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!”



“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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