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Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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In Lord of the Flies, does the rescue ending change the novel's realism?

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During William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ralph and Piggy have witnessed the destruction of those vestiges of civilization that they had hoped would enable the stranded boys to function in a relatively orderly manner. One of the novel’s main instruments toward this end, the conch shell, ceases to represent authority and order as Jack and his group of budding militarists, the savages, increasingly defy the conch shell’s previous significance.

As the two factions, led respectively by Ralph and Jack, grow increasingly antagonistic, the decline of order and civilization seems irreversible, with the peaceable and wise Ralph seemingly doomed to death at the hands of his rivals. Ralph is literally hunted and is saved only by sudden appearance of a naval officer, who initially writes off the appearance of the savages who emerge behind Ralph as merely “fun and games.” When Ralph informs the officer that two of the boys have been killed, the officer begins to comprehend the situation into which he has entered. His comment upon discovering that civilization had dissolved and that the stranded children had devolved into a more barbaric form of humanity is interesting and telling:

"I should have thought," said the officer as he visualized the search before him, "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—I mean—"

"It was like that at first," said Ralph, "before things—"

He stopped.

"We were together then—"

The officer nodded helpfully.

"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island."

The Victorian-era refinement among the elitist class of British naval officers cannot counteract such a diminishment in the most basic rules of civility. A nation born to rule the world, after all, should comport itself better than this.

Why did Golding end his novel with the rescue of the boys and did this ending detract from the story’s realism? That’s entirely a matter of perspective. The central theme of Lord of the Flies is the tenuous nature of civilization, the fact that the introduction of adversity will readily bring order asunder. The naval officer’s comment and his expression of disappointment that these children should dare to allow themselves to socially degrade does not detract from the story’s realism. On the contrary, this scene on the beach is an appropriate denouement to the preceding narrative’s evolution.

A simple power outage in a major city can cause that city’s population to forget or ignore the basic norms that have governed society up to that point. The characters in Golding’s novel have experienced a far greater level of primitiveness, and the fact that Ralph’s faction has retained a sense of morality represents a victory of sorts. The judgmental attitude of the naval officer provides for a sense of irony while also capturing quite nicely the attitude of the British upper class regarding its expectations for those who were supposed to be raised to inherit the empire.

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The ending rescue scene is all-important for the author to make the final profound point that barbarism and violence are not only possible in times of war or in evil people, but that it is contained within each of us, if we give it free reign.  He sets the rescue during the most intense part of the novel, where Jack and his boys are hunting Ralph down, deliberately trying to kill him.  Before this, the murders of Simon and Piggy were either accidental, or rash actions gone bad.  But now, Jack and his clan have let their more animalistic, violent nature completely take over, and the hunt is on.  As the soldier runs into Ralph on the beach, his questions reflect most of society's attitude about children, that they are only capable of play.  He asks, "What have you been doing?  Having a war or something?"  His question is unintentionally glib; kids play war, cops and robbers, armies and soldiers all of the time, and his question is referring to that, and it is a gross understatement of the real war that was going on.  This emphasizes Golding's point that we are all capable of evil, even small children, if left without guidance, rules, civility, morals, and enforcement of all of them.

The ending is the most important part of the book, and doesn't make it seem less realistic; it intensifies the theme, makes the reader think even harder about what has occurred, and really hits home as the contrast between civility and barbarism are brought right up against each other to view.

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Why does William Golding end Lord of the Flies with the rescue of the boys? Does this change the realistic nature of the novel?

While the message/theme of William Golding's Lord of the Flies is certainly realistic, the actual events of the novel, in many cases, stretch credibility. For example, we know the boys were in a plane crash and that the plane sliced through the jungle, leaving a scar; despite the violence of this action, the boys (but none of the adults) manage to get out of the plane without any harm or after effects. Just think about the logistics of that for a moment and you will know that the reader has to have a willing suspension of disbelief in order to keep reading.

Jack, the most violent boy on the island (but certainly not the only violent one) just happens to have a knife, and none of the boys other than the choir and the twins acts like they know one another, yet they were all on the plane together. There are more examples of unrealistic elements, but you get the point--and the bigger point is that these are not the things that matter.

Golding has said that he wrote this novel in 

an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. 

To that end, what matters most to him in this novel is the degeneration of these proper and rule-abiding British school boys into murderous savages simply because he has removed all the restraints of civilization which would normally keep the worst of human nature in check. That's why he shows us Roger throwing stones at a little boy, reminding us that there is still at least a veneer of civilization on the island.

Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.

Just a few chapters later (perhaps mere days in island time), however, Roger is sharpening a stick at both ends so he can make Ralph a sacrifice to the beast. This is the kind of thing that matters to Golding more than perfect realism.

So, while it is just a little too convenient to have the ship come to rescue the boys at the critical moment for Ralph, the rescue is not really the point; the rescue is just another incident which causes us to reflect on the meaning Golding intended. In this case, the question we must ask ourselves is what kind of world these little "savages" will be returning to? This is a final reminder of the war being conducted around the world, and we are in even greater despair when we realize these boys are going from one war to another, from one kind of savagery to another. The tendency of human nature to deteriorate into savagery is demonstrable everywhere, even in a rescue.

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Does the fact that William Golding ended Lord of the Flies with the boys being rescued change the realistic nature of the novel?

In one sense, William Golding's Lord of the Flies is anything but realistic. A plane crashes on a deserted island, everyone but the adults survive untouched, most of the children (except the choir) spend the night of the crash in different places (as evidenced by the fact that they all come streaming out from different places in the morning), and one of the boys (Jack) has a large knife with him. All of these details (and probably more) strain the bounds of credulity to some extent; however, readers (like movie-goers) are quickly ready to suspend their disbelief if the story is intriguing enough--and this one is.

In calling this a realistic novel, you undoubtedly mean the fact that these boys turn into savages when left unchecked by the restraints of laws or authority. We watch the transformation with horror and dismay, knowing that if the ship does not arrive when it does, all of the boys would have died. We also know that his is probably an accurate portrayal of the places our human nature takes us when we are not governed by any external forces. 

The rescue is as realistic as anything else in the novel. The rescue serves several purposes, and one is the injection of hope. These boys, especially the older ones, will never be the same; yet they are alive and have a chance to become productive--rather than destructive--members of society.

Another purpose for the rescue in this very symbolic novel is to show that this war on the island ends, just as the actual war raging in the rest of the world ends. This events that happen on this island are a microcosm (small picture) of what is happening in the world around the island--World War II. The naval commander, though he is obviously quite unaware of what has actually happened on the island, says this:

“We saw your smoke. What have you been doing? Having a war or something?”

He intuitively recognizes what is happening here, though he does not know the extent of their "war." 

Perhaps it is too neat and tidy in some respects to have the boys rescued "just in the nick of time," but if the story of these boys is an accurate reflection of what is happening in the "adult" world, there must be a rescue. If Golding had gone one step further and implied that the boys would all go on to live amazing, scar-free lives after their experience, he would have gone too far. Instead he is realistic and offers the possibility of hope for recovery and restoration after devastation and destruction.

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