Book Review: Lord of the Flies

There is something inherent in dystopian allegory that calls out to us. We can’t really explain it; it’s almost like we take pleasure in the fact that it’s not as horrible as it could have been, that we don’t have a Big Brother – circa 1984 – looming over our backs or ‘Firemen’ burning, at Fahrenheit 451, all our books about such things. I myself am quite attached to the field, although I can’t say with any conviction why I do. They have simply always intrigued me, often enough to warrant a second or third read, with me marveling over how accurate and yet inaccurate these things seem. However, of all the pieces that I have read and loved, there has always been one that stood out, one that unnerved me to such an extent that I felt terrified even to just go back to reading it. Lord of the Flies, in all its glory, has been simultaneously the most intriguing and yet the least appealing book of them all.

What is so fascinating about this novel for me is not quite the fact that it brings forth imagery that is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time, as it would have been with most other fictional works. It’s not even the long-praised intricacy of the allegory that represents the nature of human beings in such a horrifically brilliant way, though it does it in such a way that no other novel that I have read as of yet can even dream to follow. No – it’s rather the irony of the moral roles that these children are written to play, of their positions – their representations – and their actions. And how this is, while not particularly put in light that often, as accurate as any other allegorical aspect of the novel, whether it had been intended or not.

The division of the boys, the symbolism, is widely acknowledged in any analysis of the book; Ralph is the initial leader, the one who strives for and represents order and civilization. Jack stands for the animal yet primal nature of human beings which ultimately heads down the spiral of barbarism. Of these two conflicting sides, it is clear that William Golding himself supports the civilized nature and instinct of Ralph as the better one – but it must be taken into note that it doesn’t mean that Ralph is good. Good, or moral purity, is rather represented better by Piggy, at first, and Simon, before his death. Piggy is better known as the symbol of intellect and reason, while Simon is more often taken to be the moral compass of the story. The story, with its heavy-laid symbolism within the characters and many more objects – the conch and Piggy’s glasses being examples – fills almost every page laden with meaning.

Thanks to that particular consideration of Golding’s, searching for humanitarian ironies in Lord of the Flies isn’t hard – they’re everywhere, hidden and exposed, intoned and flaunted between the lines of text. One may express, for example, the ridiculousness of the fact that the group of bloodthirsty killers – excluding ‘Samneric’ and the littl’uns – started out as a group of church choir boys. It is also ironic that they are the ones that are the most disciplined at the very beginning of the novel, with their controlled movements under Jack’s almost military reign, only to fall hardest to the streak of barbarism and bloodlust when the time comes. That it is not Ralph and Piggy’s orderly attempt at smoke signaling that brings forth rescue, but the arson that was committed to search out and kill Ralph is. Or the fact that the Naval Officer who eventually comes to rescue them make a quip about “I should have thought that a pack of British boys – you’re are British, aren’t you – would have been able to put up a better show than that – I mean –” when he himself is part of what is, essentially, the glorified and more technologically advanced version of the chaos happening in the island; the list goes on endlessly. But in particular, this reader would like to point out, as to not veer too much from the central theme, the moral hypocrisy of the protagonist, Ralph.

Ralph is the obvious leader, the one that everyone looks up to. He leads – or rather, tries and eventually fails to lead – the other big’uns into a semblance of order and civilization, and with the help of Piggy, keeps the littl’uns in control to at least some extent. However, the book itself is opened by the cruelty and egotistical nature of that very boy himself, the one that the writer is obviously aiming for us to sympathize to. He meets Piggy, and, despite the other boy’s protests to call him anything but, persists to call him the name ‘Piggy’ and does not cease to be cruel to him in that respect for the entirety of the novel.

Ralph begins the book by being intentionally cruel to Piggy, by calling him names and actively disrespecting nearly every personal matter that the latter boy calls to attention. He does not act nicely, and this, while not often called to attention, may be seen as the immaturity of the boy, even when he is the one that is supposed to be the responsible, leading, and eventually ‘good’ one. What’s worse is that this doesn’t just stay a singular conduct, but becomes an effort at herding; an effort to bring the group on the quest of torment. Take this exchange, only a score of pages in:

“You’re talking too much,” said Jack Merridew. “Shut up, Fatty.” Laughter arose.

“He’s not Fatty,” cried Ralph, “his real name is Piggy!”

“Piggy!”

“Piggy!”

“Oh, Piggy!”

A storm of laughter arose and even the tiniest child joined in. For the moment the boys were a closed circuit of sympathy with Piggy outside: he went very pink, bowed his head and cleaned his glasses again.

While this relationship may not have been intended as the way it has been read by this particular readership, it still struck an impression into me. Of course, it may be said that Ralph was also the only one to truly defend Piggy, protect him against Jack Merridew’s antics and the tribe. However, these defenses, at least outwardly, hardly went beyond the acceptance of Piggy’s usefulness, the ways in he could be useful with his intellect and glasses or the like. Ralph protects, but he does it almost out of a sense of necessity and not from some obvious sense of caring, at least not until the very end. This is evidenced by the fact that he is still one of the tormenters that ridicule Piggy on an almost chapter-ly basis, either as the perpetrator or the onlooker. This exchange in particular, soon following Simon’s death and very near the end of the novel, becomes a great representation of the concept that had me balking in horror:

“Smoke’s getting thinner.”

“We need more wood already, even when it’s wet.”

“My asthma-”

The response was mechanical. “Sucks to your ass-mar.”

Ralph is a very malleable character. He starts off as irresponsible and impressionable, maybe a little less so, as other boys on the island, only to grow into his sense of civilization and order to the point that it does actually become a necessary part for him. He has a somewhat dual nature, like when he succumbs to the thrill of the hunt or when he gets swept up in the insanity of the festival of the hunters. However, him, Piggy, and Samneric stand out because they retain conscience and feel guilt and horror by the fact, and restores their sense of order. But the fact that this one particular aspect does not change until the very end of the novel is a somewhat terrifying notion. Not only has the symbol of moral responsibility taken to bullying that has become so ingrained that it is, to quote, mechanical, this is the one negative aspect of Ralph’s that stays mostly unamended until the very last scene, in which he laments and weeps for ‘the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.’

Chilling as it is that this casual torment of the weak – or rather, the intellectual – by the morally responsible never stopped, it was also enlightening because it was such an accurate depiction of how things actually are. Science and intellect are often frowned upon by the general society, not always for the destruction they may potentially bring but for antagonism toward the unfamiliar. It is not just the bullies, the evil ones prone to hatred that display such antagonism; it’s Ralph, the shining beacon of civilization and order.

I know that, as is with the brothers that share the genre, this book is a simple, massive What if situation drawn by a particularly pessimistic painter of words. But the fact that the horror isn’t even situational – you don’t see any oppressive government trying to will them into submission and torture – and simply drawn from the human mind, in a way that is expressed, albeit subdued, daily and moment-ly around us, unnerves me more than any cruelty of a fictional future government might have. But it’s not just about whether the Lord of the Flies makes us into Jack, Ralph or Simon; it’s about whether that distinction makes a difference. And it chills me so that maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t. (Unless you become Simon, in which case, well, good for you.)

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Blood Drive (Part 1/3)

“Excuse me, but is there anyone here who wants to participate in the blood drive?”

The attention of the entire classroom swiveled towards the open front door, thirty-one pairs of eyes – some expectant, some curious and some wary – examining the somewhat unremarkable attendant who had entered following a polite series of knocks. Class had barely started, a pity in that it was likely to have been a very exciting event given that the teacher himself looked bored to death, but, students being students, most were relishing the welcome interruption to what had had the prospect of being an actual class session.

I did, however, take the liberty of being amused at how excited the teacher seemed to be at the interruption, at his zero hesitancy on closing the textbook. Some days, no one did feel like class. Today seemed like one of those days, and there was no reason to kick out a voluntary distraction.

“Well then, I’d apologize but since I’m abandoning the lesson for good cause, we’ll just hold off learning about things you already know until next week, shall we?” The teacher announced with a chuckle, rolling up his sleeves and heading out past the amused nurse. Many others stood up, each with their own observation of the situation – “I’m actually wondering if we’ll ever get any lessons done at this rate?” “If I didn’t live where it’s supposedly infested with malaria-” quite a lot of people snorted at that, having heard the same rant every time the blood drive happened, “-I’d have been able to get a free freaking cinema coupon!” “Do you think I’ll still have problems with blood pressure?”

I turned my eyes back toward the desk, a sudden buzz in my head. This was the first time I’ll be actually available for a blood donation at all, age and medication having interfered the last two occasions this had happened. But then again, I thought, I hadn’t really been medicated then – unless you count Tylenol as viable blood donation risks.

 

Truth be told, I’d been scared. I was never very fond of needles, more so than the average person; I had embarrassing childhood accounts of rolling on the hospital floor in resistance to prove it. But still, it really was a good cause, and I did know, albeit theoretically, that those needles couldn’t hurt any more than the injections that we didn’t really have much choice but to take. I tended to overreact, pinching my thigh to distract myself even with those injections, but I did know that it couldn’t actually hurt that bad… right?

I thought back to a friend of mine, one that I particularly looked upon. He was probably the one life who had the most hardships throughout my knowing of any acquaintance, and he had been a very vocal enthusiast of blood donation. He’d only recently contacted me to alert me of his twentieth donation, to which I’d responded with the appropriate awe. I pushed my reminiscence the tiniest bit more to recall that time when he’d given me the most heartwarming speech in terms of his wishing for my happiness, and that tipped it for me. I stood up as flippantly as possible, and ran downstairs to where the vehicles were parked.

Another nurse directed me to the cafeteria, where the paperwork had to be filled out. I sat down nervously next to my classmates, eyeing the blood-plasma yellow paper. My mind supplied that it was pretty ironic that the blood drive paperwork had the color of what was essentially the liquid part of blood, but I kept that to myself. It probably wasn’t even intended, anyway.

“First time?” a voice asked as I turned, startled. The nurse who’d called us out for the event was hovering next to me, having obviously sensed by hesitance. I looked around and realized that no one else was having problems with simple paperwork. Flushing slightly, I nodded. She smiled sympathetically, and pointed out the boxes I needed to fill, and the boxes I didn’t really have to, unless I wanted to. Purely out of spite, I filled out my address as the nurse observed it in obvious amusement, probably taking note of my rebel soul.

She shuffled me over to the makeshift receptionist’s desk, where a man in a suit (looking horribly uncomfortable, god, that suit must be absolutely suffocating-) stamped my papers and sent me off with a, “Go up and into the bus labeled with the number four, if you will.”

I complied and went inside, and immediately let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding until then. The familiar sight of my classmates greeted me, and the ease in which they were holding themselves convinced me that hey, maybe this isn’t going to be so bad after all.

TBC…


I’m…. trying my hand at narrative diaries? With a little bit of fiction touch to them?

So this is basically a snippet of my life, about a month back during midterms when I couldn’t just write it up.

Also a PSA that blood drives are important for hospitals because they often don’t have enough to give out transfusions to those who need it! Doesn’t even hurt that bad, really, and if you live in Korea you’ll get snacks and movie tickets and a little blood donor identification card that allows you a discount whenever you get a transfusion yourself, so yeah. Give life, give blood!