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Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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What themes in Lord of the Flies connect to Finland?

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Wiliam Golding's 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, is set during World War II, and depicts the trials and tribulations of a group of adolescent boys who are the sole survivors of a plane crash that finds them in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The boys experience bouts of fear, rage, and jealousy while struggling (and ultimately failing) to form a community. At first glance, the novel is a very British one, insofar as the writer is British, the main characters are British, and the adult soldiers who rescue the desperate and ashamed boys at the novel's end are British. For this reason, a comparison of the novel with the country of Finland is not commonly invoked. Nevertheless, the novel addresses the themes of isolation, the descent from civilization to savagery, and the struggle for power, and a brief examination of Finland its history will illuminate these themes of the novel.

First, though Finland is commonly referred to as part of Scandinavia, it is in fact a Nordic country. The language of Finnish is something of a language isolate (in fact a Uralic language), distinct from the neighboring Scandinavian language family that includes Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. In this way, Finland is representative of "the other" that is a common trope in postcolonial literature. In its capacity as a landscape of "the other," Finland is a locus for power struggles of colonial powers, just as the Pacific island gave rise to a power struggle among the boys in Golding's novel (primarily between Jack and Ralph).

Finland's history demonstrates this occasional subjection to other powers. Finland was once a part of Sweden, then was conquered by Russia in 1809 (under Alexander I). This period under Russian rule was demoralizing for the Finnish people. After over a century of Russian rule, Finland declared independence during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Still, Finland became a pawn in the power struggle between the USSR and Nazi Germany and was forced to cede territory to the USSR.

Finland has since joined the European Union, and has had a female president. It might be argued that Finland has recovered from a period of savagery to achieve state of modern civility. It might also be argued (though perhaps a bit reductively) that Finland is akin to Piggy's character in Lord of the Flies, as he is marginalized by Ralph and Jack's big-man personae (i.e. Germany and Russia). Piggy's glasses are an important means of creating fire in the novel, and thus, the two bigger powers fight over this possession (just as Russia fought for Finland's territory).

In any case, Finland is a unique country of characteristically stoical and stalwart people who are deserving of more nuanced understanding than that bearing the mark of Scandinavian stereotype.

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There are several ways to approach making thematic connections between Finland and the fictional world depicted in The Lord of the Flies. William Golding’s novel is set on an uninhabited island at the end of World War II. One approach would be to explore Finland’s involvement in the war or related activities around that time. Because Finland contains almost 180,000 islands (although many of them are in lakes), it is possible to imagine a plane crashing onto one of them and going undetected for several days. Another approach could compare British and Finnish society, especially the educational systems, and to imagine placing Finnish children in the hypothetical situation that Golding presents.

Finland has the second-most islands of every country in the world, after Sweden. Of the almost 180,000 islands, only 455 are permanently inhabited. As Finland has no seacoast, the islands between national borders are in the Gulf of Bothnia, bordering Sweden, and the Gulf of Finland, bordering Russia. Because the country is so far north, if a plane crashed there in the summer, survival would be possible; but in the winter, it would be unlikely. On a Finnish island, therefore, the quest for food might be more urgent than in the tropics, and Jack’s faction would likely dominate.

Wedged between Germany and the Soviet Union, who were enemies, and bordering the neutral Sweden, Finland was relatively powerless during World War II. A former colony of Russia, Finland became independent from the Soviet Union shortly after its formation in 1917. During World War II, the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Despite Finnish repulsion of the Soviets in the famous Winter War, the Soviets continued to occupy territory within Finland’s current borders. In response to German aggression, Finland did not sign a formal agreement with Germany, but the government allowed passage of German troops for more than two years. Following numerous Soviet defeats of German forces, the Finnish president resigned and the new government negotiated a treaty. It was not until 1947, however, that the last German forces left the country. In this regard, an analogy might compare Finland to one of the characters, such as Simon, who suffers in his placement between the large, powerful factions of Ralph and Jack.

In terms of education, today Finland is consistently ranked among the best, or even the best, in the world. The education system in many ways mirrors social organization, which de-emphasizes class distinctions. Up through World War II, Finland followed a system very similar to that of Germany, emphasizing traditional hierarchical methods, a fixed curriculum with few options, and a pattern of examination-based assessment and advancement. Substantive reforms from the 1940s to the 1970s made the curriculum more flexible and favored a child-centered approach. With the system in place in the 1940s, it seems unlikely that there would have been many substantive differences between Finland and Britain in terms of attitudes toward students. Differences between children within the same school would probably be similar in both countries, so that the likelihood of children’s behavior degenerating quickly would also be similar.

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