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Friday, 30 January 2015

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a 1950s book written by William Golding that sees a plane full of British schoolboys crash land on an unsettled mostly tropical island. The British government has its hands full with a nuclear war so the boys could be there for the long haul. The question, though, is will the even survive the first day? That's the plot line and now the rest will contain spoilers.

Do I like Lord of the Flies? Yes, without hesitation I do. I liked it when I read it for fun and didn't really worry about the excess of symbolism. I liked it when we studied it in year twelve English. I really liked getting an excellence for my essay on it.

Important themes

The Darkness of Man's Heart is the big one. I mean, it's actually a quote from the book. Basically we're all bad and it's society that keeps us contained. Also important are the various ideas on the nature and role of individual and society. But these are secondary and get revealed in establishment of this first theme (for reference, Golding tends to have the individual in competition with society for a reason). Remember the book is a literary response to another book that had boys stranded on an island, but everything works out all right for that lot (i.e. no-one gets murdered a la Piggy or accidentally ritually sacrificed like Simon: how do you accidentally get ritually sacrificed? read the book).

Important Characters

Ralph

The boys' absolutely terrible leader. He's big, he's bold and Jack walks all over him. Lots of very heroic traits and undoubtedly a good person. He's just not the right kind of personality to deal with the situation at hand.

Jack

The leader of the paramilitary choir/hunters. A tragic figure in my eyes. It's pretty clear that his entire identity is built around school and his place in it (i.e. choir leader). Ralph recognises this and lets Jack maintain control of the choir. However, the perversion of the school order (he's not a prefect I believe was a complaint) is a bit much for Jack and he slowly becomes Hitler. A better leader but a worse person than Ralph.

Piggy

A lot of people forget that Piggy wanted to be leader too. Ironically, he was probably the only one who would have worked as a leader with Ralph and Jack as the muscle to keep him in power. But would Jack have been able to accept that order? However, he was never going to be leader. He lacked charisma and physical aptitude (he was asthmatic and bespectacled... although the latter is usually a minor physical hindrance) so he ended up as the "true wise friend" who gets killed by his opposite number. Piggy's glasses bring him importance but when they're being used, in some real sense, Piggy is pointless. Ultimately, perhaps not smart enough to function as the wise advisor but that was his role.

Simon

Like the Beast, Simon is, in my opinion, completely over-rated as a character. The problem with Simon is that if you don't think the Beast is actually all that important to the book, Simon's not so important either. At any rate, the rituals of the hunt kill Simon when he wanders into the circle (he was a little out of it), which means the fact that the Beast is a dead airman never gets revealed. Simon functions as the spiritual aspect of the boys and without him they're not going to realise that their enemy (the Beast) was internal. As I said above, Piggy probably wasn't quite clever enough: he, unlike Simon, was too interested in becoming part of the group. Simon was comfortable with being other and that was both his great strength and the cause of his demise.

Roger

Crucial character. He is as important to the theme as Jack and Ralph. He's the boy who's unable to throw rocks directly at a little'un and he's also the boy that kills Piggy with a great big rock. He's responsible for the conch's demise. He does the dirty work for Jack, terrorising Sam'n'eric. Jack may be the boy who starts leaving society behind but it is in Roger that we meet a native of Castle Rock. Ultimately much more important than Sam'n'eric who are, basically, just there to make up the numbers (and, indeed, that's how Golding uses them).

The Naval Officer

Let's be honest here, Lord of the Flies is a novel where the plot is an excuse to have symbols. Most of the characters are symbolic and most of the plot just exists to reveal symbols and/or help the symbols reveal the theme. This is why the un-named Officer is one of the most important characters. He turns up, has a few good lines and is pretty much there to show that it is only society that constrains the evil. Plot-wise I guess he does save Ralph literally and the boys metaphorically so there's that too.

Some of the Symbols

The Conch

Not quite the magic conch, but close to it. The symbol of democracy and all that. In some sense, the conch is the big mistake. The effectively project all of the old life onto it and when it shatters you know things have reached the point of no return. Oh, wait, Naval Officer.

The Beast

The boys know something is wrong so they create the Beast. Problem is that it's them that's causing the problem. Yadda yadda yadda. I was never particularly interested by the Beast/Simon/Lord of the Flies part of the book. And I think it's not a coincidence that you can shut all these aspects that get most of the attention away into a self-contained unit.

Fire

This is the ultimate expression of society. They need it to have any hope of escape. Even the individual hunters need it to sustain their hunting. It is the social need that society must provide. Right at the end, when Ralph is the main issue what is used to get rid of him? That's right, burn the island down! Still social, just evil now that society has been made evil by the intense focus on the individual.

Core Conflicts

Fire versus Meat

Society versus Individual. A symbolic conflict.

Spear versus Conch

Two competing bases for tribes.

Jack versus Ralph

But, of course.

Best Line

"I saw your fire." - The Naval Officer

That's the final vindication of Ralph. Everything that he stood for is, in four words, proved right and Jack proved wrong. He might have been an awful leader that helped as much as anyone to ruin a shaky chance, but he was right! Except, Ralph himself sometimes lost the point of the fire.

The line is my favourite for the simple reason that it's what finishes an essay on Lord of the Flies. The final symbol of society enters a plot, ends the war and does all that because of the thing their society had to provide: fire. The conclusions from such evidence are undeniably: society constrains evil, and everyone needs society, ultimately.

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