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.)

Book Review: Predictably Irrational

This is more of a very belated review; I read the book a couple of years back and because I was SO unwilling to study in the past few days, I just picked this up from the shelf for the first time in a couple of years and got reminded of exactly why I’d liked this book so much :)

As always, this review is also up on my goodreads account, feel free to check it out if you will!

 

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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