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.)


Essay: Thoughts on the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

If you grab a hold of anyone, literally anyone right now and ask them ‘What’s the biggest social media syndrome these days?’, it would probably be guaranteed that they will answer: “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”. With the self-explanatory title, the ‘viral’ quality of putting something that can be interpreted as fun – more like downright hilarious in some cases – on video and posting it on social networking sites, and ‘nominating’ the next three people to either donate or go through the same ordeal, this campaign has probably had the most success in the least amount of time, and the most recognition out of the most recent funding events.

A brief explanation about the event (although I’m sure everyone knows about this already but just to make it a well-organized post): ALS(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), more commonly referred to as Lou Gherig’s disease in certain countries. One of its most well-known victims is the scientist Stephen Hawking, and as we see in his case, reduced to a helpless state on a wheelchair that will only get you so far (even if it didn’t – much to the great relief of the scientific community – affect his ability to come up with genius scientific theories), ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that will most commonly lead to loss of control in the muscles, and eventually an early death (in most cases). The ice bucket challenge was coined from a previous awareness campaign that based itself on cancer research – once you are nominated by someone, you either donate 100$ to the ALS foundation or douse yourself in a bucket of ice water, nominating another three people in the process.

It is simple, it is (ironically enough) fun, and it is effective.

Of course, as all events are, it is not without its points to criticize. Many people have pointed out the fact that this is something that we’re supposed to approach with sincerity and not as a joke. The amount of water put to waste by all the people dumping buckets of it on their heads are also an unrecorded, but nonetheless severe consequence of the event. More practical concerns include the fact that the concentration of attention and donations to a single community out of the sheer millions of medical conditions – out of which ALS is far from the only one that needs more attention and more donations -, the sustainability of the donations, the effectiveness considering the usage of the money donated – there are many points to reconsider, and while it is obvious that the intentions of the campaign are admirable, the consequences and worries which it brings to mind are also not to be ignored.

Some concerns are easily discarded – for example, people are worried that the viral factor of the challenge, the ice bucket part, distracts people from fully understanding that this is a very severe problem and thus requires our very serious attentions. However – and it must be noted that this is merely a personal opinion – those people, I think, are taking things far too seriously. I’ve seen people on facebook practically condemning others for having laughed, for having not kept a straight face while they were doused in water. The Korean media – who loves to make things look as if they are better and more important than they are – even came up with the idea that the ice bucket factor was there so that participants would be able to ‘feel the pain of muscle contractions that the ALS patients go through daily’. Other than the fact that this is completely false (the ice bucket factor was coined from a cancer donation campaign that preceeded this one, not even to mention the fact that the pain of ALS is not something as light to be compared with merely a bucket of cold water), I think people are overlooking the fact that this is a campaign to raise awareness out of all things. Oftentimes, commercials or other advertising methods also take the form of short, well delievered humor, because it is effective. The same goes to this occasion as well. To think that the method itself is devoid of the humor factor seems ironic to me. And if it helped – well, it certainly reached the intended goal of awareness.

(This does bring upon the question of whether or not the ends can justify the means, however. However, in this particular case, especially since the means aren’t malintentional but more along the lines of ignorance when it does come into play, my belief is that when such good comes out of it, the possible errors made from ignorance can, indeed, be justified)

Of course, other problems are not so easily ignored. The most serious of which being the sustainability of the donations, and its repercussions to the ALS community. The Ice Bucket Challenge, long-lasting and influential as it was for a simple social media syndrome, is essentially that: a syndrome. In other words, it is, by definition, meant to be a one-time event. The ideal outcome of this flow of events would have been the people influenced by the proceedings of this event to maintain a continued interest, and support, to the ALS community. However, it goes without saying that the maintenance of this level of attention and support is borderline impossible; and that fact might end up doing the ALS community more harm than the good that it did. One side of analysis is a simple observation of market economics: if the value for something, expressed in the forms of investments and the like, rises astronomically in a short period of time, the cooling off period might bring the value of the said commodity down to a level even lower than it had been before. Applied into this situation, it could mean that the donations and the level of interest, having peaked so suddenly, might drop back down to the near-ignorance levels of before or even worse; to become practically forgotten.

Another problem is that research or any form of investment made by the ALS community would end up being unsustainable; rendering them unable to utilize the precious donations in the ways it would help the most. Medical research is a tricky and complicated procedure; you never know what exactly you’ll be able to achieve. Even with the astronomical amount of donations happening right now, it will inevitably run out at some point, which, when the time comes to it, will open up significant complications.

But, despite all such reservations and depressing possibilities (and let me add once again that these were just personal opinions and predictions on my part), I still do support the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised donations that would otherwise have not been used to any constructive purpose, it has helped the ALS community itself immensely already, and will continue to do so in the future if coupled with the correct judgment on how to handle the donations. But I also dearly hope that the attention doesn’t dwindle too drastically once everything cools off, and that more people would become aware of the situations of minority medical conditions. The value of human life and dignity aren’t something to be decided by how profitable it could be; I hope that the Ice Bucket Challenge has also helped in refuting that particular status quo, as it has done for me and several others.

(on a completely unrelated note; Stephen Hawking has survived with ALS longer than any medical professional would have predicted – does that mean his status of Great Scientist and thus the subsequent amount of support might have possibly helped his survival? Or is it completely irrelevant? Something to think about, I guess)

Movie Review: Maleficent

I had the luck of viewing maleficent at the sixth of June, when my sister had come over to visit. And while I know it’s a bit late and behind in the times, I thought this movie would deserve a proper review :)

I’ll admit, I wasn’t completely overjoyed when I heard that it was going to be a story on how Maleficent was taken wrongly despite being a very nice person. I’d expected a more… to be perfectly honest, a more villain-esque backstory, about how she became evil, not how she became to be perceived as evil. However, despite being initially put down by the setting, I was able to enjoy the movie a lot, thanks to the extremely smart portrayal of emotions, character development, and various themes, albeit with a bit hackneyed plot.

The plot was…. well, I won’t spoil and I’ll try to be unbiased, but it couldn’t be denied that it was indeed a little bit obvious as to where it was going. (My sister and I were literally grabbing each other in expectant panic when the climax of the movie arrived, both of us wishing that it wasn’t going where we thought it was going) Flipping the original notions of good and evil on the character development stage did bring about a pleasant twist in the viewer’s point of view, though. Because in the original Disney animation, we didn’t exactly get a story as to what exactly had happened. Strictly speaking, it would have been unnecessary in the original animation because that movie had been a direct adaptation of an age-old fairy tale, (albeit not so direct as to make it family-friendly) but the characterization in Maleficent, giving an explanation that goes against what we would normally expect, I thought this, again, told us that we shouldn’t take things at face value. If I were to read a bit more into it, I would say that this was also an attempt to break stereotypes.

We grow up – or at least grew up, since I don’t know how parenting has changed in the sixteen-and-a-half years since I was born – reading fairy tales, most of which are very similar to each other. Usually, there will be a castle, and royalty. Occasionally, there will be a brave commonfolk who manages to fight and achieve his way into the realms of the royals, who marries the princess and lives happily ever after. Now, the feminism in this movie is already brought into the spotlight, told as following up the notion of ‘I’m no damsel in distress, waiting for a prince to save me’.(But I’ll admit, feminism-wise, the part that I liked the most wasn’t the ‘I don’t need a man’ attitude, not because it’s not true but rather because I thought it was being portrayed in a rather, much like the plot, hackneyed and over-exaggerated way. That particular viewpoint was better represented in Frozen, in my humble, individual opinion.) However, this movie also rebukes the old notion that the princes and princesses are all good people. Of course, I do observe an increase in stories that start along the lines of: Once upon a time, there was a wicked king, whose kingdom lived in fear of his wrath….and so on. But the fact that the ‘Wicked witch’ is the protagonist, the ‘fairies’ actually incompetent fools, and the ‘royalty’ the antagonistic entity, we are brought to another shift in perspective, that just because it’s a fairy tale doesn’t mean that we have to try to fit ourselves into a certain frame of observance.

The reason why I’d wanted the villain-esque story to be represented was because of the fact that hatred and maliciousness were perfectly human emotions that everyone is capable of having, but at the same time one that is carelessly cast aside. I didn’t want this story to be about a misunderstanding – I wanted Maleficent to be driven by hatred, something that cannot be considered as a misinterpretation of ‘good intentions’. Because sometimes, we in the real world are motivated by hate. We make mistakes, we feel malicious, vicious emotions towards other people, and we don’t feel guilty about feeling that, about feeling ‘human’. I wanted Maleficent to be unapologetic, to be motivated by the vicious emotions that sometimes hit the best of our kind, no matter how nice someone is. And as for that category, I think this movie fulfilled exactly what I had wanted to see.

Book Review: V for Vendetta (about the genre)

A good friend of mine sent me a copy of this book a couple of weeks ago, so I took the liberty of an empty house to rush through this book! I admit, I read through it really fast, so I probably missed a lot of important points and symbolism-ish things, so this is just mainly going to be a rant about how novel(no pun intended) the experience was. :)

I’ll probably do a reread and watch the movie as soon as I’m done with the final exams, and the more content-focused review will come then :) This one is also up on my goodreads account in case anyone wanted a visit. :D

Continue reading

Essay/Review: The importance of self acceptance(‘Wicked’ viewing 20140426)

Last month, right after the midterms, I had the pleasure of viewing the Korean production of Wicked the musical. :)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a hardcore Wicked fan, and I am utterly devoted to the original cast. Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth are and will always be my Elphaba and Glinda. But- this particular cast, Park Hye-na as Elphaba (who also voiced the Korean version of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen) and Kim Bo-kyoung as Glinda, moved me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I have to admit: the number one Elphaba that I hold to my heart has replaced itself.

(I’ll admit, I cried three times during the performance despite knowing the entire storyline and having watched it once already)

(No, I’m not overemotional)

I won’t bore everyone with all the details of the production and the cast, especially since every production is unique and the experience more so. Instead, I’m going to talk about the more philosophical plot aspects of the musical as a vague overview slash review.

Now, what I love especially about the musical is that it is full of character development, little continuities, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hints, and so much representation. Every character means something, their relationships and experiences so relatable that you can’t help but be mesmerized by it all.

The scene that has always been a tear-jerker for me is one of the first ones, where Elphaba is visibly shunned from her peers because of her green appearance, her father treating her as a mere caregiver for her sister and not as a separate entity. Her resignation at the point is truly heartbreaking, not even daring to hope that maybe, they won’t hate her this time – but instead lashes out in pure defensiveness. This was the image of the truly resigned for me, one who doesn’t expect any form of kindness to be given but merely armed and poised ready to strike if the world decides to be cruel one more time, as it has always done to her before.

Elphaba’s appearance, the green skin, I felt it was an anecdote to the growing tumor of identity problems in our society. This is a personal opinion and may or may not be what the writers had intended – but the green skin, coupled with the ‘wicked’ identity donned to her in the original concept of The Wizard of Oz, has formed an unbreakable connection within our minds. By telling us that – no, the green skin isn’t what made her wicked, nor is it the wickedness that made her green, but our discrimination of her at first glance, our assumptions, and our insistence within us that she must be wicked – it lets us break through the stereotypes.

What is more interesting about these points is that all the characters seem to act their stereotypes at the beginning. Elphaba is the cranky and downright malicious (wicked) existence, Galinda the empty-headed blonde who is only concerned with superficial matters, Fiyero the prince, the playboy who disregards education altogether – every single one of these are what the people expect when they hear the character descriptions. But later we will be able to discover, as Elphaba progresses to realize that this doesn’t matter, other people’s opinions and prejudices shouldn’t effect her of her goals and consequently grows free of her shackles, that every other character will break the stereotype, what we expect of them, and become what they were on the inside, what they had the potential to become all along. This can mean that because they were expected to act in a certain way, they proceeded to do so. Because that’s easy, and that wouldn’t gain any unnecessary stares or mutters behind their backs. But when they meet the green girl, the green girl that nobody ever gave a chance to hear out, and discover that she is so much more than what she looks – empathetic and altruistic, easily giving and moved despite what the world has subjected her to – and realizes that maybe, the ‘me’ that my peers and I have constructed throughout the years is not the ‘real’ me.

Elphaba’s plight lasted throughout her whole life, up to the point when she decided that she didn’t need anyone else to become the great person that she always wanted to be. As evidenced in the song The Wizard and I, at first she wants to be of use to someone else, wants to be accepted by others. And that overshadows her dreams, her motivations. It can be seen that what she wants with the Wizard is to be accepted – by her father, sister and the masses – and not to achieve the things that she had always wanted. Despite wanting to be independent, she is somehow relying on others to make sure that she will be safe, and that hinders her motivation. During the famous aria Defying Gravity, one of Glinda’s lines include ‘You can have all you’ve ever wanted’ to which Elphaba replies, ‘I know. But I don’t want it. I can’t want it anymore’ because she knows, she realized that what she has looked for until now, all those days of dreaming of the Wizard, what she had truly been yearning for was acceptance. And she has realized that to achieve her real dreams, she didn’t need anybody’s acceptance or approval. She herself would be enough because acceptance is but a fickle thing. They may cheer for you at one moment but turn your back in you the next. What she wanted was not a lie – her true ambitions were capable of overcoming all of that. When she decides that she herself is enough, all of her concern for her appearance disappears. Not a single word mentioning the subject is raised afterwards, and Elphaba treats herself with so much confidence. This brings us to an important point: You don’t need anybody’s acceptance or approval to be someone. You are to find the people who accept you as you are, and if they don’t, if they want you to change – they probably aren’t worth the time and effort to change yourself in the first place.

I could go on and on about a variety of other different topics on this, about how the role of the media, the emotionally traumatized, the overdependent were portrayed in this musical in a mere few hours of singing and dancing, but I felt that this was the one that needed saying the most. I might come back with a series of like-intended posts, I’m not sure. But I sure do hope that I will have the chance (the honor) of seeing this musical again, especially since it is one of my favorites as well :)

Pictures of the experience under the cut! Continue reading