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Irony of playThe very nature of Lord is ironic since it reveals cruelty and perversity...

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted September 24, 2007 at 5:37 PM via web

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Irony of play

The very nature of Lord is ironic since it reveals cruelty and perversity where one expects to find gentleness and innocence: in childhood. Moreover, the children's sole intention at the start is to play: 'Until the grown-ups come to fetch us, we'll have fun,' says Ralph and, to begin with, he stands on his head. Can you imagine anything more harmless than the freedom from care, the joy of these new Crusoes (even if they do miss their parents)? And yet, playing proves to be a source of evil for them, bringing about their regression and disaster. What I am getting to here is the irony in that play, which is supposed to be about freedom and fun, has the degenerative power to destroy and cause evil. Playing proves to be a school for Ralph, since it conduces a keener sense of duty instead of blurring it (which is what I would expect from play, since it is supposed to be the opposite of work), and it makes him realise his limitations instead ofgiving a glorious feeling of freedom and power. The same is true for Jack, who begins by playing, but his type of play, by the nature of its freedom, ironically destroys the rules that all games need. "Free play" becomes a dangerous contradiction. Even the term, "make-believe," has a telios about it, a sense of inevitability--that what we play we will, in the long run, turn into reality. Seems to make the whole concept of play rather scary to me.

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bmadnick | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted September 24, 2007 at 7:37 PM (Answer #2)

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Child's play is supposed to be fun, but it's also a time for children to practice their socialization skills, a kind of rehearsal for their journey into adulthood. If you observe children at play, you can tell right away who is assertive and who isn't. Without any adult supervision, would that child who is more assertive become the bully of the playground? Without any adult there at all, what would that child be capable of? Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that children of this age would turn savage without adults to guide them. There's no one there to set limits or to say stop. These are the kinds of things that adults must teach children as they're growing, and the boys in the novel hadn't had the oportunity to finish their "schooling". The problem is the total freedom the boys are given. They don't know how to handle it because they could have never imagined living without adult supervision. I'm not so sure that it is ironic that these boys behaved the way they did.

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted September 24, 2007 at 7:48 PM (Answer #3)

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Well, yes, Hobbes would not find it ironic, but perhaps Rousseau would, no? It is the nature of the word, "play," connoting innocence that generates the irony--that is what I mean. But, yes, I've raised 2 sons, and I could at times understand the possibilities of Hobbes, although my heart goes to what Wordsworth says about the child and innocence and closeness to his "original home"--that Platonic truth.  Then again, Wordsworth did not live through WWII as did Golding....

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bmadnick | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted September 24, 2007 at 8:01 PM (Answer #4)

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Part of the problem too is that the boys can't just play. They now have to do the adult jobs as well, and this is what complicates their lives. Children are rarely successful when they are forced into adult situations too soon, such as these boys were. They could be carefree for only so long, and then they had to think about food and shelter. Because none of them had any experience in how to provide the necessities of life, they were naturally going to have difficulty deciding how to go about this task and what should be done first. 

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 27, 2007 at 4:38 PM (Answer #5)

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Does the boys inability to "play" reflect anything about their staunch English upbringing? 

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted September 27, 2007 at 5:43 PM (Answer #6)

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That's an interesting thought, causing me to wonder what someone like Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer would do in a similar situation.  Mark Twain would never allow those particular icons of American boyhood to transform in such ways.

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 27, 2007 at 6:44 PM (Answer #7)

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Yes, I agree.  There's another idea for a one-act...Tom and Huck stranded on an island with Ralph and Piggy! 

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iriegirl1990 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 10, 2007 at 3:14 PM (Answer #8)

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I think was so ironic is how ralph wanted 2 start a fire 2 b rescued and Jack sets the whole island on fire and it attracts the navy

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gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 16, 2007 at 8:23 AM (Answer #9)

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Irony of play

The very nature of Lord is ironic since it reveals cruelty and perversity where one expects to find gentleness and innocence: in childhood. Moreover, the children's sole intention at the start is to play: 'Until the grown-ups come to fetch us, we'll have fun,' says Ralph and, to begin with, he stands on his head. Can you imagine anything more harmless than the freedom from care, the joy of these new Crusoes (even if they do miss their parents)? And yet, playing proves to be a source of evil for them, bringing about their regression and disaster. What I am getting to here is the irony in that play, which is supposed to be about freedom and fun, has the degenerative power to destroy and cause evil. Playing proves to be a school for Ralph, since it conduces a keener sense of duty instead of blurring it (which is what I would expect from play, since it is supposed to be the opposite of work), and it makes him realise his limitations instead ofgiving a glorious feeling of freedom and power. The same is true for Jack, who begins by playing, but his type of play, by the nature of its freedom, ironically destroys the rules that all games need. "Free play" becomes a dangerous contradiction. Even the term, "make-believe," has a telios about it, a sense of inevitability--that what we play we will, in the long run, turn into reality. Seems to make the whole concept of play rather scary to me.

The concept of play IS scary in this novel. I would suggest that Lord of the Flies shows us how fragile and…constructed both play and childhood are. By that I mean, it takes a kind of rugged sheltering to provide a space within which play is innocent in this book. It starts innocent, with swimming, standing on heads, etc., but within a first few pages they are teasing Piggy, and from then the play turns very dark indeed. It is as if Golding is saying, "Innocence can only exist if protected, and play is only innocent in those circumstances."

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 19, 2012 at 6:17 PM (Answer #10)

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The more the boys focus on play instead of work, the more likely their deaths become. The choice between practical seriousness and role play/make believe is clear in its thematic import from the first conversation between Piggy and Ralph, as pointed out in the first post. 

This is ironic, but also consistent and generates a commentary on the use of nuclear weapons, I think, while maintaining a focused eye on the (questionable) humanity of the figures who make decisions for a society. 

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