Lord of the Flies Historical Context
by William Golding

Lord of the Flies book cover
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Historical Context

Lord of the Flies was written by Nobel laureate William Golding (1911–1993) in the early 1950s and first published in 1954. The Hobbesian vision of young boys in the wilderness was in many ways a response to the horrors of World War II, and perhaps to the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union as well. William Golding served as a British soldier during the war, witnessing unspeakable violence firsthand and losing his more pleasant illusions about human nature. Turning to fiction in the years after the war, Golding sought to address the question of how ordinary people can commit, or be complicit in, atrocities. As an answer, Lord of the Flies claims that cruelty, barbarity, and tribalism are inherent to humanity.

The novel also grapples with the shadowy history of British colonialism, which reached its zenith in the first half of the 20th century and began to wane rapidly in the years after World War II. Great Britain’s colonial era was marked by a tremendous territorial expansion, the subjugation of foreign cultures, and the exploitation of natural landscapes and resources. Echoes of these colonial trends and attitudes can be found in Golding’s island-bound boys, who seek to dominate both the island environment and each other. The boys’ savagery, increasingly exposed as their civilized façades crumble, expresses Golding’s implicit criticism of British colonialism, itself a savage endeavor donning the flimsy mask of civilization.