Lord of the Flies is a very complex allegorical novel that operates on several levels. This is probably one of the reasons for its great popularity and appeal to all tastes and age-groups. The novel presents a very gripping adventure story for boys which could be enjoyed by every reader while the critic and university student should study it with the higher allegorical significances in mind.
The novel we will study in this unit presents a stranger than life story but because of the technique adopted by the author, it does not depart from the realm of realism.
William Golding was born in Cornwall England in 1911 and was educated in Oxford where he took a degree in English Literature. He joined the Navy and fought in World War II. His experience in the war must have inspired his novel The Lord of the Flies. After the war, he returned to the classroom as a teacher and also devoted his time to writing. His first novel The Lord of the Flies was published in 1954 and it was overwhelmingly successful. His other novels include The Inheritors (1955), Pincher Martin (1956) Free Fall (1959), The Spire (1964), and The Paper Men (1984). Golding retired from teaching after he made money from his novels and devoted his entire time to writing. In addition to novels, he wrote and published short stories, plays and poems. His novel, The Lord of the Flies has been translated into many languages all over the world and has been adapted for a motion picture.
The novel, Lord of the Flies presents the story of a group of English School boys who were stranded on Coral Island when their aircraft crashed on the Island as they were being evacuated from their country which was at war with another country. The pilot and other members of the crew perished in the crash leaving the children to themselves. They decide to organise themselves and manage their affairs as adults and elected Ralph to be their leader so that coordination would be easier. As soon as they settle down, quarrels and disagreements begin to tear them apart and they split into two groups headed by Jack and Ralph respectively.
It becomes a case of survival of the fittest. Jack’s group begins to hunt while Ralph’s group loves to build huts and maintain a bonfire to keep dangerous wild animals at bay. The rivalry between the two groups grows and deepens but each group tries to keep to itself but Jack is bent on causing havoc because he wants to be the sole leader. Jack is largely responsible for the reign of terror on the Island. Most of the boys degenerate to the level of primitive savages bent on shedding human blood. At a point, Jack sends some hunters to capture Ralph they capture him and are about to kill him, when some naval officers rescued them.
Lord of the Flies is therefore a story of the gradual brutalisation of a group of English school-boys marooned on an uninhabited island. It would have been easier for the author to present the children playing and enjoying themselves instead of the present situation where they degenerate into savages demonstrating the vices expected of adults. Golding achieves his aim through a most skilful manipulation of the plot and structure, showing each stage of the brutalisation process proceeding quite logically and inevitably from the preceding leading to
the climax, in culmination of a cumulative process as the boys actually commit murder thus sustaining the element of realism in the novel.
In this novel, Golding captures the picture of human decadence, the degeneration of the human mind and argues that human beings are basically evil in nature. He claims that this can manifest anytime, so human beings are responsible for the perpetration of crime and negative tendencies in the society. The major theme of the novel therefore, is evil which is pervasive in the novel. The author contends that evil is responsible for all the savage and destructive acts committed by the boys.
However the degree of the manifestation of evil varies among the boys just like in real life situations. It is evil that pushes Jack in his senseless desire to eliminate Ralph. It is evil that causes the brutal murder of Simon and Piggy. There is also the theme of fear. It is natural that the boys should be afraid when left alone in the uninhabited Island but it became an obsession as fear ruled their lives. The seed of fear sown in their minds cause them to behave irrationally, as they start to imagine things that do not really exist.
Simon’s death is caused by fear as he is mistakenly attacked and killed because they took him to be a monster which they refer to as the beast. Jack also instills this fear in them and takes undue advantage of them. Another theme is the theme of political struggle. The Island represents the society where political power is used either positively or negatively. In the end, the Island is set ablaze and destroyed reflecting the author’s views that evil should be destroyed.
This is set in Britain after the Second World War. Specifically, the actions take place on Coral Island which is very remote and uninhabited. The Island, a natural environment is expected to embody beauty but Golding suggests that even at this stage of boyish innocence and enjoyment of natural beauty there are sinister omens for the future. The expected beautiful glamour on the Island is stressed as the heat becomes oppressive; the days are hot and mysterious and the nights are dark and menacing and at a point, coral island glamour disappears altogether.
We see Jack’s gradual degeneration into savagery and the intensification of the antagonisms among the boys. Jack begins to behave exactly like a primitive hunter. The sea which used to be so beautiful and inviting becomes the source of mirages and illusions, turning one’s concept of reality into disarray. Golding seems to suggest that the element of sadism is present in the human being irrespective of the environment but is only kept in check by the precepts of civilisation.
Golding traces this breakdown of democratic forms ultimately to man’s capacity for evil and destruction bringing out the innate evil in man’s heart (Palmer 1996, 284). At the end of the novel Ralph weeps, not only for the death of the wise friend Piggy, but also for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart. Golding seems to endorse the traditional Christian view of man as a fallen creature involved in the consequences of original sin. Hence most of the world’s evils are traceable to this quality of baseness in man (Palmer 1996, 286). This message in the novel is conveyed by the author in a seemingly simple language.
The novel is a very interesting novel which is “…simple as well as complex…well structured, and artistically designed and executed” (Ezeigbo 1998, 48). He also uses language to delineate the characters showing their motives and attitudes as well as their social classes. The events in the novel is presented in such a way that it holds the reader’s attention from the beginning to the end as the author exploits the elements of suspense and surprise to present the story in a chronological causal sequence.
The story is presented through the third person narrative technique. This helps the author to explore the inner workings of his characters’ minds. The author also makes some authorial comments from time to time in the novel. He also makes use of a great deal of imageries and symbols which not only enhance the aesthetics of the novel but also, helps to give a deeper insight into the novel and give a wider meaning to its message.
Ralph: Ralph is the oldest among the boys marooned on the Island. He is described as being handsome, attractive, kind and responsible. He is a natural leader as evidenced in the way he organises and helps to build shelter and fire as they wait and hope to be rescued. He is very popular before his overthrow by Jack. He is humane and sensitive but is easily discouraged. He takes sound advice from his close friends, Simon and Piggy and when these two were destroyed he became almost helpless. He however shares in the evil propensity of the boys by participating in the killing of Simon. This notwithstanding, he remains steadfast and responsible throughout the novel and at the end of the story, he matures morally.
Jack: Jack Merridew is a thin, lanky and an ugly boy who lacks leadership quality but uses brutal force, threat and violence to take over leadership from Ralph. Initially, he was the leader of the choir and later the leader of the hunters. He uses the latter position to unleash terror, violence and destruction on the Island. He is “a symbol of military dictatorship, despotism and anarchy” (Ezeigbo 1998, 43). He carries a knife always and this depicts him as bloodthirsty and a symbol of destruction. He is however, brave, courageous and resourceful.
Piggy: He is Ralph’s friend. He is an orphan, baldheaded, fat, asthmatic, and can only see with the aid of his eye-glasses but is the most brilliant of all the boys. He offers sound advice and useful suggestions to the boys. His health challenges inhibit him in many ways but he is mature, wise, intelligent, considerate and humane. He is also constructive and thoughtful so reminds the boys consistently and persistently of the need for their rescue. He is hated by Jack who masterminded his brutal murder. Piggy’s death indicates the end of commonsense and intellect. With his death the boys plunge further down into violence, destruction, and degenerate to a situation where savagery and terror reign supreme.
Simon: Simon is thin, small with bright eyes and coarse hair. He is specially endowed spiritually and detaches himself for some meditation sessions in a quiet place. He is kind caring and encourages Ralph in critical moments. He helps in building shelter and fire. Although he is physically weak, he is courageous and a morale booster to the rest and dies that others may live, so symbolises a messiah and a martyr.
Roger: Roger is Jack’s close ally and a symbol of evil. The evil in him manifests gradually in stages. He started from throwing stones at others and missing the next stage, he throws rocks, boulders and spears accurately at his targets. He is vicious, merciless and cruel though appears quiet and calm. He sharpens an object at both ends to kill Ralph. He tortures Sam and Eric and crushed Piggy with the boiler he rolled down.
Samand Eric: Sam and Eric are identical twins, fondly called Samneric and are often seen together. They are well-behaved boys, loyal, thoughtful, kind, industrious and humane. They participate in building the shelter and fire thereby contributing to the well-being of the group. They advised Ralph to run for his life when Jack and his cohorts were after him. They were abducted by the savages and tortured to reveal Ralph’s hideout. They are presented in the novel as individuals who though are just, are not able to withstand pressure against their better judgment.
Naval Officer: He comes to rescue the boys and save them especially Ralph who is about to be killed by Jack and his group. Ironically, he is trained to kill and even armed to the teeth with revolver and sub-machine-gun, yet reprimands the boys against brutal force which he represents.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies has been one of the most successful novels of modern times. A best seller in its day, it has been made into an equally successful award-winning film and is now prescribed by Universities and school examination boards wherever English Literature is studied. It has been generally recognised that the reasons for this success are its powerful and exciting narrative style, its apparent clarity of meaning and its presentation of events in superbly surreal scenes. In the novel, Golding suggests, however, that even at this early stage of boyish innocence and enjoyment of natural beauty there are sinister omens for the future.
Lord of the Flies has been described as a very conventional novel which tells a good story very well with a clear outline. Its plot and structure are not very simple but its presentation of an island actually peopled by boys comes much nearer realism than the ‘other-worldly’ atmospheres of the other novels. Lord of the Flies reveals the two paradoxical aspects of Golding the novelist: on the one hand, there is the conservative concern to tell a story and present experience in such a way that it reveals meanings and truths. This puts Golding in the mainstream of the tradition of the English novel as a serious moral artist.