Essays and Criticism
Lord of the Flies: Interpretations
Lord of the Flies, William Golding's first novel, was published in London in 1954 and in New York in 1955. Golding was forty-three years old when he wrote the novel, having served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. According to Bernard Oldsey, "The war appears to have been an important influence on him."
Lord of the Flies is deliberately modeled after R. M. Ballantyne's 1857 novel The Coral Island. In this story, a group of English boys are shipwrecked on a tropical island. They work hard together to save themselves. The only evil in the book is external and is personified by a tribe of cannibals that live on the island. The book offers a Victorian view of the world: through hard work and earnestness, one can overcome any hardship.
By giving his characters the same names as those in Ballantyne's book and by making direct reference to The Coral Island in the text of Lord of the Flies, Golding clearly wants readers to see his book as a response to the Victorian world view. Golding's view is a much bleaker one: the evil on the island is internal, not external. At the end of the book, the adult naval officer who invokes The Coral Island almost serves as Ballantyne's voice-"I should have thought that a pack of British boys— you're all British, aren't you?—would have been able to put up a better show than that." Golding's understanding of the world, colored by his own experiences...
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Teaching Rationale for William Golding's Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies is William Golding's parable of life in the latter half of the twentieth century, the nuclear age, when society seems to have reached technological maturity while human morality is still prepubescent. Whether or not one agrees with the pessimistic philosophy, the idiocentric psychology or the fundamentalist theology espoused by Golding in the novel, if one is to use literature as a "window on the world," this work is one of the panes through which one should look.
The setting for Lord of the Flies is in the literary tradition of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Johann Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson, and like these earlier works provides the necessary ingredients for an idyllic utopian interlude. A plane loaded with English school boys, aged five through twelve, is being evacuated to a safe haven in, perhaps, Australia to escape the "Reds," with whom the English are engaged in an atomic war. Somewhere in the tropics the plane is forced to crash land during a violent storm. All the adults on board are lost when the forward section of the plane is carried out to sea by tidal waves. The passenger compartment, fortuitously, skids to a halt on the island, and the young passengers escape uninjured.
The boys find themselves in a tropical paradise: bananas, coconuts and other fruits are profusely available. The...
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The Coral Island Revisited
One interested in finding about Golding for oneself should probably begin with Lord of the Flies. . . . The story is simple. In a way not clearly explained, a group of children, all boys, presumably evacuees in a future war, are dropped from a plane just before it is destroyed, on to an uninhabited tropical island. The stage is thus set for a reworking of a favorite subject in children's literature: castaway children assuming adult responsibilities without adult supervision. Golding expects his readers to recall the classic example of such a book, R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island (1857), where the boys rise to the occasion and behave as admirably as would adults. But in Lord of the Flies everything goes wrong from the beginning. A few boys representing sanity and common sense, led by Ralph and Piggy, see the necessity for maintaining a signal fire to attract a rescue. But they are thwarted by the hunters, led by red-haired Jack, whose lust for blood is finally not to be satisfied by killing merely wild pigs. Only the timely arrival of a British cruiser saves us from an ending almost literally too horrible to think about. Since Golding is using a naive literary form to express sophisticated reflections on the nature of man and society, and since he refers obliquely to Ballantyne many times throughout the book, a glance at The Coral Island is appropriate.
Ballantyne shipwrecks his three boys—Jack, eighteen; Ralph, the...
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