Analysis

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Point of View
All novels use at least one perspective, or point of view, from which to tell the story. This may consist of a point of view of no single character (the omniscient, or "all-knowing" point of view), a single character, multiple characters in turn, and combinations or variations on these. Golding uses the omniscient point of view, which enables him to stand outside and above the story itself, making no reference to the inner life of any of the individual characters. From this lofty point he comments on the action from the point of view of a removed, but observant, bystander. Golding has commented in interviews that the strongest emotion he personally feels about the story is grief. Nevertheless, as the narrator he makes a conscious decision, like the British captain at the end of the story, to "turn away" from the shaking and sobbing boys and remain detached. The narrator lets the actions, as translated through the artist's techniques of symbolism, structure, and so on, speak for themselves. Even so dramatic and emotional an event as Piggy's death is described almost clinically. "Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across that square red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red."

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Symbolism
A symbol can be defined as a person, place, or thing that represents something more than its literal meaning. The conch shell, to take an obvious example in the story, stands for a society of laws in which, for example, people take their turn in speaking. The pig's head is a more complex example of a symbol. To Simon, and to many readers, it can have more than one meaning. On a rational level, Simon knows the pig's head is just that: a "pig's head on a stick." But on a more emotional level, Simon realizes that the pig's head represents an evil so strong that it has the power to make him faint. When he thinks of the head as "The Lord of the Flies," the symbol becomes even more powerful, as this title is a translation of "Beelzebub," another name for the Devil. Similarly, the fire set by using Piggy's glasses, when controlled, could be said to represent science and technology at their best, serving humans with light and heat. When uncontrolled, however, fire represents science and technology run amok, killing living things and destroying the island. Simon himself can be said to symbolize Christ, the selfless servant who is always helping others but who dies because his message— that the scary beast on the hill is only a dead parachutist—is misunderstood. Throughout the story, the noises of the surf, the crackling fire, the boulders rolling down hills, and trees exploding from the fire's heat are often compared to the boom of cannons and drum rolls. In this way, Golding reminds us that the whole story is intended to repeat and symbolize the atomic war which preceded it.

Setting
In the setting for Lord of the Flies, Golding has created his own "Coral Island"—an allusion, or literary reference, to a book of that name by R. M. Ballantyne. Using the same scenario of boys being abandoned on a tropical island, The Coral Island (1857) is a classic boys' romantic adventure story, like Johann Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson, in which everyone has a great time and nobody dies or ends up unhappy. Golding, however, has quite different ideas, and he has used the setting in his story to reinforce those concepts. Yes, the island can be a wonderful place, as the littluns discover by day when they are bathing in the lagoon pool or eating fruit from the trees. But at night the same beach can be the setting for nightmares, as some boys fancy that they see "snake-things" in the trees.

Golding builds a similar contrast between the generally rocky side of the island that faces the sea, and the softer side that faces the lagoon. On the ocean side of the island, "the filmy enchantments of mirage could not endure the cold ocean water. . . . On the other side of the island, swathed at midday with mirage, defended by the shield of the quiet lagoon, one might dream of rescue; but here, faced by the brute obtuseness of the ocean . . . one was helpless." Thus the setting reinforces Golding's view of human nature as a struggle of good intentions and positive concepts like love and faith against the harshness of nature and human failings like anger.

The Plot

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A plane evacuating a group of schoolboys following an atomic war apparently is shot down, but not before a passenger capsule containing children is ejected. Initially happy to enjoy an adult-free, fruit-filled, sunny environment on a tropical island where they land, all the boys are determined to have fun. They soon see the need for governance and choose the “fair-haired” Ralph as their leader.

Ralph, like the others, at first sees the absence of adults as an opportunity to have fun, but he soon feels burdened with the weight of a leader’s responsibilities. He symbolically holds a conch shell, which assembles the boys and stands as a symbol of authority. Piggy, a weak-sighted, overweight, asthmatic, cowardly boy, is the group’s source of rational thought and knowledge. He supports the ritual of leadership by finding and identifying the conch as a symbol of leadership.

Ralph’s authority is challenged by Jack, the former leader of the choirboys. Jack, with his red hair and wild blue eyes, eventually extends his power as leader of the hunters to force all the boys into his group. Roger distinguishes himself from the beginning as a person who enjoys hurting others. He deliberately discharges the rock that kills Piggy.

Fear disturbs this boyhood paradise. First articulated by one of the smallest boys, who sees ropes turning into beasts in the night, fear spreads to the older boys, who interpret the corpse of a downed aircraft pilot as a phantom beast. They offer a sacrifice of a pig’s head to appease it. Simon, a quiet, meditative boy, recognizes that the “beast” the boys fear actually is located within the boys themselves. When he crawls out of the jungle to tell the chanting boys of his insight, they attack and kill him.

Rivalry between Ralph and Jack precipitates a breakdown of the decision to build shelters, maintain hygienic conditions, hunt for meat, and maintain a signal fire to effect their rescue. Before long, the faction of hunters has degenerated into paint-wearing, ritual-chanting warriors who first pursue pigs but finally hunt Ralph. In their pursuit, they throw all self-preserving caution to the wind, setting the island on fire and destroying the fruit-bearing trees.

Complete self-destruction is prevented by the arrival of a rescue ship. An officer from the ship is astonished by and disappointed with the apparent misconduct of the dirty young savages who face him.

Places Discussed

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Pacific island

Pacific island. Unnamed tropical island on which the novel is mainly set. The island serves as a metaphor for society in general, providing the setting for the boys’ trials and adventures. Through the use of the only symbol of authority they have, a conch shell, they try to re-create British civilized society. The conch, like a whistle, yields an assembly of older boys and “littluns.” Throughout the novel, the group who identify themselves as choir boys, and are under the leadership of Jack, progressively stray from the civilized behavior of the assembly area and into irresponsible anarchy.

The Scar

The Scar. Meeting place where the boys, led by Ralph, hold assemblies in imitation of Great Britain’s Parliament. Created by the plane crash, free of tropical vegetation, and level and sandy, it is the site of three crude huts. It is also the site of the docking of the rescue cutter that comes ashore from the cruiser.

Mountain

Mountain. Site selected by Piggy and Ralph as the most obvious place to build a signal fire for smoke, the means of attracting rescuers. Irresponsibility by the littluns allows the fire to get out of control, taking the life of a littlun. Jack’s hunters cause the keepers of the fire to abandon it for the joy of hunting. The fire goes out; the possible rescue ship passes without seeing the smoke. The mountain is also the place of “the beast” that Simon sees.

Castle Rock

Castle Rock. Headquarters of Jack’s gang, this place is unlike the rest of the island. This piece of rock, barren of vegetation, is slightly set apart from the main part of the island. Easily defended, this rocky place is the site of the violent death first of Simon, then of Piggy, and the planned site of Ralph’s violent death. However, Ralph escapes to the thick tropical vegetation of the main island.

Altar of the “lord of the flies.”

Altar of the “lord of the flies.” Sacrificial site, located in the tropical forest, at which a slaughtered sow’s head stuck on a sharp stick drips with blood and is covered with flies. This is also the site of Simon’s hallucination or conversation with the beast, wherein he recognizes that this beast is the evil within all humanity, not an external force or form. Instead of creating fear in Simon, as it does in the hunters, this beast seems able to communicate with Simon.

Tropical jungle

Tropical jungle. Simon’s place, where he goes to observe nature and contemplate the evil and violence within each of the boys. This is also the place where Ralph finds sanctuary when the hunters set the island on fire, hoping to smoke him out and use his severed head in sacrificial ritual.

Latrine

Latrine. Communal toilet area, away from fresh water and huts, that allows a vestige of British civilization until it is abandoned by the boys in favor of irresponsible freedom.

Cruiser

Cruiser. British warship that represents safety, comfort, rescue, and civilized society, even though it may be headed into unsafe water in wartime conditions. To the boys, however, it is salvation.

Historical Context

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Golding and World War II
"When I was young, before the war, I did have some airy-fairy views about man. . . . But I went through the war and that changed me. The war taught me different and a lot of others like me," Golding told Douglas A. Davis in the New Republic. Golding was referring to his experiences as captain of a British rocket-launching craft in the North Atlantic, where he was present at the sinking of the Bismarck, crown ship of the German navy, and participated in the D-Day invasion of German-occupied France. He was also directly affected by the devastation of England by the German air force, which severely damaged the nation's infrastructure and marked the beginning of a serious decline in the British economy. Wartime rationing continued well into the postwar period. Items like meat, bread, sugar, gasoline, and tobacco were all in short supply and considered luxuries. To turn their country around, the government experimented with nationalization of key industries like coal, electric power, and gas companies as well as the transportation industry. Socialized medicine and government-sponsored insurance were also introduced. Such changes, and the difficult conditions that produced them, suggest the climate of the postwar years in which Golding wrote Lord of the Flies.

The Geography of a Tropical Island
Although highly romanticized in both Western fiction and nonfiction, life on a typical tropical island is not all that easy. The weather is usually very hot and humid, and there is no breeze once one enters the jungle. While fish abound in the surrounding waters and the scent of tropical flowers wafts through the air, one must still watch out for sharks, and one cannot live on a diet of fruit and flowers. James Fahey, a naval seaman who served in the Pacific islands during the war, concluded: "We do not care too much for this place, the climate takes the life right out of you."

The Political Climate of the 1950s
The rise of the Cold War between the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) and the western powers after the end of World War II signaled a new phase in world geopolitics. Actual wars during the 1950s were confined to relatively small-scale conflicts, as in Korea (involving the United States) and Vietnam (involving the French). The nonviolent yet still threatening sabre-rattling between the USSR and the United States, however, reached a peak with the first successful hydrogen bomb test by the United States on November 1, 1952, at Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific. A second device, hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped over Japan, was successfully detonated on March 1, 1954, at Bikini Atoll. In the United States, public fallout shelters were designated for large cities, allegedly to protect citizens from the rain of radioactive materials produced by such nuclear explosions. Schoolchildren practiced taking cover under their desks during regular air raid drills. Also in 1954, Canada and the United States agreed to build a "DEW" line (Distant Early Warning Line) of radar stations across the Arctic to warn of approaching aircraft or missiles over the Arctic. In short, the atmosphere of the first half of the 1950s was one of suspicion, distrust, and threats among the big powers. An atomic war on the scale that Lord of Flies suggested did not seem out of the realm of possibility during the early 1950s.

Setting

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The action of Lord of the Flies takes place during World War II on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Golding deliberately borrows the setting from Coral Island (1858) in order to contrast his theme with that of Robert Michael Ballantyne's Utopian novel. In Lord of the Flies, the marooned schoolboys have survived a plane crash caused by warfare; they are innocent victims of adult violence. The island at first seems to offer them sufficient food, water, shelter, and even the possibility of eventual rescue. The boys build a signal fire on the island's highest spot, hoping to attract the attention of any vessels or aircraft that might venture into the vicinity. But as the novel progresses, the island takes on a malevolent quality. An evil force seems to reside within it, threatening the boys' lives.

Literary Techniques

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Golding's primary purpose is to show that an idealistic view of man is unrealistic and incomplete; to see man whole, one must acknowledge his propensity for cruelty. Therefore, Golding creates a fictional island where all physical needs are met and battle for life's essentials is unnecessary. Then he portrays a group of schoolboys as they shed the vestiges of civilized culture. Without the veneer, the boys do not appear innocent primitives but bloodthirsty savages. Their condition affords a microcosmic view of the "civilized" adult world: they are dropped on the island out of a worldwide holocaust and are "rescued" from their savage, uncivilized manhunt by adults carrying on an equally savage, although "civilized" manhunt with modern military discipline and machinery.

Golding makes this connection between the savage, uncivilized boys and the savage, civilized adult rescuers clear by using a reversal ending, one where the perspective changes dramatically and the reader sees characters and events in a different way. Until the last four pages of the novel, the reader sees the boys as they see themselves; at the end the perspective is that of the naval officer who rescues them. The reader has seen sadistic savages hunting down Ralph; the naval officer sees a group of dirty boys caught in the middle of their "fun and games." He, like most people, has no conception of the depravity they and he are capable of. But the reader sees what he misses. This technique is characteristic of many of Golding's novels.

Another technique that Golding uses to reinforce the theme of the dualistic nature of humans is humor, in the broadest sense of actions and words used to convey amusement and happiness as well as actions and words which are funny. Things initially humorous or good-humored become tainted as the island paradise becomes a hell and good boys become little savages. For example, the game of rock rolling becomes a way to kill, and a grin changes from an expression of delight at being in a place without grownups to the terrible leer of a sow's head impaled on an stick.

Literary Qualities

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Critics often refer to Golding's novels as religious myths or parables, stories written to illustrate a moral point. Lord of the Flies symbolically relates Golding's idea of what happens when human beings refuse to deal with the destructive forces in their own nature. Golding defines the characters just enough to explain their various responses to the threat of the "Lord of the Flies." Within this group are fairly typical representatives of an English school of the time; that they have no personal characteristics beyond the ordinary serves to emphasize Golding's point that the evil infecting the boys could manifest itself in any normal human being. Yet the novel is not merely a moral fable but a gripping adventure story. Golding skillfully leads the reader through the steps of the developing situation, from the ominous fear of the "littlun" who dreams of "The Beast," to the formation of a savage tribe headed by Jack, to the hunt to find and kill Ralph. Although the transformation of the innocent schoolboys is shocking, it develops so gradually that the situation is believable.

Particularly effective is the eerie and threatening manner in which the evil spirit of the "Lord of the Flies" conies to life. By the time Simon meets "The Beast" for himself, the reader is thoroughly convinced that it is real and more horrifying than any of the boys has imagined. The crucial scene in which the killing of a sow unleashes the savage force within the schoolboy tribe is also persuasive. Golding keeps the language simple and direct, and the dialogue accurately reflects the language of schoolboys at that time.

Some readers might think the novel ends rather abruptly with the arrival of the naval officer who rescues the boys. His response to the evidence of two murders and a group of schoolchildren turned into violent savages seems too calm. Perhaps Golding wishes to create a sense of irony through this depiction of a warrior lecturing the schoolboys on their inability to behave like proper Englishmen.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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1. Does the absence of adult supervision account for the boys' behavior?

2. Would the group have behaved any differently if girls had been among them?

3. Why does the group choose Ralph as their leader? Is he a good choice? Why do they end up following Jack?

4. Why do the boys seem less eager to build a fire as time passes?

5. Why do the boys pick on Piggy? Has their behavior toward him changed since they arrived on the island?

6. Discuss the circumstances that led Ralph and Jack to battle for power.

7. Jack becomes a tyrant who encourages his followers to express their most evil desires. Why do the highly proper English schoolboys abandon their civilized heritage for uncontrolled rage?

Compare and Contrast

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  • 1950s: Economically, Great Britain was devastated by World War II. Homes, factories, railroads, docks, and other facilities had been destroyed by the German air force. Rationing of bread, meat, sugar, and gasoline continued well into the postwar period. Formerly a creditor, or lending nation, Great Britain for the first time in its history became a debtor nation.

    Today: Great Britain has regained economic stability, though not the economic power it had enjoyed before World War II. The discovery of oil in the North Sea and membership in the European Union (despite occasional disagreements) have enhanced Great Britain's economic strength.

  • 1950s: Politically, Great Britain was ruled in the immediate post-World War II period by the Labor Party, under which basic industries like coal, electric power, gas, and transportation were nationalized, social security was expanded, and universal health care was made available. With the coming of the Cold War Great Britain sided with its World War II ally the United States against Russian expansionism, although a strong strain of antinuclear activism arose, centered around the placement of American nuclear missiles on British bases.

    Today: Great Britain remains politically strong, though a separatist movement in Northern Ireland continues to cause unrest. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, Great Britain has been able to focus its energies more on domestic problems and regional cooperation.

  • 1950s: Biologically oriented psychologists like Arnold Gesell believe that a child's intellectual development is only marginally affected by environment, while other scientists argue that it plays a dominant role.

    Today: Scientific studies using brain scans have shown physical differences between the brains of healthy children and abused children, suggesting experiences can actually change the circuity of the brain.

Literary Precedents

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Golding's characteristic use of literary precedents is to parody them by turning them on their heads. Lord of the Flies seems at first to be a boys' adventure story in the manner of R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island (1858), or a survival story like Robinson Crusoe (Defoe; 1719) and The Swiss Family Robinson (Wyss; 1812). But instead of successfully civilizing their island environment, the boys become savages. This use of precedents enables Golding to undercut romantic notions of man's innate goodness and reiterate his major theme — the depravity man is capable of but which he refuses to acknowledge.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Quotations from Lord of the Flies were taken from the following translation:
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954.

Some information contained in the Overview section was taken from E. L. Epstein’s biographical and critical notes that follow the above edition of the novel.

Baker, James R. "The Decline of Lord of the Flies." In South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 69, Autumn, 1970, pp. 446-60.

Davis, Douglas A. "A Conversation with Golding." In New Republic, May 4, 1963, pp. 28-30.

Dick, Bernard F. William Golding, revised edition. Twayne, 1987.

Fahey, James J. Pacific War Diary, 1942-1945. Houghton Mifflin, 1963.

Green, Martin. "Distaste for the Contemporary." In Nation, Vol. 190, May 21, 1960, pp. 451-54.

Kermode, Frank. "The Novels of William Golding." In International Literary Annual, Vol. III, 1961, pp. 11-29. Also appears in shorter form in Baker & Ziegler (1964), pp. 203-6.

Reilly, Patrick. 'Lord of the Flies': Fathers and Sons, Twayne's Masterwork Studies, No. 106, 1992.

Rexroth, Kenneth. Atlantic Monthly, May, 1965.

Riley, Carolyn, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism: CLC 1. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1973.

Rosenfield, Claire. "'Men of Smaller Growth': A Psychological Analysis of William Golding's Lord of the Flies." In William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," A Casebook Edition, edited by James R. Baker and Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. Putnam, 1964, pp. 261-76. Also appears in Leonard and Eleanor Manheim, editors, Hidden Patterns: Studies in Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism, Macmillan, 1966.

Ryan, Bryan, ed. Major 20th Century Writers. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991, 2:E-K, 1206.

For Further Study
Baker, James R. and Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr., editors. William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," A Casebook Edition: Text, Notes, and Criticism. Putnam, 1964, esp. pp. IX-XXIV, 189-291. Includes the text of the novel, early critical articles pro and con, two interviews with Golding, and a checklist of other criticism.

Cox, C. B. Review of Lord of the Flies. In Critical Quarterly, Vol. 2, no. 2, Summer, 1960, pp. 112-17. A contemporary review calling Lord of the Flies one of the most important novels to be published in the 1950s.

Gindin, James. William Golding. St. Martin's, 1988. Gindin provides a good discussion of Golding's prose techniques and the way he suggests abstract ideas through his use of concrete detail.

Herndl, G. C. "Golding and Salinger: A Clear Choice." In Wiseman Review, No. 502, Winter, 1964-65, pp. 309-22. Herndl sees Golding coming out of a classical and Christian tradition that implicitly honors social institutions and refutes individualism.

Peter, John. "The Fables of William Golding." In Kenyon Review, Vol. 19, Autumn, 1957, pp. 577-92. A section of this essay appears in Baker & Ziegler, pp. 229-34. Peter finds this article "important and influential in attempting to define critical terms for an understanding of Golding's work." Bernard F. Dick notes that Golding himself especially liked this essay.

Spitz, David. "Power and Authority: An Interpretation of Golding's 'Lord of the Flies.'" In Antioch Review, Vol. 30, no. 1, Spring, 1970, pp. 21-33. A careful study of characterization in Golding's novel.

Stern, James. "English Schoolboys in the Jungle." In New York Times Review of Books, October 23, 1995, p. 38. Stern interprets the novel as social commentary.

Tiger, Virginia. William Golding: The Dark Fields of Discovery. Calder & Boyars, 1974. Tiger summarizes religious, political, psychological, and anthropological interpretations while arguing that the story's structure "portrays its thematic meaning."

Time, June 22, 1962, p. 64. An article tracing the growing popularity in America of Golding's novel.

Bibliography

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Baker, James, ed. Critical Essays on William Golding. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Twelve wide-ranging essays by critics and part of Baker’s interview with Golding. Includes Golding’s Nobel Prize address.

Dick, Bernard F. William Golding. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Contains a chronology of Golding’s literary career.

Friedman, Lawrence S. William Golding. New York: Continuum, 1993. Sets Lord of the Flies in the context of Golding’s entire body of work. The philosophical first chapter is especially useful in focusing on significant themes and concerns.

Gindin, James. William Golding. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. A biography and survey of Golding’s literary career. Includes an enlightening comparison of Lord of the Flies with R. M. Ballantyne’s nineteenth century novel, The Coral Island.

Reilly, Patrick. “Lord of the Flies”: Fathers and Sons. Boston: Twayne, 1992. Defends the novel from charges of unrelieved despair.

Media Adaptations

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  • Lord of the Flies enjoys the unusual status of being one of the few serious contemporary novels to have been made into a movie twice. The first, directed by Peter Brook in 1963 with an all-English cast, has been described as "compelling," but was only moderately successful at the box office. Available from Home Vision Cinema and Fusion Video.
  • The remake in 1990 featured an American cast and was directed by Harry Hook. While well-photographed and "visceral," with R-rated content, it is generally regarded as inferior to Brooks's version. Available from Columbia Tristar Home Video, The Video Catalog, and New Line Home Video.
  • An 89-minute sound recording on cassette (JRH 109), book, and study guide, produced in 1984 and featuring excerpts from the novel, are available from the Listening Library, Old Greenwich, CT.

For Further Reference

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Babb, Howard S. The Novels of William Golding. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1970. A study tracing the themes in Golding's novels, this is a resource for teachers who wish to introduce students to other books by Golding.

Biles, Jack I. Talk: Conversations with William Golding. New York: Harcourt, 1971. An interview with the author suitable for the mature student reader or the teacher preparing to introduce the author's work.

Johnson, Arnold. Of Earth and Darkness: The Novels of William Golding. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980. A recent study, geared toward the adult reader, which focuses on the moral dimensions of Golding's work.

Background

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Background
The critical notes by E.L. Epstein, following the text in the edition of the book used for this study guide, contain an informative interpretation of the story’s central image, integral to understanding the allegorical implications of the novel:

The central symbol itself, the “lord of the flies” [physically represented in the novel by the pig’s head Jack’s tribe mounts on a sharpened stick, and abstractly represented by the boy’s gradual descent into anarchy and violence] . . . is a translation of the Hebrew Ba’alzevuv (Beelzebub in Greek). It has been suggested that it was a mistranslation of a mistransliterated word which gave us the pungent and suggestive name for the Devil, a devil whose name suggests that he is devoted to decay, destruction, demoralization, hysteria, and panic and who therefore fits very well in Golding’s theme.

In a historical sense, Lord of the Flies has been present in literature, literally and figuratively, since Loki, the god of mischief in Norse mythology, and in works as diverse as Dante’s “Inferno” and the modern works of Stephen King and other contemporary horror authors. Chaos and destruction have even reigned supreme at times in the modern world. Consider Adolph Hitler and the nightmare reign of the Third Reich, forces that Golding himself fought against, as a prime example of this. But since the embodiment of evil in literature has largely been reduced to an amusing conceit, Golding had to approach his presentation of Beelzebub on a more figurative level. Having witnessed himself the evil that man is capable of, he took a more symbolic approach to presenting what author Anthony Burgess called, “[The] most stinking and depraved of all the devils.” In Lord of the Flies:

The Devil is not presented in any traditional religious sense; Golding’s Beelzebub is the modern equivalent, the anarchic, amoral, driving force that Freudians call the Id, whose only function seems to be to insure the survival of the host in which it is embedded or embodied, which function it performs with tremendous and single-minded tenacity.

On speaking of the same central image in the novel, Stephen Medcalf writes, “The book dares to name the beast, the evil in man’s heart, as the beast.” Shaped by brute experience, and his dashed conceptions of the good world, Golding’s Lord of the Flies is, therefore, a study of man’s willing (and inevitable) descent into the heart of darkness, fueled by his own fear, and guided by his own inwardly twisted nature.

Considering Golding’s own experiences with chaos, fear, death, and destruction on a massive scale during World War II, and his own altered moral philosophy and loss of innocence, it is no surprise that he has chosen to examine their origins in Lord of the Flies.

Golding claims to have written Lord of the Flies as a response to the novel Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean, by R.M. Ballantyne. According to Major 20th Century Writers:

These two books share the same basic plot line and even some of the same character names (two of the lead characters are named Ralph and Jack in both books). The similarity, however, ends there. Ballantyne’s story, about a trio of boys stranded on an otherwise uninhabited island, shows how, by pluck and resourcefulness, the young castaways survive with their morals strengthened and their wits sharpened. Lord of the Flies, on the other hand, is “an allegory on human society today, the novel’s primary implication being that what we have come to call civilization is, at best, not more than skin-deep,” as James Stern explains in a New York Times Book Review article.

Golding’s view of civilization and the pure innocence of youth, however, was quite different from Ballantyne’s. Having witnessed the grand scale of death and destruction in World War II, Golding described the theme of his own highly allegorical novel Lord of the Flies as “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” He no longer agreed with Ballantyne’s hypothesis that the proper English civilized way of life was good and Christian, and that evil was its antithesis: un-Christian and savage. According to author Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), Golding’s characters, unlike Ballantyne’s, are inherently evil. Without the restraints of civilization they, “will choose chaos rather than order. The good intentions of the few are overborne by the innate evil of the many. Instead of a boy-scout camp, we get young savages—painted, naked, gorging on pigflesh, given to torture, murder, human sacrifice to false gods.”

 

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Critical Essays