after the fire on the mountain. However, Jack seems to become increasingly obsessed with finding meat and one day takes all of his hunters and abandons the fire which unfortunately coincides with a passing ship but as there is no fire the ship misses them. However they do successfully kill a pig to eat and in excitement all the boys act out a dance of the hunters killing the pig.
In the meantime, the smaller boys on the island begin to wake in the night and have nightmares about a beast which comes to get them. Though the older boys – Ralph, Piggy, Simon, Samneric (who are twins) and Jack do there best to say there isn’t one eventually their own paranoia and fear sets in as well. One night whilst the boys are asleep an intense firefight breaks out overhead and an aeroplane is shot out of the sky. The pilot in a parachute falls to the mountain on the island, he’s dead and but gets entangled in the rocks on the mountain and in the wind gets blown upwards and downwards.
Samneric who are looking after the fire on the mountain wake up to find it’s gone out so they relight it but in the darkness they can’t make out the pilot so believe it is the beast so they run down to the beach to inform Ralph.
Ralph and Jack decide to go looking for the beast, leaving the mountain until last to relight the fire and find a natural rock formation on the other end of the island which could be a fort but they spend so long there playing that it is nighttime before they check the mountain so again they see the pilot but mistake him for the beast.
Piggy suggests they relocate the fire down by the beach to avoid going up there but an argument breaks out between Ralph and Jack over whether the fire or eating meat is more important so Jack breaks off from the other boys and starts his own tribe.
This tribe kill another pig but put it’s head on a stick as an offering for the beast. They again perform the dance of killing the pig with one of the boys playing the part of the pig – however Jack’s tribe get more violent in this dance and hit the boy harder than previously. Simon meanwhile goes into the forest and appears to hallucinate the remains of the pigs head talking to him.
The pig’s head by this stage has been attacked by flies and is the “Lord of the Flies” in the title. His hallucination tells him to go up to the mountain where he realises the beast is actually the pilot.
In the meantime, Jack and the others have called a feast which all the boys go to, even Ralph and Piggy. As night falls, the boys again re-enact the murder of the pig but Simon bursts into the circle. In their delirium the boys attack Simon and this time they don’t stop and he is murdered as he tries to tell them there isn’t a beast and it is a man.
Racked with guilt, the next day Ralph, Piggy and Samneric pretend they weren’t there and decide to setup a camp at their own end of the island and focus on the fire. At Jack’s end, none of the boys know how to light a fire even though they kill another pig so they break into Ralph’s camp at night and steal Piggy’s glasses. The next morning the three boys decide to go to Jack’s camp on the rock fort to get them back. However, Jack and his tribe have now painted their faces and descended into savagery. They tie up Samneric and murder Piggy by rolling a boulder towards him. Ralph escapes.
Jack leaves Samneric in the hands of his right hand man Roger who has become very sadistic during his time on the island and he turns them towards Jack’s tribe. That night Ralph scouts out their camp and sees Samneric and they tell him Jack’s plan: the next morning the entire tribe will march one end of the island to the other to flush out Ralph and kill him.
In the final desperate chapter, Ralph is pursued relentlessly through the island and the boys light a fire to burn the forest down. Ralph eventually makes it to the beach where a Naval officer is waiting – it seems the fire which they boys lighted to kill Ralph ironically means they were seen and finally rescued. He quizzes Ralph about what happened and asks if anyone has been killed – to which Ralph says “three” as the novel concludes.
I can remember reading Lord of the Flies and overall quite enjoying it but I really enjoyed re-reading it and would definitely recommend everyone doing so.
This version I read actually contained a foreword by Stephen King, the famous author of books such as It, The Shining and Misery and many of the points he raises in his foreword are the reasons why I love this book.
He explains he first read this book after asking the librarian if there were any books about what “real boys did” and he was given this book. All of the boys in this book which make up the main characters are well developed and even almost 70 years on from the novel’s publication everyone knows a boy who mirrors one of these characters. Whether it is the physically weaker and asthmatic but wise Piggy, the pragmatic Ralph or the power hungry bully Jack.
The book is very dark in places as it explores the importance of law and order in society and when those things are taken away, what happens when this fails or there is no one around to enforce it.
One of the most powerful scenes in the early chapters is when Roger is at the beach watching one of the younger kids playing and he is about to throw a rock at him but aims to miss, as memories of “parents and school and policemen and the law” prevent him from doing so.
Furthermore, Jack is very proud at the beginning in saying that “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.” yet by the end of the novel he has descended into something much worse.
King also mentions Golding’s central message in the novel is actually a reflection on us as adults that this children are rescued at the end from their savagery by adults, who is there to rescue the adults? It can be argued at the beginning of the novel have already descended into savagery with the war and atomic bombs that are alluded to at the beginning of the novel.
In terms of negatives I would say that the novel does have some quite violent scenes and there is also some outdated language – use of the n-word for example though this is only used once or twice and in modern prints, the word is blanked out.
However for an interesting read and cautionary tale about how society can break down easily when there is no norms such as law and order then this can be a very satisfying read.
If you have read the book and have any other thoughts I would love to hear them in the comments below!