Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies
(Full name William Gerald Golding) English novelist, poet, travel writer, playwright, essayist, and critic.
The following entry presents commentary on Golding's novel Lord of the Flies (1954) through 2003. For further information on his life and career, see CLR, Volume 94.
Regarded by many scholars to be one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century, Lord of the Flies (1954) has become a classic and is often required reading for high school students. Although the book has been compared to Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica (1929), Golding's primary influence was the nineteenth-century children's novel The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific (1858) by R. M. Ballantyne. Golding's novel shares many situations, plot elements, and even character names with Ballantyne's work. The Coral Island relates the story of a group of schoolboys stranded on a deserted island who rely on courage and resourcefulness to survive, emerging from the experience strengthened and matured. While Golding's tale is similar, it is a darker, more foreboding, and ironic vision. Golding's conclusion is far from idyllic and, despite their rescue from the island, the ultimate survival of the boys in Lord of the Flies is not assured. Possibly rebuking the Victorian presentation of children as pure and innocent victims of adult society, Golding's children quickly strip themselves of all the trappings of a “civilized” world on the island and revert to savagery. Lord of the Flies also broke new ground in the young adult novel genre by utilizing poetic description and borrowing ideas from the schools of modern anthropology and psychology. Although it can be read strictly as an adventure tale, Lord of the Flies contains strong themes and elemental symbolism that have prompted scholars to routinely debate the true meaning of Golding's novel, offering various critical readings of the text as a religious, social, or political allegory. Time Magazine has listed Lord of the Flies as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.
Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in Newquay, Cornwall, England, the second son of Alec and Mildred Golding. His father was an educator and an author, having composed several textbooks about a diverse series of science topics, and his mother was active in the women's suffrage moment. Upon graduating from Marlborough Grammar School, Golding enrolled at Brasenose College at Oxford with the intention of majoring in science, However, after two years in the Natural Sciences, Golding realized his personal preference and professional aptitude lay in the liberal arts and became an English literature major, graduating with an Honors B.A. Second Class in 1934. Even before his transfer into English literature, Golding demonstrated an early interest in poetry and composed a series of works that a friend, Adam Bittleson, gathered into a short collection on Golding's behalf which he submitted to Macmillan Publishers. The manuscript was accepted as part of a broader effort to promote young poets, and Golding's Poems was released in 1934. Following his graduation from Brasenose, Golding found work as a social worker at a London settlement house while pursuing more creative activities in small theaters as both a writer and actor. In 1939, only weeks after the German invasion of Poland, Golding married analytical chemist Ann Brookfield, with whom he had two children. Golding began teaching English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury, though, after the onset of World War II, he enlisted in the military, joining the Royal Navy in 1940, eventually becoming a field commander for a rocket launcher unit. Involved in several active naval conflicts, including the British destruction of the German battleship Bismarck and the invasion of Normandy, Golding returned from the war with a dramatically altered view of humanity. Discarding his self-described “airy-fairy views about man,” as he re- ported to Douglas A. Davis in an interview for the New Republic, he found that his experiences “changed me. The war taught me different and a lot of others like me.” Despite being rejected at least ten times previously, Golding's manuscript for Lord of the Flies, his fifth attempted novel, was discovered by Faber & Faber editor Charles Monteith in 1953, who pushed to have the novel published. Finally released in 1954, the book's reputation built slowly, but eventually found enormous success, with Golding's novel becoming a part of regular feature of classroom reading lists in the United States after a 1959 reprinted edition was released. With his newfound success, Golding resigned from teaching at Bishop Wordworth's School, though he would later accept several writer-in-residence positions at various institutions. Ultimately, due to the widespread acclaim for Lord of the Flies and his canon of other well-regarded novels such as The Inheritors (1955), Pincher Martin (1955), and Free Fall (1959), Golding was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Booker Prize for Rites of Passage (1980), an Order of the British Empire in 1965, and knighthood in 1988. In 1985 Golding moved to the village of Perranarworthal in Cornwall, where he passed away from a heart attack on June 19, 1993, at the age of eighty-one. He left behind an unfinished novel, The Double Tongue, which was published posthumously in 1995.
PLOT AND MAJOR CHARACTERS
Lord of the Flies takes place in the context of a large-scale world war. A group of English schoolboys have been evacuated from Great Britain, but their airplane crashes, leaving them abandoned without adult supervision on an uninhabited island. The boys set about creating a society of their own and, although they begin with an attempt to mimic the democratic, moral, and rational examples they recall from the civilized world, the group gradually deteriorates into a cruel tyranny of the strong over the weak. A power struggle evolves between the main protagonist, Ralph, and the head choirboy, Jack. Although Ralph is originally elected leader, Jack, appointed chief hunter, labors to obtain power and support from the other boys and to undermine Ralph's authority. The boys begin to obsessively fear a beast in the dark that is allegedly hunting them—a fear that Jack uses as a means of converting Ralph's supporters into hunters. Jack and his band soon begin to exhibit a savage delight in killing for meat that turns into bloodlust, violent acts which they perform in the name of an entity the boys create—an ultimate evil, the Beast, the Lord of the Flies, also called Beelzebub. Simon, an epileptic who sees visions, attempts to unearth the truth behind the Lord of the Flies and discovers that the “Beast” that the hunters have been fearing is, in reality, the corpse of a pilot who parachuted out of their crashed plane. However, before Simon can make his revelation public, the hunters mistake him for the Beast and murder him. Ralph's friend Piggy desperately tries to maintain order, but his asthma, nearsightedness, and obesity make him a frequent target for teasing and torment. He is eventually killed when the hunters launch a boulder at Ralph, in an attempt to assassinate Jack's rival, and the rock collides with Piggy, sending him off a cliff. In the conclusion, Ralph becomes hunted by the boys who all now follow Jack, and he is saved only by the timely arrival of a naval officer on the beach, part of a nearby convoy who saw the boys' signal fire. In the presence of the adult, Ralph and all of the hunters break into tears.
On the surface, Lord of the Flies's immediate response seems to be a direct criticism of Ballantyne's nationalist pride in Coral Island. As L. L. Dickson has noted, “Golding's characters, however, represent ironic versions of the earlier work, and their very names, inviting comparison to Ballantyne, add ironic impact to the characterization.” Lawrence S. Friedman has further asserted that such comparisons were Golding's intent; frustrated by the “smug optimism of the original, he conceived of breathing life into a moribund genre by isolating boys on a desert island and showing how they would really behave.” As a result, Minnie Singh has argued that Ballantyne's “idyllic Coral Island is transformed by Golding into an infernal place: whereas Ballantyne's adventurers master nature, using and developing technology for the purpose, Golding's boy characters are helpless captives whose only hope is rescue.” Beyond its refutation of Ballantyne's vision of British superiority, Lord of the Flies also turns a critical eye towards mankind's instincts for self-preservation and the underlying human potential for savagery and cruelty. Critics have additionally focused on the many symbols present throughout the novel, interpreting them in various ways. One school has viewed the book purely as social commentary addressing the nature of humanity. Other scholars have expounded on the text's multitude of biblical and religious themes, including the fall of man, the betrayal of Cain, reflections of Egyptian mythology, and the evil inherent in mankind. Some commentators have interpreted the novel's symbolism as political, reading it as a statement against the rise of Nazism or a criticism of the failure of other social and political structures. Alan Sinfield has suggested that Golding's intent was first an indictment of British class systems, as “when Jack and Roger turn upon Piggy and Simon, they are, for Golding, simply making manifest the brutal and violent pattern of behavior that underlies Britain's stratified and bullying social order.” However, for Lenore J. Gussin, Golding's exposure of the potential for communal decay is not limited to England; rather “Golding shows that societal defects reflect the flaws of human nature. He asserts that no political system can substitute for individual codes of ethics in shaping society.” In addition to the many real world influences that shaped Lord of the Flies, Patrick Reilly has posited that the novel features several classical literary allusions, particularly to the satirical works of Irish author Jonathan Swift and his most famous work Gulliver's Travels (1726). Reilly has asserted that “Golding's novel recapitulates in a fable immediately resonant to a twentieth-century sensibility the themes that originate in Swift: the dread that civilization is a simply a veneer over bestiality; that the self is merely the fragile product of a particular conditioning that alters unnervingly with the altered matrix; that orgiastic surrender to a dark irrationalism is always a temptation and sometimes a fate; that we are shockingly obliged to give psychological houseroom to strangers who claim kinship, to Yahoo and sadist, both of whom disconcertingly seem to have equal residential rights with out more decorous, flattering selves.”
Half a century after its initial publication, Lord of the Flies has continued to elicit critical commentary and controversy, appearing as number 70 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990 to 2000. The novel has become a fixture in English literature classes, and the text's breadth of potential analyses, relative brevity, and strong tone has made it an enduringly popular work with both readers and critics. Lenore J. Gussin has characterized Golding as “a controversial figure. His works, beginning with Lord of the Flies, have received both lavish appraise and severe criticism.” Lord of the Flies has been variously praised for its structure, its ironic conclusion, and its function as fable and pure parable. In a 1960 study of Golding's works, C. B. Cox has argued, “Lord of the Flies is probably the most important novel to be published in this country in the 1950s. A story so explicitly symbolic as this might easily become fanciful and contrived, but Golding has mastered the art of writing a twentieth-century allegory … a gripping story which will appeal to generations of readers.” A. D. Fleck has concurred, observing that “[i]t has fallen to the lot of William Golding to remind the post-war generations of this ‘thin crust’, and to reemphasize man's mythic inheritance, which is barely concealed by the ‘surface of society’. This is what contributes to the density of The Lord of the Flies as a piece of fiction, and which adds to is relevance in a society which would prefer to ignore the primitive side of man's nature.”
Poems (poetry) 1934
*Lord of the Flies (novel) 1954
The Inheritors (novel) 1955
Pincher Martin (novel) 1955; republished as The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin, 1957
†Sometimes, Never: Three Tales of Imagination [with John Wyndham and Mervyn Peake] (novellas) 1956
The Brass Butterfly: A Play in Three Acts (play) 1958
Free Fall (novel) 1959
The Spire (novel) 1964
The Hot Gates, and Other Occasional Pieces (essays and criticism) 1965
The Pyramid (novel) 1967
‡The Scorpion God: Three Short Novels (novellas) 1971
Darkness Visible (novel) 1979
Rites of Passage (novel) 1980
A Moving Target (essays and lectures) 1982; revised edition, 1984
The Paper Men (novel) 1984
An Egyptian Journal (travel writing) 1985
Close Quarters (novel) 1987
Fire Down Below (novel) 1989
§To the Ends of the Earth (novels) 1991
The Double Tongue: A Draft of a Novel (unfinished novel) 1995
*Lord of the Flies was reissued with an introduction by E. M. Forster in 1955. A casebook edition, edited by James R. Baker and Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., with notes and criticism was released in 1964.
†Golding's novella in this collection is titled Envoy Extraordinary.
‡Includes the novellas Clonk Clonk, Envoy Extraordinary, and The Scorpion God.
§Collects Rites of Passage, Close Quarters, and Fire Down Below.
L. L. Dickson (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Dickson, L. L. “Lord of the Flies.” In The Modern Allegories of William Golding, pp. 12-26. Tampa, Fl.: University of South Florida, 1990.
[In the following essay, Dickson characterizes Golding's Lord of the Flies as an allegorical revision of R. M. Ballantyne's 1858 novel Coral Island.]
Of Golding's nine novels, Lord of the Flies is most clearly an allegory. It has been criticized as both too explicit1 and too ambiguous.2 Walter Allen's skepticism is typical: “The difficulty begins when one smells allegory.”3 More accurately, Golding's Lord of the Flies combines the best features of realistic and allegorical fiction; the novel allows for “the simultaneous operation of the factual and the fabular.”4
The tension between realistic novel and allegorical fable is established in the setting for the action in Lord of the Flies : the isolated island provides an appropriate stage for the survival story of the deserted boys, but also suggests a universal, timeless backdrop for symbolic action. Golding creates a microcosm, a procedure common “to the great allegorists and satirists,” and then “examines the problem of how to maintain moderate liberal values and to pursue distant ends against pressure from extremists and against the lower instincts.”5 The protagonist's ironic “rescue” by a naval officer, who is himself engrossed in the savage business of international warfare, reveals that the chaotic island-world is but a small version of a war-torn adult world. The novel does not imply that children, without the disciplined control of adults, will turn into savages; on the contrary, it dramatizes the real nature of all humans. The nightmare world, which quickly develops on the island, parallels the destruction of the outside world through atomic warfare. The dead parachutist, whom the boys mistake for the Beast, is a symbolic reminder of the human history of self-destruction; the parachutist is literally and figuratively a “fallen man.”
At first, the island world is compared to Eden: the boys “accepted the pleasure of morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and sweet air, as a time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten.”6 But this setting is simultaneously sinister and hostile. The boys are scratched by thorns and entrapped by creepers. “The ground beneath them was a bank covered with coarse grass, torn everywhere by the upheavals of fallen trees, scattered with decaying coconuts and palm saplings. Behind this was the darkness of the forest proper and the open scar” (p. 6). Eventually the island becomes a burning hell: “Smoke was seeping through the branches in white and yellow wisps, the patch of blue sky overhead turned to the color of a storm cloud, and then the smoke bellowed around him” [Ralph, the protagonist] (p. 233). The island is a microcosm from the adult world; indeed, “you realize after a time that the book is nothing less than a history of mankind itself.”7
The personified agents in Lord of the Flies are developed in all the four ways discussed in the first chapter. First, the analogy through nomenclature is the most obvious method by which the characters take on additional dimensions. Golding's novel represents an ironic treatment of R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island, a children's classic that presents the romantic adventures of a group of English schoolboys marooned on an Edenlike South Sea island. By mustering their wits and their British courage, the boys defeat the evil forces on the island: pirates and native savages. Not only is Golding's island literally a coral island (p. 12) where the boys “dream pleasantly” and romantically, but there are specific references to Ballantyne: “‘It's like in a book.’ At once there was a clamor. ‘Treasure Island—’ ‘Swallows and Amazons—’ ‘Coral Island—’” (p. 37). At the conclusion of the novel, the dull-witted naval officer who comes to Ralph's rescue makes an explicit comparison: “Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island” (p. 242). Golding uses the same names for his main characters as Ballantyne did. Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin Gay of The Coral Island become Golding's Ralph, Jack, and Simon ("Simon called Peter, you see. It was worked out very carefully in every possible way, this novel”8). Golding's characters, however, represent ironic versions of the earlier literary work, and their very names, inviting comparison to Ballantyne, add ironic impact to the characterization.
The change of Peterkin's name to Simon better supports that character's function as a “saint” figure in Golding's novel. Obviously Piggy's name contributes to the symbolism: Piggy will become identified with a hunted pig, and eventually will be killed too, as the boys' savage hunt turns to human rather than animal victims. When Piggy falls to his death, his arms and legs twitch “like a pig's after it has been killed” (p. 217). Jack's name is a variant of John, the disciple of Christ, and indeed Jack is an ironic distortion of the religious connotations of his name, in the same man- ner as is Christopher Martin, the egocentric protagonist of Golding's third novel.
Second, the characters in Lord of the Flies become allegorical agents through the correspondence of a state of nature with a state of mind. The more the boys stay on the island, the more they become aware of its sinister and actively hostile elements. The description of the pleasant Coral Island fantasy world quickly dissolves into images of darkness, hostility, danger. The boys accept “the pleasures of morning, the bright sun” and the unrestricted play, but by afternoon the overpowering sunlight becomes “a blow that they ducked” (p. 65). Though dusk partly relieves the situation, the boys are then menaced by the dark: “When the sun sank, darkness dropped on the island like an extinguisher and soon the shelters were full of restlessness, under the remote stars” (p. 66).
The boys' attitude of childish abandon and romantic adventure changes to a much more sober one when the possibility of a beast is introduced. At that point the island is transformed into a dark haven for unspeakable terrors. The boys' increasing apprehension about their immediate physical safety parallels the gradual awareness that is taking shape in the minds of Simon, Piggy, and particularly Ralph, concerning the real evil of the island. The boys mistakenly project their own bestiality on an imaginary animal roaming the island, but Simon hesitantly speculates, “maybe it's only us” (p. 103). The others do not understand. They look into the blackened jungle for signs of the beast's movement. The darkness is “full of claws, full of the awful unknown and menace” (p. 116). Simon's inner vision, however, tells him that it is the human being who is “at once heroic and sick” (p. 121). When Simon confronts the Lord of the Flies, the pig's head on a stick, it tells him (but really he tells himself), “Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! … You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you?” (p. 172). The hostile island and its dark mysteries are only a symbolic backdrop reinforcing the images of savagery, bestiality, and destruction that describe, and reveal, the boys themselves.
A third method by which the characters assume allegorical significance is through the implicit comparison of an action with an extrafictional event. James Baker was the first to point out similarities between Euripides' The Bacchae and Golding's novel. The mistaken slaying of Simon recalls Pentheus's murder at the hands of the crazed bacchantes of Dionysus. Pentheus's pride and his inability to recognize Dionysus's powers lead to his downfall: “This same lesson in humility is meted out to the schoolboys of Lord of the Flies. In their innocent pride they attempt to impose a rational order or pattern upon the vital chaos of their own nature…. The penalties (as in the play) are bloodshed, guilt, utter defeat of reason.”9
Both the novel and the play contain a beast-god cult, a hunt sequence, and the dismemberment of the scapegoat figure.10 Though Simon is the clearest equivalent for Pentheus, Piggy and finally Ralph are cast in similar roles. Piggy is destroyed, though not dismembered, by Jack's forces. Ralph is chased by frenzied hunters but is “saved” (by a deus ex machina process similar to that of the end of Euripides' play) from the prospect of beheading. Ralph fittingly becomes Golding's version of Agave. The boy, like Pentheus's mother, mistakenly takes part in a killing and then must live sorrowfully with the knowledge of his, and all humanity's, capacity for blind destruction.
The actions that help establish parallels to religious events emphasize biblical analogues. Ralph's first blowing of the conch, proclaiming survival after the crash on the island, recalls the angel Gabriel's announcing good news. Inasmuch as the boys' “survival” is quite tentative, however, the implied comparison to Gabriel is ironic. Simon's fasting, helping the little boys, meditating in the wilderness, going up on the mountain—all these actions solidify the Christ parallel. The recurring pattern of falls—the falling parachutist, Piggy's fall to his death, the destruction of the conch in the same fall, Ralph's tumbling panic at the end of the novel—emphasizes the fall of humankind motif.
The extrafictional events pertaining to classical mythology or to Christ's passion enlarge the surface action with additional symbolic meanings.
The fourth and final technique for intensifying allegorical agents concerns the manifestation in an action of a state of mind. In Lord of the Flies a series of hunts, for either pigs or humans, symbolically demonstrates the boys' gradual deterioration into savages. Moral order is corrupted and the end result is chaos. William Mueller has established convincingly that “the book is a carefully structured work of art whose organization—in terms of a series of hunts—serves to reveal with progressive clarity man's essential core.”11 Mueller identifies six “hunts,” but there are at least nine separate instances where this symbolic act occurs: (1) the first piglet, “caught in a curtain of creepers,” escapes when Jack is mentally unable to kill the helpless creature (p. 32); (2) a second pig eludes the hunters, much to Jack's disgust (p. 55); (3) Jack is successful the next time, and the hunters conceive the ritual chant of “Kill the Pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood” (p. 78); later Maurice briefly pretends to be the pig (p. 86); (4) during a mock ceremony that gets out of hand, Robert plays the role of the pig, in a scene that sinisterly foreshadows the transition from nonhuman to human prey (pp. 135-36); (5) after another successful hunt, the boys smear themselves with animal blood, and Maurice plays the pig while Robert ritually pokes him with a spear, to the delight of Jacks's hunters (pp. 161-63); (6) Jack and Roger play hunter and pig respectively, as Piggy and Ralph “find themselves eager to take a place in this demented but partly secure society” (p. 181); (7) Simon is mistaken for the beast and is torn to pieces; (8) Piggy is killed by Roger, who acts “with a sense of delirious abandonment” (p. 216); (9) and finally Ralph is the object of the last murderous hunt.
The two fundamental patterns by which allegorical action is resolved are those of “progress” and “battle.” The journey motif is first established by the plot circumstances of the opening chapter. A group of boys has been taken by airplane from a warthreatened England to a safer territory, but in the process their plane is attacked and they have been dropped to safety on a deserted island. Their thwarted flight is mentioned in the opening exposition. Though their physical, outer journey has ended, they soon begin a more recondite “journey.” Through their quest for the beast, they (or at least Simon and Ralph) discover the real beast, humanity's own predilection for evil.
The structure of Lord of the Flies provides for a gradual revelation of insight, as Ralph sees his friends slowly turn into beasts themselves. The significance of the final scene, in which the naval officer reestablishes an adult perspective, is not what James Gindin once contended: “a means of cutting down or softening the implications built up within the structure of the boys' society on the island.”12 The officer's presence does not reaffirm that “adult sanity really exists,” nor is it merely a gimmick that “palliates the force and the unity of the original metaphor.”13 On the contrary, it provides the final ironic comment: Ralph is “saved” by a soldier of war, a soldier who cannot see that the boys have symbolically reenacted the plight of all persons who call themselves civilized and yet continue to destroy their fellow humans in the same breath.
The irony of this last scene is consistent with Golding's sarcastic treatment of Ballantyne, and it also emphasizes the universality of Ralph's experience. There is no distinction between child and adult here. The boys' ordeal is a metaphor for the human predicament. Ralph's progress toward self-knowledge culminates in his tears: “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy” (p. 242). Because Piggy represents the failure of reason, the use of “wise” offers a further irony.
The battle motif is developed in both physical confrontations and rhetorical “combat.” Initially, the pig hunts are ritualized tests of strength and manhood, but when the hunters eventually seek human prey (Simon, Piggy, and finally Ralph) the conflict is between the savage and the civilized; blind emotion and prudent rationality; inhumanity and humanity; evil and good. This conflict is further established in the chapter entitled “The Shell and the Glasses,” when Jack's hunters attack Ralph's boys and steal Piggy's glasses. Jack carries the broken spectacles—which have become symbolic of intellect, rationality, and civilization—as ritual proof of his manhood and his power over his enemies: “He was a chief now in truth; and he made stabbing motions with his spear” (p. 201). In the “Castle Rock” chapter, Ralph opposes Jack in what is called a “crisis” situation: “They met with a jolt and bounced apart. Jack swung with his fist at Ralph and caught him on the ear. Ralph hit Jack in the stomach and made him grunt. Then they were facing each other again, panting and furious, but unnerved by each other's ferocity. They became aware of the noise that was the background to this fight, the steady shrill cheering of the tribe behind them” (p. 215).
More subtle forms of “battle"—debate and dialogue—are dramatized in the verbal exchanges between Jack and Ralph. Golding emphasizes their polarity: “The walked along, two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate” (p. 62). Later when Jack paints his face and flaunts his bloodied knife, the conflict is heightened: “The two boys faced each other. There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled commonsense” (p. 81). When Ralph does not move, Jack and the others have to build their fire in a less ideal place: “By the time the pile [of firewood] was built, they were on different sides of a high barrier” (p. 83). Different sides of the wood, different continents, different worlds—all these scenes intensify the symbolic as well as physical conflict. Here we encounter “a structural principle that becomes Golding's hallmark: a polarity expressed in terms of a moral tension. Thus, there is the rational (the firewatchers) pitted against the irrational (the hunters).”14
In both chapter 2, “Beast from Water,” and chapter 8, “Gift for the Darkness,” the exchange of views about whether there is a beast or not “becomes a blatant allegory in which each spokesman caricatures the position he defends.”15 Ralph and Piggy think that rules and organization can cure social ills, and that if things “break up,” it is because individuals are not remembering that life “is scientific,” rational, logical (p. 97). Jack hates rules, only wishes to hunt, and believes that evil is a mystical, living power that can be appeased by ritual sacrifice (p. 159). Simon feels that evil is not outside but rather within all human beings, though he is “inarticulate in his effort to express mankind's essential illness” (p. 103). He uses comparisons with excrement and filth to describe his notion of human inner evil.
Simon's confrontation with the pig's head on a stick, the Lord of the Flies, is another instance of allegorical dialogue. At first, Beelzebub seems to triumph: Simon is mesmerized by the grinning face (p. 165); he is warned that he is “not wanted,” for Simon is the only boy who possesses a true vision of the nature of evil; and finally he faints (p. 172). However, Simon recovers, asks himself, “What else is there to do?” (p. 174), discovers the dead parachutist, and then takes the news about the “beast” to the rest of the boys. The entire scene with the pig's head represents the conflict that is occurring within Simon's own consciousness. The Lord of the Flies is only an externalization of the inner evil in all humans. Later when Ralph comes upon the pig's head, “the skull [stares at] Ralph like one who knows all the answers and won't tell” (p. 22). Though Ralph does not understand the significance of the pig, he does feel a “sick fear.” In desperation he hits the head, as if breaking it would destroy the evil on the island. However, the broken pig's head lies in two pieces, “its grin now six feet across” (p. 222). Rather than being destroyed, it ironically has grown. In the final pages of the novel, when Ralph is desperately fleeing from the hunters, he runs in circles and retraces his steps back to the broken pig's head, and this time its “fathom-wide grin” entirely dominates the burning island.
Four patterns of imagery reinforce the symbolism in Lord of the Flies. Images pertaining to excrement, darkness, falling, and animalism help define the human capacity for evil and savagery.
The many references to excrement, and also to dirt, underline thematically the vileness of human nature itself. As the boys' attempts at a sanitation program gradually break down, the inherent evil in human nature is symbolically manifested in the increasing images that refer to dung: “the two concepts merge in Golding's imagination—covertly in Lord of the Flies and manifestly in Free Fall, which is a literary cloaca, full of that revulsion psychologists try to explain in terms of the proximity and ambiguity of the apertures utilized for birth and excreta.”16
Images associated with excrement (and more generally, dirt) are used in a negative sense, depicting human corruption. The conch makes “a low, farting noise” (p. 15). Johnny, the first “littlun” Ralph and Piggy meet, is in the act of defecating (p. 16). Pig droppings are closely examined by Jack's hunters to determine how recently the pig has left a particular place; the temperature of feces has become the central subject of interest (pp. 54 and 132). Ralph slowly loses his battle against filth: “With a convulsion of the mind, Ralph discovered dirt and decay, understood how much he disliked [his own long, dirty hair]” (p. 88). Even when Piggy tries to clean his glasses, the attempt is in vain (p. 11). He is appalled at the increasing filth on the island: “‘We chose those rocks right along beyond the bathing pool as a lavatory…. Now people seem to use anywhere. Even near the shelters and the platform. You littluns, when you're getting fruit; if you're taken short—’ The assembly roared. ‘I said if you're taken short you keep away from the fruit. That's dirty’” (p. 92).
Weekes and Gregor recognize the realistic level of description here—eating nothing but fruit does indeed bring on diarrhea—but they add, “The diarrhea might seem to invite allegorical translation—the body of man is no longer fit for Eden.”17 At one significant point, the inarticulate Simon tries to think of “the dirtiest thing there is” (p. 103) in order to describe the fallen human condition, and Jack's answer, “one crude expressive syllable,” reaffirms the metaphor of excrement, which prevails throughout the novel. The area near the decaying, fallen parachutist is “a rotten place” (p. 125). When the pig's head is mounted on the stick, it soon draws a “black blob of flies"; it is literally a lord of the flies, as well as figuratively Beelzebub, from the Hebrew baalzebub, “lord of flies.” Sometimes this name is translated “lord of dung.” By the end of the novel, Ralph himself has been reduced to a dirty, piglike animal.
Golding uses light-dark contrasts in a traditional way: the numerous images of darkness underline the moral blackness of the boys' crumbling society. The normal associations with the sinister, with death, with chaos, with evil are suggested by this imagery. Decaying coconuts lie “skull-like” amid green shadows (p. 7); Jack's choirboys are clothed in black; the beast is naturally associated with the coming of night (p. 39); the “unfriendly side of the mountain” is shrouded in hushed darkness (p. 48). Roger is described as a dark figure: “the shock of black hair, down his nape and low on his forehead, seemed to suit his gloomy face and make what had seemed at first an unsociable remoteness into something forbidding” (p. 68).
With a Hawthornesque touch, Golding describes the subtle change that has come over all the boys' faces, after the group has become largely a hunting society: “faces cleaned fairly well by the process of eating and sweating but marked in the less accessible angles with a kind of shadow” (p. 130). Jack is described as “a stain in the darkness” (p. 142). Generally, the coming of night turns common surroundings into a nightmare landscape of imaginary horrors: “The skirts of the forest and the scar were familiar, near the conch and the shelters and sufficiently friendly in daylight. What they might become in darkness nobody cared to think” (p. 155).
Images of light and brightness are identified with spirit, regeneration, life, goodness. The description of Simon's dead body as it is carried out to sea suggests transcendence: “Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, Simon's dead body moved out toward the open sea” (p. 184). The contrast between the bright, gaudy butterflies and the black flies on the pig's head emphasizes the symbolic conflict between good and evil used throughout the novel. The bright butterflies are drawn to the sunlight and to open places (p. 64); they surround the saintly Simon (p. 158); they are oblivious to the brutal killing of the sow: “the butterflies still danced, preoccupied in the centre of the clearing” (p. 162). In this particular instance, they remind the reader of those indifferent seagulls in Stephen Crane's “The Open Boat"—simply a part of nature, not threatened by the environment, and a mocking contrast to the violent predicaments that human beings either perpetuate or suffer. But the butterflies represent a more positive force, and significantly they desert the open space dominated by the grinning pig's head.18
Golding's obsession with the fallen human state permeates the imagery of Lord of the Flies. The opening chapter is typical. Ralph appears amid a background of fallen trees. He trips over a branch and comes “down with a crash” (p. 5). He talks with Piggy about coming down in the capsule that was dropped from the plane. He falls down again when attempting to stand on his head (p. 25). He pretends to knock Simon down (p. 28). In addition to the descriptions of the fallen parachutist, Simon's fainting spells, Ralph's “nightmares of falling and death” (p. 229), and his final collapse at the feet of the naval officer, the act of falling is closely associated with the idea of lost innocence. Ralph weeps for “the end of innocence … and the fall through the air” of Piggy.
Animal imagery reinforces the boys' transformation into savages and subhumans. Predictably, evil is associated with the beast, the pig's head, or a snake, but as the story progresses, the boys themselves are described with an increasing number of animal images.
The boys' disrobing early in the novel at first suggests a return to innocence, but as the hunters become more and more savage, their nakedness merely underscores their animalism. Sam and Eric grin and pant at Ralph “like dogs” (pp. 17 and 46). Jack moves on all fours, “dog-like,” when tracking the pig (p. 53); during the hunt he hisses like a snake, and is “less a hunter than a furtive thing, ape-like among the tangle of trees” (p. 54). Ralph calls him a “beast” (p. 214). Piggy, whose very name suggests an obvious comparison, sees that the boys are becoming animals; he says that if Ralph does not blow the conch for an assembly, “we'll soon be animals anyway” (p. 107). Without his glasses, Piggy laments that he will “have to be led like a dog” (p. 204). When he dies, his body twitches “like a pig's after it has been killed” (p. 217). Simon, hidden in the shadows of the forest, is transformed into a “thing,” a “beast,” when the narration shifts to the other boys' view (pp. 182-83).
Ralph's transformation is slower than the others, but it is clearly discernible. Early in the novel, he viciously accepts the hunters' raw pig meat and gnaws on it “like a wolf” (p. 84). He is caught up in the savage ritual when Roger plays the pig (p. 181); he is part of the unthinking gang that murders Simon. When Piggy is killed, Ralph runs for his life and obeys “an instinct that he did not know he possessed” (p. 217). In the last chapter, Ralph is little more than a cornered animal. Ironically he sharpens a stick in self-defense and becomes a murderous hunter him- self: “Whoever tried [to harm him] would be stuck, squealing like a pig” (p. 231). We are told that he “raised his spear, snarled a little, and waited” (p. 233). Ralph's transformation is both shocking and saddening. Alone in the forest, he brutally attacks the first adversary he meets: “Ralph launched himself like a cat; stabbed, snarling, with the spear, and the savage doubled up” (p. 234). When Ralph is trapped in the underbrush, he wonders what a pig would do, for he is in the same position (p. 236).
Related to these animal images is the continual reference to the word savage. In Lord of the Flies the distinction between civilized human being and savage becomes increasingly cloudy and a source of further irony. Early in the novel Jack himself proclaims, “I agree with Ralph. We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages” (p. 47). Piggy asks more than once, “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?” followed by the double irony, “What's grownups going to think?” (p. 105). The painted faces of the hunters provide “the liberation into savagery” (p. 206), an ironic freedom to destroy society; and the animal imagery contributes to this idea.
Several “levels” of meaning operate in Lord of the Flies, apart from the surface narrative. First, from a particular psychological viewpoint, the tripartite organization of the human psyche—ego, id, superego—is dramatized symbolically in the characters of Ralph, Jack, and Piggy, respectively. The conflict between Ralph, the level-headed elected leader of the boys' council, and Jack, the self-appointed head of the hunters, corresponds to an ego-id polarity. Ralph realistically confronts the problem of survival and works out a practical plan for rescue. Jack is quick to revert to savagery, dishonesty, violence. Piggy, the fat, bespectacled rationalist, reminds Ralph of his responsibilities, makes judgments about Jack's guilt, and generally represents the ethical voice on the island. Since Piggy does not acknowledge his own share of guilt for Simon's death, Oldsey and Weintraub conclude that this inconsistency “spoils the picture often given of Piggy as superego or conscience.”19 However, the many times Piggy reminds the weakening Ralph of what must be done far outweigh this one reversal.
A second level of symbolism emerges from the archetypal patterns in the novel. The quest motif is represented by Ralph's stumbling attempts at self-knowledge. His is literally an initiation by fire. Ironically the knowledge he acquires does not allow him to become an integrated member of adult society, but rather it causes him to recoil from the nightmare world he discovers. He is a scapegoat figure who must be sacrificed as atonement for the boys' evils. Simon and Piggy are also variants of the scapegoat symbol. Simon is most clearly the saint or Christ figure. The Dionysian myth is also reworked, as the boys' blindness to their own irrational natures leads to their destruction. As James Baker has observed, Euripides' Bacchae “is a bitter allegory” of not only the degeneration of society but also of essential human blindness: “the failure of rational man who invariably undertakes the blind ritual-hunt in which he seeks to kill the threatening ‘beast’ within his own being.”20
On still another level, Lord of the Flies accommodates a political allegory in which Ralph represents democracy and Jack totalitarianism. Golding has often stressed the impact of World War II on his own life and his change from an idealist who believed in human perfectibility, to a more skeptical observer who had discovered a dark truth “about the given nature of man.”21 In his most explicit statement about the effect of the war on his estimation of humanity and its political systems, Golding says:
It is bad enough to say that so many Jews were exterminated in this way and that, so many people liquidated—lovely, elegant word—but there were things done during that period from which I still have to avert my mind lest I should be physically sick. They were not done by the headhunters of New Guinea, or by some primitive tribe in the Amazon. They were done, skillfully, coldly, by educated men, doctors, lawyers, by men with a tradition of civilization behind them, to beings of their own kind…. When these destructive capacities emerged into action they were thought aberrant. Social systems, political systems were composed, detached from the real nature of man. They were what one might call political symphonies. They would perfect most men, and at the least, reduce aberrance.
Why, then, have they never worked?22
Such statements not only define Golding's own social background but also illuminate his use of the microcosmic island society in Lord of the Flies.
Golding's own comments about Lord of the Flies continually focus on the potentials and the limitations of the democratic ideal. Though he supports a democratic doctrine, he recognizes its weaknesses: “You can't give people freedom without weakening society as an implement of war, if you like, and so this is very much like sheep among wolves. It's not a question with me as to whether democracy is the right way so much, as to whether democracy can survive and remain what it is.”23 By giving up all its principles, the island society of Lord of the Flies demonstrates the inefficacy of political organizations that attempt to check human beings' worst destructive instincts. It is only by first recognizing these dark powers that democracy can hope to control them.
The fourth level of meaning is the moral allegory, which focuses on the conflicts between good and evil, and encourages philosophical or theological interpretations. Golding is defining the nature of evil. Whether it is embodied in a destructive, unconscious force, a mistaken sacrifice that unsuccessfully atones for the boys' collective guilt, or a dictatorial power opposing the democratic order (corresponding to the psychological, archetypal, and politico-sociological levels, respectively), the problems of moral choice, the inevitability of original sin and human fallibility, the blindness of self-deception create a fourth level of meaning in the novel.
The island is not only a stage on which characters must make crucial moral decisions but also a microcosm for the human mind, in which ethical conflicts similarly occur. Because Golding believes that “a fabulist is always a moralist,” he assigns a significant pattern of imagery to Ralph, “the fair boy” (p. 5), who unties the “snake-clasp of his belt” (p. 7). Ralph possesses a “mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaims no devil” (p. 7); he rallies the boys to the open, sunlit part of the island; his conch sounds a Gabriellike note unifying (if only temporarily) his followers. Jack, on the other hand, is identified with darkness and violence: when his band of choirboys first appears, it is described as “something dark,” like a “creature” (p. 19); the black caps and cloaks hide their faces; Jack's red hair suggests a devilish element; his impulsive decision to be a hunter and kill pigs foreshadows his demonic monomania for destruction; when he first meets Ralph, Jack is sun-blinded after coming out of the dark jungle.
However, because Golding complicates the characterization and shows Ralph to be susceptible to evil forces and at times paradoxically sympathetic to Jack, the reader recognizes ambiguities not easily compatible with a neat but rigid system of symbols. If Lord of the Flies “teaches” through its moral allegory, it is the lesson of self-awareness: “The novel is the parable of fallen man. But it does not close the door on that man; it entreats him to know himself and his Adversary, for he cannot do combat against an unrecognized force, especially when it lies within him.”24
1. See Douglas Hewitt, “New Novels"; Francis E. Kearns, “Salinger and Golding: Conflict on the Campus,” p. 139; Howard S. Babb, The Novels of William Golding, p. 19.
2. Margaret Walters, “Two Fabulists: Golding and Camus,” p. 23. Walters criticizes Lord of the Flies for its “deliberate mystifications” paradoxically combined with “crude explicitness.”
3. Walter Allen, “New Novels.”
4. Clive Pemberton, William Golding, p. 9. For a detailed study of the close relationship between fantasy and realism in the modern novel, see Patrick Merla, “‘What Is Real?’ Asked the Rabbit One Day.” A similar view is expressed by James Stern, “English Schoolboys in the Jungle": “Fully to succeed, a fantasy must approach very close to reality.”
5. Phillip Drew, “Second Reading,” 79.
6. William Golding, Lord of the Flies, p. 65. Subsequent references are to this edition, and hereafter page numbers will be indicated in the text.
7. Wayland Young, “Letter from London,” pp. 478-79.
8. Golding and Kermode, “Meaning,” p. 10.
9. Baker, Golding, p. 9.
10. Bernard F. Dick, William Golding, p. 31.
11. William Mueller, “An Old Story Well Told: Commentary on William Golding's Lord of the Flies,” p. 1203.
12. James Gindin, Postwar British Fiction, p. 198.
13. Ibid., p. 204. For other adverse criticism of Golding's “gimmick endings,” see Young, “Letter,” p. 481, and Kenneth Rexroth, “William Golding.”
14. Dick, Golding, p. 21.
15. Baker, Golding, p. 10.
16. Bernard S. Oldsey and Stanley Weintraub, The Art of William Golding, p. 30.
17. Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor, William Golding: A Critical Study, p. 25.
18. Also see Robert J. White, “Butterfly and Beast in Lord of the Flies,” in which he identifies the butterflies with the Greek word for butterfly, psyche, meaning “soul.”
19. Oldsey and Weintraub, Art, p. 22.
20. Baker, Golding, p. 7. Also see Dick, Golding, pp. 29-33: “Lord of the Flies can also be read in the light of the Dionysian-Apollonian dichotomy” (i.e., the conflict between the irrational and rational worlds).
21. Granville Hicks, “The Evil that Lurks in the Heart,” p. 36.
22. Golding, Hot Gates, pp. 86-87.
23. Keating and Golding, “Purdue Interview,” pp. 189-90. Also see Douglas M. Davis, “A Conversation with Golding,” p. 28; Maurice Dolbier, “Running J. D. Salinger a Close Second,” p. 6.
24. Mueller, “Old Story,” p. 1206.
Lenore J. Gussin (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Gussin, Lenore J. “Lord of the Flies.” In Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 2, edited by Kirk H. Beetz and Suzanne Niemeyer, pp. 813-19. Washington, D.C.: Beacham Publishing, Inc., 1990.
[In the following essay, Gussin offers a critical introduction to Lord of the Flies, suggesting that the book functions as parable for Golding's beliefs about the internal moral battles of mankind.]
About the Author
William Gerald Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in Cornwall, England. He lived an isolated life with his parents and nurse in a gloomy house situated next to a graveyard, and the nearness of this burial ground gave rise to a terrifying fear of death and the unknown. The chestnut tree in the garden, however, provided refuge for Golding, and his vocation as a writer began to take shape there as he sat reading or gazing at his surroundings. In school, Golding was a “dreamer,” not particularly skilled at mathematical studies but fascinated with language and possessed of an active imagination.
At Brasenose College, Oxford University, Golding tentatively planned to complete a degree in the natural sciences, in accordance with his parents' wishes. Two years later he switched to English, a field more compatible with his temperament and ambition to write. Before earning his bachelor's degree at Oxford, as well as a diploma in education, Golding published his first book, a volume of poems. After graduating he began a career as a social worker while he continued to write, act in, and produce plays for a small London theater.
Upon marrying Ann Brookfield, an analytical chemist, in 1939, Golding followed a family tradition and embarked on a teaching career. But shortly after beginning work as an English and philosophy teacher at Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury, Golding was compelled to join the Royal Navy because of the outbreak of World War II. Golding served on many different vessels, finally becoming the commander of a rocket-launcher. When the war ended he resumed his teaching career and began to write again. He published various essays and reviews, but none of Golding's novels were accepted for publication. Still, Golding remained convinced that he was meant to be a writer, and persevered in his efforts.
Golding first achieved success with the 1954 publication of Lord of the Flies in England. Published in the United States the following year, the novel initially enjoyed far greater popularity in Great Britain than it did in America. Only upon its reprinting in 1959 did Lord of the Flies become a popular, as well as a critical, success in the U.S. A common addition to school reading lists, it soon rivaled the best-selling Catcher in the Rye in repute among teen-age readers.
Golding's many subsequent novels, works of nonfiction, and dramas have achieved various degrees of popular success and critical approval. Always notable for their originality, Golding's works reflect both his preoccupation with testing his creative ingenuity and his concern with the individual's responsibility to maintain the moral fabric of society.
Throughout his literary career, Golding has remained a controversial figure. His works, beginning with Lord of the Flies, have received both lavish praise and severe criticism. Golding has won several major awards, including the 1980 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Darkness Visible (1979), the 1981 Booker McConnell Prize for Rites of Passage, and the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature. Golding remains a subject of Great Britain and has received such national honors as membership in the Royal Society of Literature (1955) and a designation as Commander of the British Empire (1966). In 1961 Golding's reputation as novelist won him a post at Hollins College in Virginia.
A complex man with wide-ranging interests, Golding often addresses spiritual issues in his writing but refers to himself as “incompetently religious” and is not publicly affiliated with a particular denomination. He describes himself politically as a “disillusioned ex-liberal.”
Lord of the Flies became popular at the onset of the 1960s, a decade that witnessed an increase in both the number of teen-agers in America and the influence of their ideas. More than thirty years after the book's publication, the situation of many modern American young adults bears significant similarities to the crisis situation of the British schoolboys whose tale is the subject of the novel.
Like the characters in Lord of the Flies, contemporary young adults in urban environments must often fend for themselves in order to survive the rugged life of the streets. Young people everywhere sometimes have trouble finding trustworthy adult guidance, while peer pressure—which compels young people to lose an individual sense of identity and morality—is pervasive. In one respect, Lord of the Flies presents a step-by-step study of how peer pressure can lead adolescents away from the values they once embraced and the people they once respected.
When the young people of Lord of the Flies find themselves the only survivors of a plane wreck, they must adjust to living in a world without adult authority and rules. They must somehow find a new way to organize a society that will ensure physical survival and social justice. The boys in Lord of the Flies must confront forces of destruction on the island and in themselves that they cannot understand. As the book continues, their makeshift government disintegrates, giving rise to a brutal gang bent on destroying those boys who have tried to form a purposeful, just society. Violence becomes the order of the day, unleashing primitive instincts.
The action of Lord of the Flies takes place during World War II on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Golding deliberately borrows the setting from Coral Island (1858) in order to contrast his theme with that of Robert Michael Ballantyne's utopian novel. In Lord of the Flies, the marooned schoolboys have survived a plane crash caused by warfare; they are innocent victims of adult violence. The island at first seems to offer them sufficient food, water, shelter, and even the possibility of eventual rescue. The boys build a signal fire on the island's highest spot, hoping to attract the attention of any vessels or aircraft that might venture into the vicinity. But as the novel progresses, the island takes on a malevolent quality. An evil force seems to reside within it, threatening the boys' lives.
Themes and Characters
The principal characters of Lord of the Flies are English schoolboys ranging from young children to older adolescents. These young men represent the upper level of British society; they are members of an elite school system from which the nation draws its leaders. Ralph, one of the main characters, vividly recalls the tranquility, safety, and comfort of the life he and the others have left behind. He remembers his room at home, stocked with all his favorite books, as a place where “everything was all right; everything was good-humored and friendly.”
At the beginning of the book, the boys organize themselves into an orderly society inspired by the regimented life of school. The youngest boys, known as the “littluns,” look to their more mature classmates for safety. Among the older students, several leaders quickly emerge. Ralph, a decisive young man who is determined to keep the group of boys together, engages them in productive work for the benefit of all, keeps the signal fire burning, and becomes their leader. Ralph learns to rely upon Piggy, an ungainly young man who has been teased because he is overweight, asthmatic, and physically uncoordinated, but whose advice can be trusted and whose loyalty is unwavering. Simon, another member of the group, works hard at first but later slacks off. Characterized by Ralph as “funny,” Simon undergoes a direct confrontation with evil forces later in the novel, stirring the boys into a frenzy of fear and brutal violence.
As the novel progresses, the young men divide into two groups. The larger group, which deteriorates into a savage tribe motivated by the spirit of the “Lord of the Flies,” is headed by Jack. The original group, headed by Ralph, continues to dwindle in size and power until Ralph himself becomes a fugitive. His authority is destroyed, and he finally flees into the island's undergrowth in a desperate attempt to escape from Jack and his tribe, who are bent on murdering him.
Golding shows that societal defects reflect the flaws of human nature. He asserts that no political system can substitute for individual codes of ethics in shaping society. His theme implies that each human being must engage in a battle against both outside and inner forces of evil, taking moral responsibility not only for individual actions but for the future of society. Piggy, for example, appears to be a weakling in a physical sense but has inner reserves of moral courage; he shows that true leadership qualities are not always readily apparent but must be appreciated in whomever they appear.
The antagonist of the novel is the most elusive character; the insidious “Lord of the Flies” seems to be a satanic presence provoking evil from outside the individual. But the “Lord of the Flies” speaks quite plainly to Simon, informing him, “I'm part of you.” Golding's novel suggests that the first step in the battle against evil is a war waged against some of the most powerful forces within the human soul itself.
Critics often refer to Golding's novels as religious myths or parables, stories written to illustrate a moral point. Lord of the Flies symbolically relates Golding's idea of what happens when human beings refuse to deal with the destructive forces in their own nature. Golding defines the characters just enough to explain their various responses to the threat of the “Lord of the Flies.” Within this group are fairly typical representatives of an English school of the time; that they have no personal characteristics beyond the ordinary serves to emphasize Golding's point that the evil infecting the boys could manifest itself in any normal human being. Yet the novel is not merely a moral fable but a gripping adventure story. Golding skillfully leads the reader through the steps of the developing situation, from the ominous fear of the “littlun” who dreams of “The Beast,” to the formation of a savage tribe headed by Jack, to the hunt to find and kill Ralph. Although the transformation of the innocent schoolboys is shocking, it develops so gradually that the situation is believable.
Particularly effective is the eerie and threatening manner in which the evil spirit of the “Lord of the Flies” comes to life. By the time Simon meets “The Beast” for himself, the reader is thoroughly convinced that it is real and more horrifying than any of the boys has imagined. The crucial scene in which the killing of a sow unleashes the savage force within the schoolboy tribe is also persuasive. Golding keeps the language simple and direct, and the dialogue accurately reflects the language of schoolboys at that time.
Some readers might think the novel ends rather abruptly with the arrival of the naval officer who rescues the boys. His response to the evidence of two murders and a group of schoolchildren turned into violent savages seems too calm. Perhaps Golding wishes to create a sense of irony through this depiction of a warrior lecturing the schoolboys on their inability to behave like proper Englishmen.
It is significant that Golding, who comes from a social background identical to that of the schoolboys in Lord of the Flies, chooses to focus on the destructive effect of evil upon this particular group. He understands how the traditional values of respectability, order, intelligence, reason, and self-discipline have been pressed upon generations of boys in the educational system of England. Golding asserts that nothing can erase the problem of evil from human society if the individual does not directly confront the temptation to choose wrong over right. He ensures that his novel does not imply that a particular social group, race, or class cannot be trusted. Golding's point is that, in the struggle to face the evil forces that rise from within the human spirit and threaten to overwhelm society, all men and women are equal. All are tempted to turn away from the best part of themselves and obey the most violent, degraded aspects of their personalities. To develop his theme, Golding depicts this violence and degradation in increasingly gory detail as the plot progresses and the schoolboys become savage hunters. The climactic passage describing the brutal killing of the sow is particularly disturbing for its use of sexual imagery; the murders of Simon and Piggy are also shocking, as Golding intends them to be.
Patrick Reilly (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: Reilly, Patrick. “Gulliver's Legacy.” In Lord of the Flies, pp. 25-55. New York, N.Y.: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
[In the following essay, Reilly identifies Golding's The Lord of the Flies as part of a generation of literature born of the dystopian literary tradition established by Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.]
“I am groping for an answer to the question, how such a writer can strike us as profoundly attuned to contemporary sensibility?” (Kermode, Puzzles, 200). Kermode's frank puzzlement is the more intriguing for having come from a critic whose admiration for Golding is unstinted—who was, indeed, one of the first to call attention to the power of his achievement. The clue lies within the phrase “such a writer.” For Kermode, Golding is a maverick, deviser of outré and startlingly original themes, almost an antinovelist in the light of his disdainful disregard of the long-established conventions of the genre. This view, advanced from the outset by admirers and censurers alike, finds apparent validation in Golding's own words: “I think that my novels have very little genesis outside myself. That to a large extent I've cut myself off from contemporary literary life, and gained in one sense by it, though I may have lost in another” (Kermode, Puzzles, 199). Coming from a writer who has been described as a literary counterpuncher, a reactionary in the literal sense of needing an adversary, be it Ballantyne, Wells, or Defoe, to stimulate his own creative imagination, this may seem at first glance a surprising statement—although a major aim of this study will be to vindicate its truth (Oldsey and Weintraub, 34-35).
Nevertheless, there is something misleading in regarding Golding as a case of literary parthenogenesis—viewing him as an isolato, incommunicado in the modern world, immured within his own sensibility, his works springing unprompted from his brain like Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus. The aim of this chapter is twofold: to locate him within a climate of opinion where his work, with no slight to its originality, can be situated in relation to certain other significant twentieth-century texts; and to place him within a highly reputable tradition of fiction that finds its origin in Gulliver's Travels and that continues to bear fruit in such outstanding modern writers as Conrad, Orwell, and Camus. In considering why the intellectual climate of our times should be so warmly hospitable to Swift's masterpiece, making it so relevant as to be almost contemporary, the intention is simultaneously to demonstrate the potency of Golding's appeal to modern readers, that appeal which Kermode recognizes but is hard-pressed to explain.
I have argued elsewhere that a salient, almost a defining, characteristic of modern literature, stunningly reiterated in some of the major texts of our day—Heart of Darkness, Death in Venice, The Trial, Darkness at Noon, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Fall—is a Judas moment when the self is suddenly stricken by a sense of its own vileness, a negative of dark epiphany when the vision is one of loss rather than salvation, of abandonment rather than rescue.1 To be made aware of one's own worthlessness, to gag at one's own corruption, has become in our fiction almost a paradigmatic experience, and here our literature stands radically opposed to that of the preceding century. There the concomitant experience is one of forgiveness and redemption, mercy rendered and received, sin expiated and overcome. Our own century, for obvious reasons, has increasingly come to disbelieve in this redemptive moment—the moment of the Ancient Mariner, Jean Valjean, Silas Marner, Gwendolen Harleth, Sydney Carton, Dombey, Raskolnikov, Dmitry Karamazov, Pierre Bezuhov—so confidently announced in the ultimately optimistic art of the nineteenth century. Our age—it should not surprise us—is far less responsive than its predecessor to the promise of salvation, far less committed to the avoidance of tragedy that was the prime requirement of Victorian sensibility.
The very titles are revelatory. George Eliot writes Janet's Repentance—it needs only a change of possessive to make it applicable to so many key works of the time; Tolstoy calls his last great novel Resurrection, thereby giving explicit religious form to the underlying hope of his century. In this literature, however harsh the narrative, the end is almost always a reconciliation—that Madame Bovary, L'Assommoir, and Tess of the d'Urbervilles are here so scandalously heretical marks them as the subversive harbingers of a bleaker future, abhorred and vilified on that account. The nineteenth-century reader preferred a different kind of story, one in which Dorothea Brooke is given a second chance, where Pip may lose his fairy gold but not, finally, his fairy princess. However fallen the hero—who ever seemed so irrecoverably lost as Raskolnikov, so suicidally adrift as Levin?—the possibility of a change of heart is an option forever available. Not until Hardy, heralding the harsher age to come, is a genuine plea for mercy rejected. Whether it be the theme of fruitful remorse that runs from Coleridge's Ancient Mariner to Wagner's Parsifal, or the theme of love triumphing over world and self that informs the major fiction of the time, somewhere in this literature, exultant or restrained, sounds the seraphic assurance of Dame Julian of Norwich: “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”2
It had not always been thus. The change of heart so generously provided and so gratefully accepted by the Victorian sinner seems somehow denied to characters like Faustus, Macbeth, or Beatrice-Joanna in Thomas Middleton's The Changeling; the assurance that all shall be well is so cruelly inappropriate to the likes of Oedipus or Medea or Clytemnestra. The optimistic eschatology of Goethe's Faust and its legacy to nineteenth-century culture, so distant from the related outlooks of his predecessor, Marlowe, and his successor, Thomas Mann, have come to seem crass folly, a total misreading of life. Those who believe that man is inherently noble, with the gift of redemptive love forever at his disposal, have been increasingly forced onto the defensive in the face of modern iniquity. To act as defense counsel for man—precisely the impossible vocation forsaken by the enlightened “hero” of The Fall—seems fatuously quixotic in our time; tilting at windmills seems a far more rewarding activity.
Sartre turns modern disillusion into an advantage, something creditable, arguing that the hideous times through which we have lived have been educative, teaching us to take evil seriously, not merely as an appearance or as a privation, but as ontological reality; his conclusion will, he claims, “seem shocking to lofty souls: Evil cannot be redeemed.”3 This categorical assertion, with its tone of intimidatory, irrefutable discovery, is advanced as though Shakespeare had never created lago nor Milton conceived the Satan of Mount Niphates; but, leaving aside the untenable claim to have unearthed a new, hitherto unapprehended truth, the assertion is clearly designed to rout forever the Pollyannaish daydreams of nineteenth-century liberals and the redemptive art of the preceding age.
Nor is it just an insistence that the doctrine of inherent goodness is a lie, a reminder that there is evil abroad as well as good, and that evil is real. As we read modern fiction, the fearful suspicion grows that evil, not goodness, is the ultimate reality, the truly strong thing, with Beelzebub lord of the world as well as the flies. Amor vincit omnia: some such assurance underwrites the confidence of the great nineteenth-century novelists, Dickens and George Eliot, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. It is this assurance that is now at risk.
In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, O'Brien, his tone that of a weary schoolmaster painfully instructing a perversely backward child, states, “You are under the impression that hatred is more exhausting than love. Why should it be?”4 Winston's illusions, which prove so pitifully puerile, are that love is stronger than hatred, that good encompasses evil, that human nature has a bias toward goodness, that evil is a mere distraction, an error to be expunged, that in the long run all is for the best—precisely the axioms upon which nineteenth-century fiction is founded. Rebuking Winston for these childish misconceptions, O'Brien becomes a spokesman for twentieth-century “realism,” putting the optimism of the earlier age in its puerile place. Winston is exposed to the same harsh but necessary education that Sartre claims as our dubious privilege: we have been badly taught but have now learned better. The link with Lord of the Flies is inescapable; the island is a schoolroom where the children, however brutally, learn to see life as it is and not as it is foolishly mediated through the Pollyannaish pages of a nineteenth-century romancer.
In this respect Golding's book is a representative text, at one with its epoch. The twentieth century has been a bad period for Pelagians, those who confidently proclaim the virtue and intelligence of human beings. Modern literature seems, on the whole, to support Augustine against Pelagius, emphasizing as it does the frailty and nastiness of men. When Adrian Leverkühn in Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus announces his resolve to take back the Ninth, revoking what he sees as the fatuous lie of man's nobility as enshrined in the “Ode to Joy,” he simultaneously announces the adversarial program of twentieth-century literature toward the work of its predecessor.5 Today the promise is fulfilled—everything is taken back. Where was once salvation is now damnation; where love once ruled, there is the boot in the face forever. In place of the redeemed sinner, Carton and Dombey, Valjean and Raskolnikov, is the doomed criminal, Kurtz and Aschenbach. The creative remorse of Jean Valjean cedes to the sterile despair of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, “hero” of The Fall and baptist of our bitter dispensation. Instead of the serene assurance of Dame Julian, we hear the intimidating challenge at the close of Lord of the Flies, the more disconcerting because there seems to be no immediately plausible answer: who will save the officer and his ship, who will save us?
This is the dark epiphany: a realization of failure, futility, and sin, with no promise of reprieve or hope of redemption. “The absurd is sin without God": thus Camus identifies the peculiar torment of our predicament, its oxymoronic quality.6 Without a judge who can absolve and redeem, we stand condemned forever: sin becomes agony, unbearable because remediless. We cannot forgive ourselves and there is no Atlas to take the weight of our sins on his shoulders. As desperately as Golding's Ralph, we need rescue, but there is no rescuer for us as there so luckily is for him. To explain the provenance of this dark epiphany, I shall investigate the relevance of Gulliver's Travels to our own cultural catastrophe. This text, written in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, provides a grid for locating our modern fictions, a template against which contemporary experience can be assessed and aligned. “The Voyage to the Houyhnhnms” is of special paradigmatic import; set against it, Lord of the Flies will assume a sharper definition and a deeper clarity.
In 1726 Swift issued a challenge to the Pelagianism of his day and supplied a model for Golding's onslaught against Victorian optimism. (The British fourth century monk Pelagius, in denying original sin, advanced a euphoric view of man's chances of salvation, which came close to rejecting the need for a redeemer—men could regain Eden through their own efforts and virtues.) Swift presented a bleaker view of man's condition, a view with certain affinities to our own contemporary variants of Augustinianism. (Saint Augustine's was a direly pessimistic view of the human condition—man was a vile creature, totally corrupted since the Fall and hence completely dependent for salvation on the gratuitous grace of a Saviour-God.) For following Augustine, Swift was rebuked, not by an enemy but by a friend, Lord Bolingbroke, his personal and political ally, who deplored the Travels on the ground that it was a bad design to depreciate human nature.7 Man is basically good and is steadily becoming better; he is animal rationale, uniquely privileged among creatures as sharer in the divine gift of reason. It was, so Bolingbroke judged, scandalously offensive to besmirch the imago dei with the filth of the Yahoo. Even today, in our atrocity-benumbed century, Swift's book retains the power to unnerve, though Bolingbroke's sense of outrage at the insult to human nature understandably finds fewer seconders. Rather, the experience of Swift's alienated hero strikes us, in certain respects, as chillingly pertinent to that of certain key modern protagonists: to Marlow in Heart of Darkness, detecting the fraud of western civilization in distant places; to Aschenbach in Death in Venice, bound on a journey that strangely merges self-discovery with self-destruction; to Orwell's broken wretch in Nineteen Eighty-Four, learning that all his tenderly harbored delusions concerning truth, love, and freedom are mere brainwashing, reflexes mistaken for truth; to Golding's boys, as ineptly educated by their society as Gulliver is by his, discovering on the island that there is no refuge from corrupt civilization in Yahoo nature, no rescue in either city or jungle.
Certainly, Gulliver's Travels differs from modern manifestations of the dark epiphany, Lord of the Flies included, in one important respect: it comes before an age of optimism while they come after, marking the end of an era while they signal the emergence of a new sensibility. Swift's book is a last, brilliant Augustinian sortie against the armies of Enlightenment massing for the final assault upon the ruined fortress of seventeenth-century ideology. It was almost as if the expiring century had concentrated all its force in the person of Swift to launch one parting onslaught upon the deluded optimism of its successor.
As the vous autres letter to Pope and Bolingbroke shows, Swift believed that the new, optimistic view of man, built on the ruins of original sin, was dangerously mistaken (Swift, Correspondence, 3: 118). In the Travels he flung down the gauntlet to emergent, buoyant Pelagianism. The enemies he attacked were many and varied—deists, rationalists, freethinkers, philanthropists—but all were united in avowed or tacit denial of the doctrine of original sin and in a determination to absolve human nature of the charge of corruption. They were “the party of humanity,” the task force resolved to deliver mankind from the shackles of Hobbes and Calvin alike.8 Theology and philosophy had conspired to persuade men that they were fallen creatures, sinks of iniquity or selfish, treacherous animals whose very society was founded on fear and mistrust. It was long overdue for men to break the prison of original sin, renounce self-disparagement, and demand the restitution of the virtues stolen from them. On this, whatever other disagreements they had, the luminaries of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment were at one.
Against this meliorist tide, Swift stood like some Canute of Augustinianism. It is easy to see why his book incensed Bolingbroke and the party of humanity, that party to which the deluded Gulliver had belonged before his enlightenment by the rational horses. Swift took a very different view of man's estate from that of the philosophes. He found himself surrounded by men who thought themselves emancipated and were proud of their superiority—it was, for someone who never wondered to see men wicked, only to see them not ashamed,9 like living among lepers who boasted of being sound: the claim, even more than the condition, provoked his contempt. He surveyed what the enlightened were pleased to call civilization with a scorn to match their complacency, because it was precisely the progressivist era that he regarded as degenerate. In the tradition of Old Testament pessimism, he was convinced that man was the vehicle of original sin and that his most flagrant offense was his insufferable pride in a false innocence:
Their Deeds they all on Satan lay;
The Devil did the Deed, not they.10
Swift despised the doublethink that permitted man to commit abominations while denying responsibility for them, to divorce existence from essence, to be one thing yet deem himself another. In our own time Reinhold Niebuhr expresses a similar puzzlement in the face of the same paradox: “No cumulation of contradictory evidence seems to disturb modern man's good opinion of himself. He considers himself the victim of corrupting institutions which he is about to destroy or reconstruct or the confusions of ignorance which an adequate education is about to overcome. Yet he continues to regard himself as essentially harmless and virtuous.”11 For Swift, as for Niebuhr, man's self-infatuation, his absorption in the myth of his own innocence, is his greatest transgression and worst affront. The myth of human goodness is Swift's prime target.
One by one he inspects the extolled institutions of European civilization—church, law, learning, science, government—to expose them as a sordid mixture of filth and folly. His book succeeded brilliantly in being offensive and wounding. Men who thought themselves innocent were convicted of guilt; men who boasted of being “rational creatures” were shown to be Yahoos; men unwarrantably happy were denied the right to be so. The chorus of protests from Bolingbroke onward makes plain that Swift's chief offense was to attack the myth of human goodness so dear to the liberal mentality, that mentality that was to secure its greatest triumph in the fiction of Victorian England. Swift despised this mentality as the product of pride and pursued it even when it took cover within traditional religion: “Miserable mortals! can we contribute to the glory of God?” (Swift, Prose, 9:263). Swift challenges the orthodox view expressed in the Anglican prayer book and taken to its extreme by certain theologians who argued that man, as God's creature, contributes to the creator's glory even in his damnation. It is a sign of Swift's vehemence against pride that he should distrust this Christian view as simply the old inveterate egotism wearing its Sunday clothes.
For him, not the luminous intellect but dark instincts govern man and society, and the sooner we admit this, the quicker we might do something about it. Parading as the friends of man, the philosophes are in truth his worst enemies, much as a quack who does not see a patient's illness threatens his life. “The Voyage to the Houyhnhnms” seeks to show the sufferer his true condition and to lash the charlatans who tell him he is well. Superficially a journey from Pelagius to Augustine, it is in reality from cozy domesticity to radical alienation, from an assumption of innocence to a conviction of sin.
Houyhnhnmland is at once education and disillusionment—the terms are virtually synonymous; Gulliver simultaneously stops being a fool, that is, a lover of humanity, and a happy man—happiness is the forfeit to experience. The truth sets him free but it is a bleak liberation. What he learns among the rational horses makes it impossible for him to continue as the good husband, father, and citizen who set out from home, but the happiness of these roles now appears as an Epicurean folly that the hero of truth must sternly forgo. He enters Houyhnhnmland well pleased with himself as Homo sapiens, animal rationale, the crown of creation; better still, he is European man, and, most conclusive of all, he is English man, the highest conceivable product of culture and the Everest of anthropological excellence. His implicit credo is that of a whole civilization at a moment of colonialist expansion, a civilization that regards its own superiority as axiomatic. It is this attitude that the experiences of the last voyage will radically subvert.
Gulliver is not brainwashed by the horses, as hostile critics, presumably still faithful lovers of humanity, sometimes allege. The brainwashing has occurred long before as a routine element of his English education: the unfaltering certitude that man is the perfection of nature, the unquestioned axiom of human superiority, the hubristic hauteur of the anthropomorphic delusion—man is Swift's quarry, not some subset of the species such as deists or freethinkers. Before the mind can entertain truth, it has to be cleared of cant; Gulliver must shed false learning first. The man who starts off expecting the horse to carry him ends up reverently stooping to kiss its hoof.
To protest that men are superior to horses is to blunder into the trap—we knew that before Houyhnhnmland. We accompany Gulliver to Houyhnhnmland to have our certitudes shaken, forsaking the assumptions that flatter us, confronting our true condition. One of the chief aims of the Travels is to show that we live in perceptual prisons, slaves to arbitrary norms elevated to the status of axioms, forever mistaking mere custom for cognition, conditioning for truth. “The Voyage to the Houyhnhnms” is at once an education in truth and guilt. We proceed through the charge sheet until every institution to which we pointed in proof of our virtue is exposed as a filthy sham. What Gulliver learns is that the dear place of his nativity is a sewer, his continent a cesspool. Denied asylum, driven back to the sewer, he writes his Travels, not to divert but to mortify his fellow Yahoos. The trial of Gulliver hinges on a question of identity, with the mirrors of Houyhnhnmland, the pools of water, reflecting the painful truth: when Gulliver stares into them, he sees staring back the face of the Yahoo. It is the final lesson in Gulliver's curriculum, the dark epiphany toward which the whole voyage moves. After all his travels, Gulliver discovers himself.
The genius to shock and dismay; the journey from spurious goodness to appalling truth; the dark epiphany in which the self is compelled, through a radical dislocation of experience, to confess aspects of its own nature formerly suppressed or ignored: all this makes Swift's masterpiece the ideal paradigm for assessing the dark works of our time, foremost among these being Lord of the Flies.
Golding's novel recapitulates in a fable immediately resonant to a twentieth-century sensibility the themes that originate in Swift: the dread that civilization is simply a veneer over bestiality; that the self is merely the fragile product of a particular conditioning that alters unnervingly with the altered matrix; that orgiastic surrender to a dark irrationalism is always a temptation and sometimes a fate; that we are shockingly obliged to give psychological houseroom to strangers who claim kinship, to Yahoo and sadist, both of whom disconcertingly seem to have equal residential rights with our more decorous, flattering selves. In its final memorable scene, Golding's book supplies us with one of the most strikingly explicit renditions of the dark epiphany in modern literature, when the newly rescued Ralph, to the embarrassed incomprehension of his superficial savior, weeps for the end of innocence and the darkness of man's heart. That Swift remains to the end a great comedian while Golding favors tragedy should not disguise the similarity of their disclosures.
Golding, as much as his book, seems the fitting terminus for an investigation of Gulliver's legacy. If, in fulfillment of Leverkühn's vow in Doctor Faustus, the twentieth century has pursued a policy of revocation toward the work of its predecessor, it is Golding who has proved the most overt and deliberate of revokers. Almost all of his early work is a taking back, a rescinding of certain long-established views and idees reçues (conventional wisdom). His second novel, The Inheritors, sets out to invalidate the optimistic view of human development held by H. G. Wells; its epigraph is provided by The Outline of History in which Wells celebrates the coming of Homo sapiens and his victory over Neanderthal man. Wells presents the latter as a halfwitted, bloodthirsty creature, prototype of the cannibalistic ogre of folk-tale, while his supplanter is shown as thoughtful and resourceful, fit ancestor of our superior selves. Even more pertinent to the plot of Golding's book is Wells's short story “The Grisly Folk,” in which the Neanderthal monsters steal a human child and are then, with Wells's complete approval, hunted down and destroyed by the new men in an act at once retributive and progressive. The Inheritors stands Wells on his head by depicting the Neanderthals as gentle and innocent, the newcomers as vicious and aggressive. (To this day man still believes that progress and the extermination of his enemies are the same thing.) For Golding it is man who ruins the garden by introducing evil into it; the serpent is redundant in his revision of Genesis—no more than Swift will he allow the devil to be made a scapegoat for human sins.
His third novel, Pincher Martin, does to Robinson Crusoe as a myth of human fortitude what The Inheritors does to “The Grisly Folk,” and is equally outrageous in the reversal it proposes. From Prometheus onward we have come, through culture and inclination alike, to cherish the hero who, rejecting capitulation or despair, pits his unsustained, unconquerable self against the overwhelming tyranny of external circumstance. How can we withhold admiration from these champions of the self who cry no surrender even to inexorable reality? Pincher, clinging to his ocean rock after being torpedoed, seems for much of the book to be yet another irresistible candidate for heroic apotheosis, a worthy son of Prometheus; only gradually do we become aware that another, very different view of the situation is being pressed upon us. A series of flashbacks reveals a nasty, competitive person, bent on self-gratification even if it means destroying others. The snarling man, defying sea and sky, involved in his fierce and cunning appetite to survive, is simply exhibiting the same thralldom to appetite, the same wicked infatuation with his precious self, that caused so much agony to others before his shipwreck. Pincher is not a hero but a damned soul. We learn that he has, in fact, been dead from the first page and that the speciously heroic stand against the self's extinction is, properly understood, a timid, childish refusal to face the truth. What we have deludedly prized as our noblest quality is revealed as a sordid bondage, making us a woe unto ourselves and a menace to others.
But it is his first and best-known novel, Lord of the Flies, that reveals Golding as the supreme revoker, the most open abrogator in modern literature, employing the dark discoveries of our century to disclaim the vapid innocence of its predecessor. The obvious target is R. M. Ballantyne's boys' adventure story The Coral Island. Far from attempting to conceal his creative “theft,” Golding points up the ironic contrast by lifting even the names of the boys from the earlier work. Ballantyne's book is important less as literature than as a document in the history of ideas, reflecting as it does a Victorian euphoria, a conviction that the world is a rational place where problems arise so that sensible, decent men can solve them. God has his place in this world, but his adversary is pleasingly absent and, with him, the sin that is his hold on humanity. The Home Counties come to the jungle and win easily. Difficulties are confidently and cheerfully overcome; fire is acquired easily and safely, pigs are hunted and killed without guilt or bloodshed. The only troublesome things—cannibals and pirates—come from outside and are bested by British grit and common sense. What cannibal is so foolish as to eat human flesh in preference to pig? All he needs is the proper culinary advice, and Ballantyne knows the boys to give it. They, for their part, know nothing of Beelzebub: they are godly, cleanly, sensible, decent, and efficient, and their island adventure is a kind of initiative test providing gratifying proof that they are just about ready to assume the blessed work of extending the British Empire throughout the savage world.
Get you the sons your father got,
And God will save the Queen.12
The braggadocio of Housman's words is anticipated in Ballantyne's hosanna of self-congratulation: the Coral Island boys are the sons of their proud fathers and the civilized values of the pax Britannica are guaranteed so long as such progeny persists.
Lord of the Flies was conceived in a radically different moral landscape, and Golding himself tells us that the horrors of World War II were crucial in producing this alteration. When Sammy Mountjoy, the hero of Free Fall, remarks that “the supply of nineteenth-century optimism and goodness had run out before it reached me,” and goes on to describe the world as “a savage place in which man was trapped without hope,” one senses an authorial reinforcement behind the words.13 The last quotation might well serve as synopsis for Lord of the Flies. The book springs from the catastrophe of our time and not, as has been foolishly alleged, from the petty rancor of an arts graduate peeved because today the scientists have all the posts and prestige (Martin Green; 454). To attribute the book to a sullen distaste for the contemporary world, to depict Golding as another Jack who, when he can't have his own way, won't play any more and goes off in a huff, all because the scientist has displaced the literary intellectual as leader of society, is dignified by describing it as a niaiserie (derisively foolish idea).
But such criticism does at least have the merit of focusing attention on Golding's attitude toward science. He had started to read science at university on the twin assumptions that “science was busy cleaning up the universe” and that “there was no place in this exquisitely logical universe for the terrors of darkness” (Hot Gates, 172)—recognizable as a more sophisticated version of the vain assurance that Piggy attempts to provide in the text, and enough, surely, to give pause to those critics who identify Piggy as the book's hero. For the darkness stubbornly refused to scatter and Golding came to suspect (as Bertrand Russell likewise did, tutored by book 3 of Gulliver's Travels)14 that science is not the savior, but, in the wrong hands, might well become our ruin. When Jack steals Piggy's glasses and becomes the thief of fire, he uses the stolen technology to intensify the nightmare, finally setting the island ablaze. H. G. Wells notwithstanding, bad men can be good scientists—only a scientific fideist will insist that science has a monopoly on virtue, a blunder long since exposed by Swift's Giant King. For Golding the war confirmed that “the darkness was all around, inexplicable, unexorcised, haunted, a gulf across which the ladder (science) lay without reaching the light” (Hot Gates, 174). Allowing for the heightened mode of expression, this is much the same pessimistic perception as Freud's toward the previous war, and no one, surely, is going to accuse Freud of being a disgruntled arts graduate envious of the scientists' acclaim.15
Golding's explanation of how his book came to be written seems far more convincing: “I set out to discover whether there is that in man which makes him do what he does, that's all…. [T]he Marxists are the only people left who think humanity is perfectible. But I went through the War and that changed me. The War taught me different and a lot of others like me.”16 This echoes Sartre's remark about our education in evil, with the war doing for Golding what Room 101 does for Winston Smith and what the island finally does for Ralph: providing the harsh but welcome corrective to a foolishly optimistic education. Among the lessons learned was that Ballantyne was retailing illusions—namely, that man is basically noble, that reason must prevail over darkness, that science is the prerogative of the civilized man.
The key to Lord of the Flies is in Golding's words—"that in man which makes him to do what he does” (emphasis added). He will not permit blame to be attributed to the environment; the island is not responsible for what happens to the boys. His book is a challenge to Rousseau, “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. Before the war, most Europeans believed that man could be perfected by perfecting his society. We saw a hell of a lot in the war that can't be accounted for except on the basis of original evil.”17 It is the doctrine against which Swift's enemies, the philosophes, had fulminated so fiercely, the doctrine rehabilitated by the hideous events of twentieth-century history. Orwell's nightmare is a boot in the face forever, a world devoted to cruelty for its own sake, Roger's paradise. Camus in The Fall invites us to ponder the little-ease and the spitting-cell, the first an ingenious medieval invention, the second the equally masterly contrivance of the most advanced nation in modern Europe.18 Had the rescuing officer not arrived, the boys would doubtless have contrived to create their own equivalent of these infernal machines.
Golding makes his own notable contribution to the tradition of the dark epiphany as he seeks to discover “that in man which makes him do what he does,” anatomizing these juvenile replicas of Shakespeare's Regan to see what breeds about their hearts. It is no diminution of the power and originality of Lord of the Flies to insist that it is not so isolated from any mainstream of speculation, as is sometimes suggested, for Golding shares a certain sensibility with other key writers of our age, such as Orwell and Camus, with all claiming a common literary father in the Swift of Gulliver's Travels. To dismiss these men as mere malcontents, a literary Cave of Adullam, a gang of petulant and disaffected literatures miffed at a scientific takeover, is as foolish as it is impertinent.
Golding has perhaps connived at his own depreciation by describing himself as a parodist and parody as depending on the mean advantage of being wise after someone else's event.19 There is no intention here of presenting Lord of the Flies as parasitic upon Gulliver's Travels, no question of any mean advantage being taken of that great event, far less of that immeasurably lesser event, The Coral Island. Golding is guilty of a similarly ungenerous self-devaluation in referring to himself as a pint-size Jeremiah, almost as though he were colluding with those who dismiss him as a peddler of doom—content, perhaps even elated, to describe the ruins around us.20 To deride oneself for being able to read the signs of the times and, greater feat still, to shape that reading into a fable of such power and originality as Lord of the Flies, is an injustice against which the reader must protest. Part of the greatness of Gulliver's Travels is, one must remark, its prophetic element, its adversarial heroism, as Swift single-handedly challenges the complacency of his age—the pride of the philosophes was the wave of the future. Golding, by contrast, wrote his book after the fall, a fall that even the party of humanity could not deny. When H. G. Wells issues as his dying testament Mind at the End of Its Tether, one may safely conclude that the jig is up for nineteenth-century doctrines of progress.
But there is no shame in correcting the errors of a discredited orthodoxy, and it is misleading of Golding or anyone else to speak as though Lord of the Flies were merely an inversion of The Coral Island, a realistic retelling of an exploded fantasy. Golding is most interesting when he is most creative, when he deserts parody altogether. Just as Joseph Andrews becomes a comic masterpiece when Fielding leaves off burlesquing Richardson and liberates his own imagination, so the real triumph of Lord of the Flies is not its parodic demolition of Ballantyne but the innovative skill that is most strikingly evident in the creation of Piggy, Simon, and Roger—a skill without precedent in the earlier book. This is what makes it an original work of art, the authentic expression of its age, not simply a spoof deriving its secondhand force from the work of another era. How sin enters the garden: it is, after all, the oldest story in Western culture and Golding's contemporary rendition is a worthy continuation of the tradition.
In assessing the influence of Gulliver's Travels upon Lord of the Flies, our discriminations must be altogether finer, more delicately precise. The Coral Island is too slight a text to be in any but the most superficial way commensurate with the work so often unjustly limited as its parody. To think of The Coral Island as giving birth to Lord of the Flies is like attributing the paternity of a giant to a pygmy. The Travels is a very different matter. Ballantyne's fantasy of island life is so adrift from the world known to Golding that all he had to do to expose it was to include the elements so decorously ignored by the Victorian writer—dirt, diarrhea, hysteria, bloodlust, the excrement on the fruit, the stake up the sow's anus, Simon's body on the beach, Piggy's brains on the rock—all those aspects of dark, disgusting nature from which Ballantyne studiously averted his gaze. Where better to acquire these missing elements than from the great master of disgust, Jonathan Swift? How more devastatingly expose Ballantyne's blunders than by contrasting the island experience of his boys with the very different island experience of Lemuel Gulliver? In particular, Swift could be recruited to attack the opposing delusions of two groups with whom Golding wished to quarrel: those who recommend a retreat to nature from the decadence of civilization and those who uphold society as a shield against the savagery of nature.
It has long been recognized that Swift is the master of entrapment, forever luring the baffled reader into impasse and stalemate. The most celebrated of such deadlocks in his work is the “Digression on Madness,” with its bewildering antitheses of sunny surface and dark interior, mindless hedonism and stricken insight, which leave the reader desperately treading air, seeking in vain a toehold upon certitude, a precious square of unassailable footage.21 In vain, because Swift deliberately induces a sense of disorientation, shattering the trust he invites, exulting in the havoc he provokes: “I damn such Fools! Go, go, you're bit” (Swiftly, Poems, 2:579). Swift's is an art hostile to the reader, never more so than when he is treacherously addressed as “gentle reader"; betrayal is Swift's business.
The last book of the Travels is such a trap, leaving the reader stranded like Bouridan's ass between the equally unacceptable alternatives of nature and culture: fleeing the filth of the one, he falls into the filth of the other. Gulliver is forced to concede that the Yahoo is natural man, stripped of all the reinforcements of culture and the amenities of society. It is the culmination of Lear's act of divestment on the health when all the “lendings” have been scattered to the winds, and only the poor, forked animal remains. It is to this creature that Swift gives the name Yahoo. We are not, clearly, to seek salvation in nature.
But neither, in the Travels, are we to turn to society, to civilization, as a refuge from nature. To protest that we are not Yahoos but civilized Europeans will not serve in this text. The whole purpose of Gulliver's Houyhnhnm education is to show how deceptive is the apparent division between Yahoo and European, savagery and civilization, and to impress that there is no escape from nature into culture. Europe is simply Yahoodom triumphant, because when there is no pest-control, the pests may do as they please. The sophisticated nastiness of Europe is even more noxious, since there are no rational horses to keep the vermin in check. How terrible it would be, reflects the Houyhnhnm Master, if there existed anywhere an animal as vile as the Yahoo but equipped with the brainpower so fortunately denied that loathsome creature (294). In Europe the appalled supposition is fact: the “civilized” Yahoo combines the savagery of a beast with the technology of an ingenious psychopath. If nature in the Yahoo is vile, reason in the European is worse, simply making natural malice the more lethal—lack of claws or talons is no handicap to the inventor of gunpowder. On fallacious Houyhnhnm premises, man, so blessedly disabled, has no hope of ever becoming the master animal that the myth of Eden makes him: lord of the garden, creation his fiefdom. Golding follows Swift in showing the disastrous results of God's decision to elect man to this high office. Liberated from rational horses or disciplining adults, Yahoo men and Yahoo boys (there is merely a trivial difference in size) ruin the garden and forfeit paradise. However we turn in Swift and Golding alike, toward nature or society, we confront the same nightmare, in primitive or refined form. There is no remedy in the Travels, simply a sense of impasse and a final insulting dismissal of man as a creature beyond redemption.
What is still to be adequately recognized is the extent to which Lord of the Flies replicates the ground plan of Gulliver's Travels, unearthing the same discoveries, climaxing in an analogous impasse. Both texts compel us to scrutinize anew those slothful assumptions we so carelessly take for knowledge. Who are the savages in Gulliver's last voyage—those who try to kill him with poisoned arrows or those in Portugal who, if they heard his story, would burn him in the fires of the Inquisition? (337). Officially, the former are savages, the latter civilized. Swift asks if we are happy with this demarcation. In Lord of the Flies Golding shows us a boy with a stick and a man with a nuclear warship and asks us to say which is the greater threat to life. Yet we still have so much irrelevant labor expended on arguments as to whether Lord of the Flies is a “tory” text, an implicit tribute to the salutary disciplines of society, bereft of which, men must lapse into ruinous anarchy. To see Golding as the heir of Swift would prevent such misguided industry, for no more than his master does Golding promise salvation in the city or declare that only in the jungle are we at risk. Nature is as much a metaphor in Golding as in Bunyan. When Ralph laments “the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one's waking life was spent watching one's feet” (83), his immediate reference is, of course, to the literal difficulty of walking in the jungle, but the wider, metaphorical implications are unmistakable. It would be as foolish to believe that fear and frustration are confined to the tropics as to take the Slough of Despond for a criticism of the local roads authority. As much as Swift, Golding denies the segregation of jungle and home countries; the problems are the same, merely transposed to a new setting and wearing a different vestment. That is the meaning of that concluding parallax when the rescuing officer arrives and the perspective is so startlingly altered. Here, too, Gulliver's legacy is evident, for Swift reveals himself in Lilliput and Brobdingnag as the master of perspective, and Golding proves an exemplary pupil in his own virtuoso performance throughout his book.
The parallels multiply on inspection. Islands are ideal for such fictions, providing the perfect laboratory conditions—hermetic, remote, fenced off from irrelevance—for the testing of human nature. Gulliver protests the irrelevance of his writings to affairs at home: how could events so distant be applicable to the state of England? (37-38). Golding's adventure story has a parallel deceptiveness. What have the actions of a bunch of boys stranded on an island to do with us, except to provide a pleasant way of passing our time? Yet Golding as much as Gulliver writes for our amendment, not our entertainment. These travels abroad disclose the truth of home. Gulliver is soon indignantly demanding how any reader dare question the authenticity of the Yahoos when they abound in London and Dublin—admittedly wearing clothes and using a jabber of language, but undeniably Yahoos for all that (40). One recalls how American publishers initially rejected Animal Farm on the ground that there was no market for animal stories. Lord of the Flies is a boys' adventure story in the sense that Animal Farm is an animal story or Gulliver's Travels a piece of travel literature. Behind the facade of all three is a warning and an exhortation: attention must be paid, for it is a matter of salvation. Lord of the Flies is only ostensibly about the rescue of Ralph; much more pertinent and taxing is the problem of the rescuer's rescue, the salvation of the savior. This is the real problem of the text, insoluble within its pages, pressing upon the book's readers: here the author makes no claim to authority. In this challenge to the reader (audible, surely, even without the prompting of Golding's extratextual tuition),22 the text links up with contemporary works like The Fall and Nineteen Eighty-Four, all manifestly derivative of Gulliver's Travels. Is it necessary to repeat that to use “derivative” in such a context is the highest compliment that one can pay?
There are, undeniably, important differences between Swift and Golding. Swift always begins in normalcy, with Gulliver at home and all well before setting out on his next strange adventure. He is rooted in the mundane, a family man with the customary obligations before his metamorphosis into giant or manikin, observer of zany theoreticians or celebrant of Houyhnhnm virtues. This anchorage in banal reality certifies the authenticity of his adventures; so unremarkable a man patently lacks the imagination to concoct such tales. By contrast, Swift's pupils, Orwell and Golding, call immediate attention to the strangeness of the situation: something is demonstrably amiss when a clock ominously strikes thirteen at the opening of Nineteen Eighty-Four or when a boy in school uniform is found clambering through the creepers of a tropical jungle—crisis is already upon us. Instead of the circumstantial detail that Gulliver so dutifully supplies, there is a curious reticence in Lord of the Flies as to the background of the children, and this dearth of information is revelatory of what Golding chose to reject in writing his novel. We learn that Piggy's father is dead and that he was brought up by an aunt who kept a sweetshop, that Ralph's father is a naval officer who taught his son to swim when he was five. But the whereabouts, even the very existence, of their mothers remains a mystery; to the end we do not know if they are motherless through death, divorce, or abandonment. We know nothing at all of the kind of homes that produced Jack or Roger or Simon. The most circumstantial piece of information supplied—the address and telephone number of Percy Weyms Madison—is completely trivial, of no value to the reader or, finally, to the near-demented boy himself: it has lost its talismanic charm and become mere gibberish, a chant without import, before fading from memory altogether. Golding's disdain for the circumstantial detail of conventional realistic fiction underlines such neglect; all he needs is a group of children on a desert island and a minimum of information about their former lives—that Jack sang high C and once led a choir is all we need to know to follow his development. Golding as author is almost as secretive as Roger as character.
Despite these differences, Lord of the Flies and Gulliver's Travels share a common aim and origin in their creators' resolve to shatter the myth of innocence, and the earlier work supplies a shape as well as an impetus, a map for traversing the same route from optimism to despair. As Gulliver is driven to acknowledge himself Yahoo, so the boys are forced to confess the presence of the beast within, dwelling not in the forest but in the darkness of the human heart: parallel recognitions.
General ground plan apart, there are more detailed reverberations of Swift in Golding's text, such as the views on government and the theme of deterioration. Swift's detestation of the whole arcana imperii tradition of government, the idea that the art of ruling is an elitist skill denied to the multitude, recurs in Ralph's dismay at the practiced debaters, Piggy included, who use their gifts to sophisticate truth and twist the meetings. We read in Swift that “Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a mystery,” and the exemplary Giant King despises all refinement in what is, after all, a matter of applied commonsense (176). The idiom is not Ralph's, but the sentiments are. The first assembly meets in a mood of buoyant democracy, the right to speak and be heard, even for a littlun, symbolized in the conch: everyone can be a legislator. From the outset Jack holds an opposing, elitist view: only the few are entitled to speak and govern—by the close, this has narrowed down to himself alone. After the initial euphoria, Ralph is increasingly baffled at how difficult governing is, and his resentment against the devious rhetoricians for complicating what should be simple and straightforward—the paramountcy of rescue, hence the need for a signal fire—echoes the anger of the Giant King. Recalling Gulliver's eulogistic account of the Houyhnhnm assembly—"controversies, wranglings, disputes, and positiveness in false or dubious propositions are evils unknown among the Houyhnhnms” (315)—and contrasting this with the bad-tempered, illogical, disputatious assemblies of Lord of the Flies, one must conclude that the boys are not rational creatures in Gulliver's sense.
Deterioration is also present in both texts in theme and structure alike. Gulliver is shipwrecked by a storm, abandoned by companions intent on saving themselves, captured by pirates and set adrift in an open boat through the malice of a fellow Christian, and finally betrayed by a mutiny of his own crew. His successive adventures record a transition from purely natural disaster through human frailty to the blackest of human deeds, spite and treachery. The movement is one of deepening evil. The process of internalizing evil and giving it human features culminates when Gulliver, embraced by the she-Yahoo, acknowledges his kinship in a corruption not monopolized by pirates and mutineers.
A parallel retrogression from accident to evil occurs in Lord of the Flies. No blame attaches to the boys for being marooned on the island; they are the innocent victims of a nuclear war that their fathers—the adults for whom Piggy has such unwarrantable respect—started. But thereafter the fall from innocence is swift and irreversible, as the boys show themselves to be their fathers' sons. The first death, that of the child with the birthmark, is an accident, caused at worst by carelessness. Exuberant at the hope of rescue, the boys rush to light a fire, and, in their undisciplined folly, the fire gets out of control and the child is burned. Yet their intention is good, they mean well—failure is one of intelligence, not of will. They should have known better, been more circumspect: this is the limit of liability. After this, however, it is downhill all the way. When Simon dies, it is not physical nature but human nature that rages out of control. Maddened by fear and savage, atavistic ritual, the demented mob kills the boy as he staggers out of the forest in the nightmarish delusion that he is the beast. It is a frenzied slaughter, as mindless as that in The Bacchae when the king's mother unwittingly leads the horde that tears her son to pieces. In both cases guilt is partially mitigated by possession, a madness that the mind cannot resist. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do": the words of the dying Jesus might generously be extended to the Bacchic women and Golding's boys alike.
No such palliation is possible when Piggy, blind and helpless, clinging terrified to the narrow ledge, is smashed to pieces by the huge rock released by Roger. It is with a sense of delirious abandonment that Roger willingly, indeed eagerly, succumbs to a lust to kill. He knows what he's doing and wants to do it; he has cosseted and cultivated his obsession—for him the universe holds no greater delight than another's pain. Jack, too, knows what he is doing when, “viciously, with full intention,” he hurls the spear at Ralph and then plans a hunt—signals, strategy, and all, to catch and kill his enemy (200). The stick sharpened at both ends becomes the chilling objective correlative of the evil within Roger and Jack, proving the truth of Simon's intuition that the beast is at home in men. Vainly, Ralph tries to delude himself that the deterioration is mere mishap, the fall into evil unwilled and accidental, echoing the Socratic argument that no man does evil knowingly—there is no wickedness, only error. Evil as deliberate choice seems too bad to be possible. (Arthur Miller speaks of our modern inability to conceive a Iago, someone devoted to evil for its own sake: “Evil, be thou my good,” in the oxymoron of Milton's Satan.23) Ralph's liberal mind shies away from such lucid, open-eyed evil, until “the fatal unreasoning knowledge” forces itself upon him: “These painted savages would go further and further” (203); the logic of the Fall is that it stops only in hell. But for the officer's intervention, Ralph would have suffered the fate of a pig—his head left for the lord of the flies, his carcass roasted and eaten by the hunters. In Ballantyne the boys convert the cannibals; in Golding they are about to become them. From carelessness to frenzy to murderous impulse to a planned dedication to evil: the descent into hell in Lord of the Flies is as visible as it is in Dante.
There are, as the final chapter of this study shows, major differences in Golding's and Swift's attitudes toward nature; Golding frequently matches Swift's disgust, but never in Swift do we encounter that ecstatic celebration of natural beauty that occasionally illuminates the pages of Golding's text. Yet, balancing this in Golding is an excremental vision as obtrusive as anything in Swift. “I shit on your heaven,” screams Pincher Martin to God,24 and some critics mistakenly trace in the preoccupation with excrement a sign of the author's Manichaean aversion to physical life, a revulsion from man as excrement, disturbingly reminiscent of Swift's scatological poems. The preoccupation is certainly there. Lord of the Flies opens with diarrhea, with Piggy's bowel movements commanding attention in much the same way as Gulliver's. Our first view of Piggy is from the rear; only afterward do we see his glasses. Within seconds he is a bespectacled excreter, grunting like an animal as he crouches to defecate. The first responder to the conch is a littlun who steps out of soiled shorts as he moves toward the strange sound (18-19). Golding follows Swift in compelling us to confront the inescapable filth that we produce but conceal or pretend does not exist. In Lilliput Gulliver's evacuations are a major pollution problem, in Brobdingnag a recurring source of embarrassment for the hero. From Piggy's opening spasms, the subject recurs throughout Lord of the Flies. Ralph is forced to warn the littluns against excreting too near the fruit trees—filthy man polluting his environment (87). Simon's mysterious nocturnal movements are coarsely and erroneously ascribed by Jack to his being “caught short” (93); and when Simon struggles to enlighten his companions by asking them to think of the nastiest thing there is, Jack once again—significantly, to howls of laughter—answers with Pincher Martin's word (97). Our shame finds relief in laughter and Simon discovers how difficult it is to instruct the willfully deaf and the culpably vulgar. Nor is Jack altogether wrong, his coarse obtuseness notwithstanding: beast and excrement alike come from within. We turn food into energy and excrement—the first dangerous, the other dirty—and Golding finds the fitting symbol for both activities in the Lord of the Flies, who is also the Lord of Dung. If man is excrement, here is his master.
Nevertheless, it remains true for Golding (though perhaps less so for Swift) that the nature held up for judgment is the moral nature of human beings rather than physical nature itself, whether external world or human body. The rats that recur in Swift and his pupil, Orwell, are absent in Golding. Gulliver is threatened, Winston destroyed, by rats—by nature at its most loathsome. There are no noxious animals in Lord of the Flies, because human nature is Golding's prime concern. In Genesis the snake—another loathsome creature, like the rat—enters Eden to ruin man: no serpent, no Fall. In Lord of the Flies, by contrast, the snake is a figment of the human imagination, a fiction bred by disordered dreams. The boys need no literal serpent to tempt them, no rats to demoralize and break them; Golding presents a do-it-yourself temptation whereby the boys corrupt themselves and unilaterally ruin Eden. There is no serious external threat in Lord of the Flies, nothing remotely resembling Orwell's Room 101. There are problems, certainly—intense heat, storm, rain, darkness—but none so taxing that it cannot be solved, as Winston Smith so pitifully cannot solve his.
Despite Swift's disgust with certain aspects of physical life, the problem for Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms is never an economic problem, a test of physical survival. Houyhnhnmland is a paradise where Gulliver discovers “how easily nature is satisfied,” and declares, “I never had one hour's sickness, while I stayed in this island” (279). Whatever catastrophe occurs, nature and environment are exonerated. Unlike Crusoe, Gulliver need not battle just to stay alive; for him, human nature is the threat—not his environment but his self. The same is true of Golding's castaways, as Simon's startling interruption makes plain: “as if it wasn't a good island” (56). He clearly believes that it is, and the other boys pay tribute to the island's bounty. Fresh water, fruit, and meat are all in plentiful supply. Survival is relatively easy; they need only build shelters and keep a signal fire going. Ralph regards it as a piece of cake and is, in a sense, right. It is almost as if Golding set out to rebut Aldous Huxley's attack on Wordsworth for taking the Lake District as a representative sample of nature's kindness—born in jungle or desert, he might, so Huxley alleged, have thought otherwise.25 Although Golding's boys live in the tropics, he is resolved that nature shall not be made scapegoat for their misdeeds—no more than that society should take the rap for the crimes of civilized men. Externally, the boys have all they need to survive; it is their internal resources that are inadequate.
Boys who abuse nature, foolishly destroying their supply of wood at the start, wantonly incinerating the island at the close, have no cause to blame nature—it is the fire makers who are to blame for the fire. Their true battle is with themselves; it is never economic in the crude Marxist sense. Simon as prophet assures his companions that the island is good and that there is no snake in the forest. The snake is the product of bad dreams, belonging to the same order of existence as Macbeth's bloodstained dagger: how do you purge the mind? The beast is not real, but evil is, because human beings produce it as bees produce honey (Hot Gates, 87). It is significant that the only “rotten” place on the good island is the place that Jack instantaneously falls in love with—Castle Rock, over which he almost drools: so ideal for a fort, so perfect for hurling boulders on a foe beneath (116). It is not nature's fault if Jack has an evil mind, if he wants a totally unnecessary fort, if he loves forts for their own sake and will always be able to create the enemies to justify them. It would be absurd to blame the boulder for killing Piggy and not the boy who launched it. As determinedly as Swift, Golding sets his face against exculpation or alibi, resolved to expose human nature as the culprit, refuting Rousseau by tracking the defects of society to the defects of the individual rather than making society the scapegoat for our sins. Not society, nor nature, nor Beelzebub himself is to blame, for the Lord of the Flies has power only over those who commit themselves to his service.
Hence the importance of individual responsibility and self-knowledge. Know thyself: not the mastery of external nature but a true acquaintance with the self—the highest aspiration of pagan wisdom—is also the aim of Gulliver's Travels and Lord of the Flies. There is no guarantee that self-knowledge will promote self-esteem; education may lead to awareness of guilt. “There were few greater lovers of mankind, at that time, than myself,” Gulliver says, referring to his ignorant, pre-Houyhnhnm self, in love with his own and mankind's innocence (277). Yet, Niebuhr reminds us that the myth of innocence can easily consort with mass murder, as Eichmann in Jerusalem so strikingly illustrates. Gulliver's stay among the horses is the record of an education, a revaluation, a complete re-vision. Ralph experiences a similar reeducation, and his final breakdown testifies to the severity of the instruction.
“He was wholly at a loss to know what could be the use or necessity of practising those vices": The Houyhnhnm Master's bafflement at human evil (290) is shared by Ralph anguishing over Jack's misdeeds, despite the fact that at certain crucial moments (the “mock” beating of Robert, the horrific killing of Simon) he himself joins in. The element of self-incrimination is mandatory in the tradition of the dark epiphany: the fall of man, not the indictment of one's enemies, is its theme. It is because Piggy can see only the sins of the other, not his own, that he fails to be the hero of such a tradition. On the hilltop the boys see “something like a great ape,” and flee in terror from it (136). It is the most serious mistake, the most startling moment of nonrecognition, in the book, since it is the dead parachutist, human like themselves, whom they fail to identify. Gulliver, too, first sees the Yahoo as alien and repulsive, completely unrelated to himself—but he learns better. The chief aim of education should be knowledge of the self, not mastery of the world. What doth it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? What doth it profit a man to know the world and not himself?
The most egregious instance of self-ignorance is exhibited in Piggy, champion of common sense. After the murder of Simon, in his frantic search for a “formula” (173)—the scientific term is significant—that will preserve his innocence (in consummate confirmation of Niebuhr's paradox), Piggy, angrily rebuking Ralph, denies that he is a murderer. Simon's death is, he claims, an act without an agent, a deed without a doer, or else—Piggy at his most concessive—the atrocity must be extenuated, forgiven or ignored. There is a fascinating depiction of the alibi-fabricating animal detested by Swift ("The Devil did the Deed, not they") as Piggy shifts through the hopelessly contradictory stages of his defense (172-75). Simon is dead and no amount of talk can bring him back—best to forget and put it all behind. Fear was to blame—the darkness, the storm, the dance; not Piggy's true self but some uncontrollable usurper tore Simon to death. Simon is not dead at all but only pretending; there was no murder. Piggy did not fully participate, because, half-blind, he could not see what was happening. Piggy did not participate at all, for he was outside the circle. What happened was pure accident, in our blasphemous jargon an act of God for which no one should be blamed; there is a corpse but no murder—the argument of Dmitry's trendy, liberal lawyer in The Brothers Karamazov. The victim was to blame; the batty boy, irresponsibly crawling out of the dark, “asked for it” (173); the murderers are guiltless, while the corpse is arraigned. Finally, this straggle of confused alibis, each destined like the priests of some savage rite to kill its predecessor, fumbles its way back to amnesia as the remedy: “We got to forget this. We can't do no good thinking about it, see?” (173). For once the morality is as shoddy as the grammar. Swift, one feels, would have approved this revelation of man as the animal that sins and denies guilt.
Piggy, his protestations notwithstanding, has fallen with the others. The Fall is at the heart of these two texts, separated from each other by more than two centuries. From Genesis onward, the Fall has been somehow linked with sexuality, and in Gulliver's Travels and Lord of the Flies alike, the sexual test provides the decisive proof of corruption. When the female Yahoo leaps lasciviously upon Gulliver, identification is irrefutably confirmed: “For now I could no longer deny, that I was a real Yahoo in every limb and feature” (315). The killing of the sow-mother in Lord of the Flies provides a comparable moment (though with none of the comedy of Gulliver), for it is the unmistakably sexual element in the act, so gratuitously sadistic, that marks how fallen these boys are: boys capable of this are capable of anything (149). Jack selects with damning insight the sow-mother for slaughter, and it is the sheer wantonness of the deed, the willed excess, that relates it to gang rape, to a “wilding” in Central Park. Not just the killing itself, but the way she is killed and the orgiastic release of her killers, signal the end of innocence. These are the wanton boys of Gloucester's terrible indictment, killing for sport; even worse, they are de Sade's boys, torturing for sexual gratification.
Simon excepted, all are to some degree guilty. Piggy is never more mistaken than in his eagerness to blame the others, Jack in particular (154). Golding, following Swift, does not absolve anyone: he indicts an entire species, not some uniquely deviant members of it. Suppose that Jack had been killed in the crash and so had not vaulted, Draculalike, onto the platform at the outset to begin his duel with Ralph; suppose that the boys had stayed good democrats, waiting in exemplary style for rescue, cooperating in the best Pelagian tradition with their own salvation. It would have ruined Golding's story, just as Hamlet's stabbing of Claudius in act 3 would have ruined Shakespeare's play. As early as chapter 4 the ship would have spotted the signal fire and rescued the boys before their descent into hell. The little boy with the birthmark would, regrettably, be dead—but as a result, at worst, of negligence, not malice. Simon and Piggy would still be alive, and the whole party, with the officer's congratulations on a jolly good show, would have been carried back to—what? Not, assuredly, safety. “The smoke of home” coming from the funnel of the departing ship after which Ralph pines (73) is a grim irony—Britain has been reduced to incinerated ash in a nuclear strike. The war will proceed apace, the dead parachutist fall from heaven to lie in undisturbed corruption on the mountaintop. The island, pigs, butterflies, and all, will return to the tranquil rhythms of its prehuman routines, but the great outside world will still require its rescue, not just because of its Jacks and Rogers, but—much more alarmingly—because of its “good” men, its Ralphs and Piggys. For, as St. Paul says, there is not one that does good (Rom. 3:10-12). That is why Ralph weeps at the close to the discomfiture of his obtuse savior—he knows, with a maturity denied to the uncomprehending adult who sees everything and understands nothing, that the longed-for “rescue” is merely a stay of execution. He weeps for the darkness of man's heart, not for the exceptional depravities of the deviant few. The home counties are in the dock with the jungle. Good boys did not become wicked in the jungle; bad boys will not be absolved by removing them to civilization.
Nowhere is Swift more relevant to Lord of the Flies than in the startling change of perspective that is the tale's resolution. A pack of blood-crazed hunters led by a savage autocrat suddenly dwindles into a rabble of filthy urchins headed by a little red-haired boy with broken spectacles dangling from his waist. Which of these vastly different, totally incompatible views is the truth? Even to pose the question is to expose its pointlessness: it is foolish to demand truth where there is only perspective. Remove the officer and Jack is the prince of hell, as terrifying within his domain as a Nero or a Stalin in his; restore the adult and he is a snot-nosed little brat in bad need of a wash. Context determines identity.
No other writer has so dramatically rendered the principle of perspective as Swift. Despite Dr. Johnson's notoriously unjust dismissal of Swift's achievement—a mere matter of thinking of big and little people and everything else automatically followed26—most readers have rightly hailed the creator of Lilliput and Brobdingnag as one of the great masters of perspective in literature. Who is Gulliver? There is, clearly, no single answer. In Brobdingnag he has the finest limbs in the world and a complexion fairer than a nobleman's three-year-old daughter. In Lilliput he is a repulsive spectacle, the stumps of his beard stronger than a boar's bristles, his complexion a mix of disagreeable colors. Which is he, beautiful or ugly? It depends entirely upon where he is and who is looking. Esse est percipi: the reality of things is what is assigned to them. Gulliver's gorge rises in the bedrooms of the Brobdingnagian maids of honor as he contemplates with disgust the blotches and blemishes of the “beauties” for whom every Brobdingnagian male is sighing; he is sickened by the Giant Queen's table manners, though among her own people she is considered a fastidious lady with a puny appetite (145). In the age of Bishop Berkeley as in that of Albert Einstein, truth is relative. In the “real” world beyond Lilliput and Golding's island, Gulliver will cease to be the Man Mountain and Jack, at least pro tempore, must give up being the Chief. Evaluation shifts of necessity with the shifting perspectives of the text—Jack is tyrant and brat—and to dismiss this virtuoso display as a gimmick is on a par with Dr. Johnson's insulting disparagement of Swift's genius.
Golding found his cue in the masterly interplay between Lilliput and Brobdingnag when he came to create his little devils, no less demonic for being childish, startlingly yet simultaneously both. There is a moment in the Travels that anticipates the stunning peripeteia of Lord of the Flies. Gulliver's fiercely patriotic account of the political struggles and continental wars of his native land provokes the Giant King to ask derisively if he is a Whig or a Tory (146). This contemptuous view of English political antagonisms—a matter of life and death to their participants but childishly insignificant to the king—has its parallel in the officer's condescending allusion to “fun and games” in Lord of the Flies (221). The island shrivels while Ralph, just rescued from hideous death, sobs uncontrollably, but the officer sees only playground pranks, childish cantrips.
There is, of course, one massive difference between king and officer. For Swift, the king is almost miraculously exemplary, above all in his breathtaking rejection of the offer of gunpowder—he is the answer to our problems, had we the magnanimity to follow him, a rescuer in every sense. The officer, by contrast, is all too plainly part of the problem; the nuclear warship beyond the lagoon reveals that there is no Giant King in Lord of the Flies to condemn the murderous ingenuity of western man—the reader must enact that role.
Hence the crucial importance of the reader at the close when he is required by the text to cooperate in making explicit what is implied. The first-person narrative of the Travels empowers Gulliver to express the meaning of his tale; Golding, however, must rely upon the reader to detect this for himself. It must be said that he has not always been well served in this respect. Yet the parallels between the two conclusions should make all clear. There are in both texts an expulsion—Gulliver from the tranquil society of the horses, Ralph from the frenzied tribe; an attempt by savages to kill the hero, leaving him wounded—Gulliver will carry to the grave the mark of the tribesman's arrow, Ralph's side is torn by the Chief's spear and he will suffer lifelong the psychological scars of his island experience; and, finally, a rescue that is problematic, somehow flawed and incomplete—in a sense, no rescue at all.
Gulliver is taken against his will on board Don Pedro's ship; almost immediately he tries to jump overboard, preferring to perish in the sea or risk the murderous savages rather than return to the home for which he once pined. Only when Don Pedro threatens to chain him to the bed does he reluctantly consent to be carried back to the cesspit (as he now regards Europe) from which he has escaped. What once grieved him—exile among the horses—has since become cause for ecstatic celebration. The horses' refusal to grant him asylum induces despair and Don Pedro's generous offer of free transport home—an offer that would have delighted him before his conversion—has to be forced upon him. What he has learned on the island has transformed his outlook on life. Don Pedro, in compelling him to resume the life suspended by his exile, might easily have cited Rousseau's famous paradox about forcing men to be free, had it been available in 1726. From Don Pedro's perspective, Gulliver is being made to do what he should want to do: men must desire rescue above all else. This, too, is the first article of Ralph's creed throughout his exile and it baffles him that his companions are not so fervent about it. Don't they want to be rescued?, he asks Piggy in anguished incredulity (153-54). Don Pedro experiences a similar bafflement as he confronts his demented castaway.
The fact that Ralph has been so uncompromising about the paramountcy of rescue—the boys should prefer to die rather than let the signal fire go out, he dramatically insists, while his auditors giggle in irresponsible embarrassment at such rhetoric (88)—makes it all the more ironic that when rescue finally comes, it should be so strangely unsatisfactory. “We'll take you off” (222)—Ralph should be overjoyed at hearing these words, the granting of his heart's desire, but plainly he is not. Certainly, he is not averse to rescue, as Gulliver is—Gulliver is being driven from paradise, whereas Ralph is being plucked out of hell. But this simply makes his reaction the more intriguing. To explain this is to reach to the core of the book's meaning.
To begin with, the boys have not earned rescue in the way that Ralph has continually recommended. The fire that attracts rescue is not the signal fire he so passionately campaigned for but the wicked fire of the death hunt, which leaves the island charred and uninhabitable. (What would these berserk savages have eaten had the officer not arrived to save them from the consequences of their criminal folly?) Like Iago, caring nothing for his own survival provided he can destroy Othello, Jack thinks only of killing Ralph; the prospect of a devastated island never enters his mind. Ralph is saved from destruction, Jack from self-destruction. “The fools! The fools! … what would they eat tomorrow?” (218-19). There is a biblical echo here: tomorrow we die. It is a remarkable exclamation: the prey troubled for the predators' survival, while they, animal-like, are obsessed solely with the appetite of the moment. There is irony, too, for it is Ralph himself who will soon be eaten—yet, caregiver and worrier throughout, he continues to care for his erstwhile companions even when he is being hunted to apparently unavoidable death.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? As much as Gulliver, Ralph is transformed by his island experience. Gulliver's is a double vision—of Houyhnhnm perfection and Yahoo filth. Ralph's is single—an insight into the darkness of the human heart. (The degree to which Golding's vision is double is examined in the final chapter of this study.) It is, significantly, of Piggy that Ralph thinks, and that brutal death, in terms of the allegory, marks the extinction of common sense and rational thought by manic power-worship and sadism. Ralph weeps because he sees that his own personal rescue, so crucial in one respect, is, from another perspective, trivial, perhaps even deceptive. The patronizing rescuer is merely another version of the same darkness that broke Piggy in pieces and reduced the island to mayhem.
As much as Yahoo and beau, Jack and the officer, however superficially distinct, are brothers; men like the officer may as easily destroy the planet as Jack destroys the island. That the officer would be outraged at the comparison is no proof of its inappropriateness. Once again, Gulliver's Travels supplies the clue. Gulliver has been taught to see the resemblance between Yahoos and men; those without the benefit of Houyhnhnm tuition are blind to the identification and resent it when made, dismissing it as the last aberration of a fool who has lost everything on the horses, the bankrupt gambler par excellence. Gulliver, for his part, sees that his rescuer is a Yahoo like himself; that Don Pedro so handsomely offers to carry Gulliver back to civilization cannot alter his perception that this civilization is the heart of Yahoodom—why should he feel grateful for such a removal? Don Pedro does not, of course, see things in this light—how could he without a sojourn in Houyhnhnmland? How can you know what you have never learned, especially when it is the scandalously subversive opposite of all you have always been taught? Don Pedro is a good European—or, in Gulliver's terms, a complacent Yahoo. For him, Gulliver must be a madman; but this is too facile a solution for the reader of the Travels, for he, too, has lived in Houyhnhnmland, sharing the experience, participating in the fall.
The same is true of the confrontation between Ralph and the officer at the close of Lord of the Flies. The boy weeps while the uneasy, embarrassed adult waits for the little scapegrace—an English boy surely ought to be able to put up a better show than this—to regain control of himself. It is the entirely predictable response of a conventional English sailor to a shameful exhibition from a countryman, however juvenile. Pity, embarrassment, shame—all compete for precedence in the adult's mind. But Ralph has lived and learned on the island, and the reader has shared this experience. The reader must side with this child who has been forced to put away childish things; it is the officer who is, paradoxically, immature, an overgrown boy, the child who takes an adult view of the human situation. The Gospel warning against the man who is a Kinderschander, a scandalizer of children, is stood on its head, for it is the adult who is innocent, the child who has eaten the apple.
Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness are strikingly similar in the final ironic confrontation of childlike naïveté and dark experience. If anything, Golding has the edge, since his knower is a twelve-year-old boy, while the equivalent of Conrad's ethereal dreamer, Kurtz's Intended, is a naval officer on military service. In a striking reversal of roles, it is the officer who belongs to the nursery while it is the boy who, like Leontes, has drunk and seen the spider.27 We are not embarrassed for Ralph; whatever disdainful pity we have to spare is for the foolish officer, not the knowing child. Ralph and reader together see that the rescue is but a temporary and unstable reprieve. He is being taken from a little hunt to a global one, for the hunters, like the Yahoos, are everywhere, and the truly fearsome killers are the nuclear warriors of civilization rather than the painted savages of nature. It is Gulliver's perception, made relevant to the even more desperate circumstances of twentieth-century history. Neither text offers escape from nature into civilization or from civilization into nature; there is no true rescue in either.
Whatever flimsy excuse can be offered for missing the implicit indictment of civilization recurring throughout the text is irreprievably canceled by the unmistakable irony of the climax. Yet some readers uncomprehendingly dismiss this as a gimmick, Gold- ing sacrificing the text's seriousness to a piece of sensationalism.28 The truth is that the final startling change of perspective is integral to the book's meaning. It has, nevertheless, been astonishingly misinterpreted as an unprincipled evasion of the problems posed by the fable: the horror of the boys' island experience is finally only a childish, if viciously nasty, game; adult sanity has returned and the little devils will have to behave themselves again. Human nature cannot be so irremediably bad if the arrival of one adult can immediately put everything to rights—the problem is, apparently, a mere matter of classroom control.
Such obtuseness in the face of the text's irony is inexcusable. Ralph is saved, but that does not exempt us from scrutinizing his savior or assessing the fate that awaits the rescued boy. Ralph weeps for all men, the officer and his crew included. The officer's failure to see this does not entitle the reader to be equally blind. The idea that when the cruiser arrives, the beast slinks back abashed into the jungle to await the next set of castaways is so preposterous that is scarcely needs refuting.
There is no happy ending nor anything optimistic about the final scene. Whatever we may wish, it is not legitimate to infer from the text that society, the polis, is man's salvation. This book is not an implicit tribute to the humanizing power of social institutions, nor does it offer the city as a refuge from the jungle. Perhaps the city is essential, but that very much depends on what kind of city it is—Cain's city will not help us. If man regresses in nature, that does not mean that social man is necessarily good; Swift detests the Yahoo, but abhors the “civilized” Yahoos of London and Dublin even more. Of course, man needs a structured community in which to develop his humanity; of course, the city should be the safe and sheltered haven. But should is not is; in King Lear the castle is where man should be safe, the wild heath where he should be at risk, but Lear and Gloucester do not find it so. Golding likewise knows that all too tragically in our century the city itself has become, paradoxically, a jungle, the wild place in which man finds himself born.
Lord of the Flies is a trap as cunningly constructed as Gulliver's Travels: each presents our salvation as perilously problematic and neither produces the savior we so desperately require.
1. Patrick Reilly, The Literature of Guilt: From “Gulliver” to Golding (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1988; Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988), 1-14.
2. Dame Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love Recorded by Julian of Norwich, ed. Grace Warrack (London: Methuen, 1901), 57; hereafter cited in the text.
3. Jean-Paul Sartre, What Is Literature? (London: Methuen, 1950), 160-62.
4. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), 213.
5. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1971), 458-59.
6. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. Justin O'Brien (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1975), 42.
7. Jonathan Swift, The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 3: 183; hereafter cited in the text as Correspondence.
8. Peter Gay, The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment (New York: Knopf, 1964), 111-13, 114-16.
9. Jonathan Swift, The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957), 4:251; hereafter cited in the text as Prose.
10. Jonathan Swift, The Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), 2: 497; hereafter cited in the text as Poems.
11. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (London: Nisbet, 1946), 1:100-101.
12. A. E. Housman, Collected Poems (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1956), 22.
13. William Golding, Free Fall (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1963), 171.
14. Bertrand Russell, Fact and Fiction (London: Unwin, 1961), 32.
15. Sigmund Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,” in Civilization, Society and Religion (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1985), 61-89.
16. D. M. Davis, “A Conversation with William Golding,” New Republic, 4 May 1963, 28.
17. Quoted in “Lord of the Campus,” Time 529 (22 June 1962): 64.
18. Albert Camus, The Fall, trans. Justin O'Brien (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1957), 80-81, 82.
19. “It's a Long Way to Oxyrhynchus,” Spectator, 7 July 1961, 9.
20. “Androids All,” Spectator, 24 February 1961, 263.
21. Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, with Other Early Works, 1696-1707, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), 102-14.
22. “Who will save the adult and his cruiser?” (Golding's own words, quoted by Epstein) in Lord of the Flies, ed. E. L. Epstein (New York: Capricorn Books, 1959), 189.
23. Arthur Miller, Introduction to Collected Plays (New York and London: Viking Press, 1957), 44.
24. William Golding, Pincher Martin (Harmondsworth, Middlesex; Penguin, 1965), 183.
25. Aldous Huxley, “Wordsworth in the Tropics,” Collected Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1960; London: Chatto and Windus, 1960), 1-10; reprinted in Modern British Literature, ed. Frank Kermode and John Hollander (London and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1973), 576-83.
26. James Boswell, Boswell's Life of Johnson (London and New York: Dutton, 1967), 1:530.
27. William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 2.1.45.
28. James Gindin, Postwar British Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962); see also James Gindin, “Gimmick and Metaphor in the Novels of William Golding,” Modern Fiction Studies 6 (Summer 1960): 145-52.
Minnie Singh (essay date 1997)
SOURCE: Singh, Minnie. “The Government of Boys: Golding's Lord of the Flies and Ballantyne's Coral Island.” Children's Literature 25 (1997): 205-13.
[In the following essay, Singh examines how Golding's Lord of the Flies deviates from the utopian island society envisioned in R. M. Ballantyne's Coral Island.]
government: … 2. The manner in which one's action is governed. a. In physical sense: Management of the limbs or body; movements, demeanor; also, habits of life, regimen. b. In moral sense: conduct, behaviour; becoming conduct, discretion. Obs.
Oxford English Dictionary
Perhaps in the twentieth century, the sort of fables we must construct are not for children on any level.
William Golding, 19621
A memorable scene early in William Golding's 1954 Lord of the Flies eloquently suggests the ambition of Golding's fabulist intentions. On the island that at this point in the text is still an innocent playground, one of the younger boys, Henry, who is building castles in the sand, is covertly observed by an older boy, Roger:
Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry—threw it to miss. The stone—that token of preposterous time—bounced five yards to the right and fell in the water. Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dared not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.
(Golding, Lord, 62)
The “space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter,” into which Roger dare not throw, is nothing other than the shrunken dimensions of civil society—the restraints taught by parents, school, policemen, and the law. What Roger is unable to disobey is not the express prohibition of civil society against violence, but an internalized restraint—that is, civility. Significantly, in the penultimate chapter of the book, it is Roger who hurls the mighty rock that sends Piggy crashing to his death (181): more starkly than any other character, he represents the erosion of restraint, the return to a sort of Stone Age. If the project of government may be understood macropolitically as civilization, then its micropolitical counterpart is education, with civility as its project. Golding's text is notable for making explicit this cluster of associations, which has long been the implicit staple of the literature of boyhood.
Lord of the Flies is an overseas adventure story, the self-conscious culmination of a long line of boys' adventure stories. “It's like in a book,” Ralph announces after their initial exploration of the island:
At once there was a clamour.
”Swallows and Amazons—”
. . . . .
“This is our island. It's a good island. Until the grownups come to fetch us we'll have fun.”
Golding's story seeks to dispel this intertextual glamor with grim realism; it both participates in and criticizes the history of the adventure story, whose originating canonical text is Robinson Crusoe. But the adventure story that was almost schematically Golding's pre-text was Robert Michael Ballantyne's 1858 Coral Island, one of the earliest such stories to have boys, in the absence of adults, for its main characters.
Children's literature has so naturalized this device that we forget how important a narrative innovation it must have been: we may be reminded of its innovative quality by the analogy of an exclusive dogs' club, where pampered pets may watch 101 Dalmatians and other canine classics starring their own kind. The Coral Island is for boys and about boys, and it is even narrated by a boy, or, at least, by a former boy:
I was a boy when I went through the wonderful adventures herein set down. With the memory of my boyish feelings strong upon me, I present my book specially to boys, in the earnest hope that they may derive valuable information, much pleasure, great profit, and unbounded amusement from its pages.
The Coral Island preserves the homiletic form of the educational tract, but it delivers the homily in user-friendly terms—and thus inaugurates a dominant tradition in the literature of boyhood. R. L. Stevenson gratefully acknowledged Ballantyne in the verses that preface Treasure Island (Stevenson iii); and G. A. Henty, the most prolific boys' writer of the late nineteenth century, is known to have been influenced by Ballantyne's methods (Carpenter and Pritchard 43).
More than a century after Ballantyne's daring and successful experiment in boys' literature, William Golding declared, in his 1962 lecture at Berkeley on the writing of Lord of the Flies : “Ballantyne's island was a nineteenth-century island inhabited by English boys; mine was to be a twentieth-century island inhabited by English boys” (“Fable” 89). Written out of the agonized consciousness of England's loss of global power, Lord of the Flies may be read with some accuracy as a parodic rewriting of Ballantyne's Coral Island. The three central characters of Lord of the Flies —Ralph, Piggy, and Jack—are caricatures of Ballantyne's three boy heroes—Ralph, Peterkin, and Jack—who, shipwrecked on an island like Crusoe's (albeit in the South Seas), heroically survive violent encounters with cannibalistic natives and bloodthirsty pirates. The idyllic Coral Island is transformed by Golding into an infernal place: whereas Ballantyne's adventurers master nature, using and developing technology for the purpose, Golding's boy characters are helpless captives whose only hope is rescue.
Indeed, the first part of Ballantyne's text is a protracted meditation on a Rousseauistic education in which the boys learn to gather, hunt, cook, fight, save, and hide not through instruction but from necessity. We may remember that Rousseau suggests that Emile read and mime Robinson Crusoe (Rousseau 147-48); in Ballantyne's book, the boys' forced sojourn on the island is both the occasion and the means for their education. They also learn science, or specialized knowledge, from the disinterested study of their surroundings and the inferences they draw from their observations. In this way, they discover that crabs shed their skins and that hydraulic pressure causes water to spout inland. This spirit of rational inquiry distinguishes Ballantyne's boys from Golding's, who forget more than they learn and unresistingly fall prey to their irrational terrors.
Moreover, Ballantyne's boys take a blithely utilitarian view of their material environment, which represents to them the availability of ready-made value. Upon discovering the milk of the coconut, which he takes to calling “lemonade,” Peterkin, who is by common consent the jester (and as such is distinct from Golding's Piggy, the butt of all jokes), exclaims, “Meat and drink on the same tree! … washing in the sea, lodging on the ground—and all for nothing! My dear boys, we're set up for life; it must be the ancient paradise—hurrah!” (27-28) and, later, “So … we seem to have everything ready prepared to our hands in this wonderful island—lemonade ready bottled in nuts, and loaf-bread growing on the trees” (43). The boys' life on the island joyfully conjoins work and pleasure. By studied contrast, in Lord of the Flies work and play are absolutely and irrevocably divorced: work is conservative and constructive; play, liberating but destructive.
The thrills of the Coral Island are twofold: they alternate between delight in eating—literally sucking at the bountiful plenitude of the island—and terror of being eaten (if not devoured by cannibals, then swallowed up by the bloody jaws of a shark). Lord of the Flies effects a darkly Freudian conversion of this wholesome orality into analsadistic pleasure. Here even the consumption of tropical fruit, that richly suggestive marker of paradise regained, causes chronic diarrhea—producing not value but waste. Self-consciously representing a later phase of erotic development, Lord of the Flies counts on our willingness to see the pleasures of boyhood as immature and outmoded.
We could continue to list the ways in which Lord of the Flies deflates and diminishes the heroic occasion and mode of The Coral Island. Yet the two books are overwhelmingly similar in their thematic concern with legitimate authority, leadership, and government. Both texts equate good government with the containment and defeat of savagery (whether the savagery is shown to reside within us or without); and both characterize savagery as the absence of a restraining law. Late in The Coral Island, the narrator, Ralph, who is now separated from his comrades, appeals to the pirate Bill, his guide through the South Sea islands:
“Have these wretched creatures [native islanders] no law among themselves,” said I, “which can restrain such wickedness?”
“None,” replied Bill. “The chief's word is law. He might kill and eat a dozen of his own subjects any day for nothing more than his own pleasure, and nobody would take the least notice of it.”
A cluster of associations equates the pirates with “white savages” (193); and their savagery, like that of the natives, manifests itself in “wanton slaughter” (216). If the restraint of pleasure is the defining characteristic of civilization, then boyhood, Ballantyne appears to suggest, is that state of grace where pleasure is harmless, appetite is healthy, and play is productive. Beyond boyhood, pleasure must be restrained, appetite curbed, and play governed.
Lord of the Flies proposes its own version of irresponsible authority in the terrifying figure of Jack, who “makes things break up like they do” (Golding, Lord, 139). The Jack of The Coral Island had been a natural leader who ruled by superior knowledge—he had read more adventure stories than had the others—and by playful violence. Golding's Jack, on the other hand, is clearly drawn from contemporary alarms about the totalitarian personality. It must be remembered that Lord of the Flies achieves its ominous generality of reference by glossing over the specificity of its Cold War context. The boys suspect that there has been a nuclear explosion (Golding, Lord, 14), and, at the end, Ralph's greatest remembered fear is of the “Reds” (162).2 Golding himself uses the term “totalitarian"—a word that only took on its full negative import after World War II—in his remarks on Lord of the Flies :
Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man; that a correct structure of society would produce goodwill; and that therefore you could remove all social ills by a reorganization of society. It is possible that today I believe something of the same, but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another…. I am thinking of the vileness beyond all words that went on, year after year, in the totalitarian states … there were things done during that period from which I still have to avert my mind lest I should be physically sick. They were not done by the headhunters of New Guinea, or by some primitive tribe in the Amazon. They were done skilfully, coldly, by educated men, doctors, lawyers, by men with a tradition of civilization behind them, to beings of their own kind.
(Golding, “Fable,” 86-87)
Golding finally leaves us with the not entirely convincing position that totalitarianism is a form of savagery, and that not even boyhood is exempt from its encroachments. In Golding's own formulation,
Man is a fallen being. He is gripped by original sin. His nature is sinful and his state perilous…. I looked round me for some convenient form in which this thesis might be worked out, and found it in the play of children. I was well situated for this, since at this time I was teaching them. Moreover, I am a son, brother, father. I have lived for many years with small boys, and understand and know them with awful precision. I decided to take the literary convention of boys on an island, only make them real boys instead of paper cutouts with no life in them; and try to show how the shape of the society they evolved would be conditioned by their diseased, their fallen nature.
(Golding, “Fable,” 88)
Rhetorically and ideologically, the claim of Lord of the Flies over The Coral Island is the claim of experience over innocence, realism over romance, truth over illusion, maturity over naivete, and hardship over ease. At a crucial narrative moment in Lord of the Flies, before the reversion to savagery is properly under way, Ralph, the good leader, has an introspective realization: “He found himself understand- ing the weariness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one's waking life was spent watching one's feet. He stopped, facing the strip; and remembering that first enthusiastic exploration as though it were part of a brighter childhood, he smiled jeeringly” (Golding, Lord, 76). Lord of the Flies encourages us to locate the possibility of good government in the irrecoverable brighter childhood of political thought. At the same time, it makes childhood itself as archaic as the colonial metaphor of enthusiastic exploration.
Steven Marcus wrote in an introduction to Kipling's Stalky & Co. in 1962 (the very year in which the increasing classroom use of Lord of the Flies led Golding to explain to college students how he had come to write it):
In no other language does the word for boy have the kind of resonance that it does in English…. In what other language is there such an epithet as “Oh, boy!"—an expression of the very essence of spontaneous delight … boy is one of the sacred words of the English language; boyhood is—or for one hundred and fifty years was—a priestly state or condition; and the literature of boys and boyhood has had, for a secularized era, something of the aura of doctrinal or holy writ.
In part, at least, the doctrine of boyhood relies on the congruence of subject and implied reader; thus, The Coral Island is a founding text of the genre. Lord of the Flies violently debunks the mythic doctrine: it is a book about boys, but evidently is neither for boys nor by a boy. In disrupting the generic economy of boyhood, it opens its textual portals to any reader who is prepared to take pleasure in the sober triumph of modernist truth over heroic illusion. If pleasure is, indeed, a suitable criterion for making cultural and generic distinctions, then Lord of the Flies, by consistently and mysteriously pleasing young readers (even those who first encounter it as prescribed reading), has invented the genre of adolescent writing. For the innocent homosocial pleasures of boyhood it substitutes the potent but shameful solitude of adolescence; for the nostalgia of the literature of boyhood it inserts the alienation of the new literature of adolescence.
The substitution of adolescence for boyhood is, of course, a powerful historical phenomenon, not simply a textual one. One way of understanding the shift is by grasping the relation of boyhood to the maternal feminine. Underwriting the pleasure of boyhood is the absent yet authorizing figure of the mother—Ralph Rover's mother who stoically bids her adventurous son adieu in The Coral Island: “My mother gave me her blessing and a small Bible; and her last request was that I would never forget to read a chapter every day, and say my prayers; which I promised, with tears in my eyes, that I would certainly do” (Ballantyne 5). Boys will be, and can be, boys only with the complicity and permission of their mothers; an extreme instance of this narrative typology can be found in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the eternal boy who kidnaps two generations of Wendys because he needs a mother.
From the barren emotional landscape of Lord of the Flies, the female parent is all but missing. Only once in Ralph's daydreams does she appear, and then she is associated with severe emotional loss: “Once … they had lived in a cottage on the edge of the moors. In the succession of houses that Ralph had known, this one stood out with particular clarity because after that house he had been sent away to school. Mummy had still been with them and Daddy had come home every day” (Golding, Lord, 112). Had Mummy not abandoned him, would Ralph's government of the island have succeeded? In fundamental ways Lord of the Flies remains tethered to the social discourse of family values. If boyhood is guaranteed by the familiar and forgiving figure of the mother, surely adolescence is betrayed by the unforgivable absence of the mother—an absence that represents simultaneously the terrible failure of civilization and the enabling condition of maturity.
In a recent Film Board of Canada production, a character laughingly recommends that the world be governed by postmenopausal women. The film is Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives; the character is one of the aging women who were interviewed for the documentary. Men, she explains, are only boys, and, she adds, we know from Lord of the Flies what boys are like.
Oddly enough, her reading of William Golding's pessimistic fable is clever only in substituting the gendered “men” for the universal “man.” In other respects it might well meet with the author's approbation, for Lord of the Flies takes considerable pains to establish that at the heart of civilization lurks a persistent savagery, and that men, once stripped of the veneer of adulthood, quickly revert to being wanton boys who kill one another for their sport. Indeed, the book's remarkable success has made the reversion to savagery a cultural byword, and a powerful one because it represents the transformation from the civilized to the savage as simultaneously regression and maturation. To become savage is to regress to the anthropological infancy of mankind, but to recognize one's essential savagery is to be psychologically mature: this is the intriguingly mixed message of Golding's book.
1. “Fable,” 86.
2. Golding's parodic intent—to spoof “redskins,” that cliché of boyhood culture—takes a tendentious form in the book, for Reds-as-native-Americans (an obsolete enemy) are made to share features of savagery with Reds-as-Communists (the real enemy). Thus, Jack and his troop, the enemies of civilization, appropriate Native American cultural practices (warpaint and ululation) to mark their association with bad government.
Ballantyne, R. M. The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean. Ed. J. S. Bratton. The World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Pritchard. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives. Dir. Aerlyn Weissman and Linne Fernie. Film Board of Canada English Programs, Studio D, 1992.
Golding, William. “Fable.” In Golding, The Hot Gates and Other Occasional Pieces. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1965.
———. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigee, 1954.
Locke, John. Locke on Politics, Religion, and Education. London: Collier Macmillan, 1965.
Marcus, Steven. “Stalky & Co.” In Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert. New York: New York University Press, 1965. 150-62.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile. Trans. Barbara Foxley. Everyman's Library. London: J. M. Dent, 1911.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Medallion Edition. New York: Current Literature, 1909.
Arnold Kruger (essay date spring 1999)
SOURCE: Kruger, Arnold. “Golding's Lord of the Flies.” Explicator 57, no. 3 (spring 1999): 167-69.
[In the following essay, Kruger contends that the character of Simon in Lord of the Flies—who is often viewed critically as a Christ-like figure—actually has a greater analogue in the figure of Jesus' disciple Simon Peter.]
It is an accepted critical truism that the character of Simon in William Golding's Lord of the Flies is an analogue of Christ; that Simon's holy, saintly, self-sacrificial behavior is an exemplar of all that is most high and good in human life; that he is an epiphanic figure. And his death, a communal execution, so echoes the Crucifixion that the correspondence seems complete. An alert reading of the text, though, together with an examination of the biblical references to both Christ and his apostle Simon Peter, gives a somewhat different view of Simon. On the preponderance of this evidence, I suggest that Golding's character is actually an analogue of Christ's apostle Simon Peter.
The distinction between the roles of Christ and his apostle may seem a fine one, but the essential elements of the difference are important both to the story and its underlying allegory. I say this on the basis of Golding's overt Christian faith. He says in his book of essays A Moving Target : “Of man and God. We have come to it, have we not? I believe in God” (192).
The figure of Christ is commonly conflated with that of any especially spiritual character—anyone who evidences saintliness, selflessness, and undiscriminating love for his fellow creatures. This, of course, is what Simon does, as in the scene in which he feeds the “littluns": “Simon found for them the fruit they could not reach, pulled off the choicest from up in the foliage, passed them back down to the endless, outstretched hands” (61). A nice image of selfless caring, but also an observance of Christ's injunction to his apostle Simon Peter: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’” (KJV, John 21.15). This picture of Simon/Simon Peter placing ripe fruit into the hands of children, is clearly an allusion to the nurturing and proselytizing roles of Christ's apostles within the Church; as Simon Peter himself says: “Feed the flock of God which is among you […]” (1 Pet. 5.2).
Another example of the essential difference between Simon and Christ occurs at the beginning of the novel, when Simon is introduced as “the choirboy who had fainted […] smil[ing] pallidly […]” (23). His personality and behavior bear a strong resemblance to that of the biblical Simon Peter, who is scolded by Christ when he says: “Simon, are you asleep? […] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14.37). Simon's “choirboy” position further reinforces his secondary status and might be compared with that of Simon Peter, an apostle in attendance on Christ.
But the central cause of the confusion of the Simon character with Christ is Simon's murder at the hands of a mob while trying to deliver them from fear of “the beast.” The murder does evoke Christ's Crucifixion, but only superficially—as the murder of any spiritual figure would. In fact, most of the apostles and many ordinary Christians of that period died on crosses and gibbets, and in arenas—all of them murdered by mobs. The giveaway in Simon's case is that he died “crying out something about a dead man on a hill” (168), much as the biblical Simon Peter must have. That is, the likely cause of his death was his proselytizing, which he would have continued even on his cross, “crying out” the Christian message of sacrifice and redemption. The “dead man on a hill” is, of course, Christ on Golgotha, dying for our sins; the phrase itself, with its evocation of ignorant confusion and mockery, dramatizes the incredulity with which the Christian experience is often received.
Simon's death and its consequences are much different from those of Christ's. And the scene of Simon's apotheosis, after his death when “his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble […] and his coarse hair was dressed with brightness” (170), is a lovely, lyric metaphor of the promise of death for all men in Christ:
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed […]
(1 Cor. 15.51-52)
Although Simon falls short of Christ's perfection, he remains a witness to the higher reaches of the human spirit.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. 1958 ed. London: Faber, 1996.
———. A Moving Target. Rev. 1984 ed. New York: Farrar, 1994.
Paula Alida Roy (essay date 2003)
SOURCE: Roy, Paula Alida. “Boys' Club—No Girls Allowed: Absence as Presence in William Golding's Lord of the Flies.” In Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender, edited by Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S. Silber, pp. 175-77. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.
[In the following essay, Roy discusses how the lack of female influences in Lord of the Flies impacts the lives of Golding's schoolboys not only on the island, but also at home.]
William Golding's Lord of the Flies is peopled entirely by boys and, briefly, adult men. The absence of girls and women, however, does not prohibit interrogating this text for evidence of sexism/gender bias. We might begin by questioning the implicit assumptions about male violence and competitiveness that permeate Golding's Hobbesian vision. Today's sociobiologists will embrace these boys, whose aggressive reversion to savagery “proves” the power of testosterone-fueled behavior. In fact, one approach to studying this novel could involve research into the rash of books and articles about male violence, about raising and educating boys. Teachers might ask if or how this story would be different if girls had been on the island. Complementary books about girls include John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins, and Shelter by Joyce Anne Phillips. More interesting, however, is the text itself, in which the very absence of girls or women underscores how feminine or female stands in sharp contrast to masculine or male in Golding's island world.
The three major characters, Ralph, Jack, and Piggy, form a sort of continuum of attitudes toward life as it develops on the island in relation to their past memories of “civilized” British boarding school. Ralph and Jack are both masculine boys, handsome, fit, strong. Piggy, on the other hand, is fat, asthmatic, and physically weak. Jack, the choir leader, enters equipped with a gang; the development of this group from choirboys to hunters and Jack's deterioration from strong leader to cruel tyrant offer opportunities to look at male bonding and group violence, especially when we examine rape imagery in the language of the sow-killing scene. Ralph enters the book first, alone, and develops as the individualist who struggles to maintain some sort of order amid the growing chaos.
Piggy is the pivotal character: Not only do his glasses ignite sparks for the signal fire, but it is also he who defines the role of the conch in calling assemblies and he who insists on reminding the other boys over and over again of the world of manners and civility back home. Of the three boys, in fact of all the boys, only Piggy makes constant reference to a maternal figure—his “auntie,” the woman raising him. We hear no reference to Jack's mother and we learn that Ralph's mother went away when he was very young. Some of the littl'uns cry at night for their mothers, but in general, only Piggy makes repeated and specific reference to a mother figure as an influence on him.
As Golding sets up the influence of Piggy's “auntie,” we see that it is a mixed message about women. On the one hand, Piggy offers important reminders of civilized behavior and serves as a strong influence on and later the only support of Ralph in his efforts to keep order. On the other hand, Piggy's weakness and whining seem to be the result of the feminizing influence of his “auntie.” He is, in fact, a somewhat feminized figure himself, in the negative stereotypical sense of physical softness, fearfulness, nagging. The early homoerotic connection between Ralph and Jack is underscored by Jack's jealousy of Piggy, his sarcastic derision of Ralph's concern for the weaker boy. Piggy's nickname, in fact, links him to the doomed pigs on the island, most notably the sow killed in a parody of rape by the hunters “wedded to her in lust,” who “collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her” (154). The identification of Piggy with the slaughtered pigs is made explicit in Piggy's death scene: “Piggy's arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig's after it has been killed” (209). If Piggy and the sow are the only female or feminized creatures on the island, then we can see that the one is useful only for meat and as a totemic figure and the other, the fat asthmatic boy, serves as scapegoat, victim first of ridicule, then physical abuse, and finally murder at the hands of the now savage boys under Jack's command. To the extent that he chooses to remain with Piggy, to hang on to elements of civilization, Ralph too becomes a hunted victim, “rescued” only by the appearance of the naval officer, Golding's ironic personification of adult male violence dressed up in a formal officer's uniform.
Searching the text itself, we find the female pronoun applied only to Piggy's auntie and to the sow. There are very few references to mothers, none to other women such as sisters or grandmothers. There is only one specific and direct mention of girls, quite late in the novel, when Ralph and Piggy and Sam and Eric seek to clean themselves up in preparation for a visit to Jack's camp where they plan to make a reasonable attempt to help Piggy recover his stolen glasses. Piggy insists on carrying the conch with them, and Ralph wants them to bathe: “We'll be like we were. We'll wash” (199). When he suggests they comb their hair “only it's too long,” Piggy says, “we could find some stuff … and tie your hair back.” Eric replies, “Like a girl!” (199). That single reference stands, along with the references to Piggy's auntie and the contrast set up by the absence of all other female figures, to identify the female with “civilization,” ineffectual, far away, and dangerously weak. To return to the details of the rape-murder of the great sow, it is important to note that the sow is a mother figure, “sunk in deep maternal bliss,” nursing her litter of piglets. The rape/murder of the sow and the final murder of Piggy suggest that the final movement into savagery involves the killing and defiling of the maternal female. Golding would not be the first to identify the female with attempts to control or tame male violence; he concludes that the female is unsuccessful because she is too weak, flawed, flesh-bound to overcome the ingenuity, craftiness, and sheer brutality of male violence.
Golding's Hobbesian view of human nature carries with it a whiff of misogyny or at least a suspicion that what women represent has little impact, finally, on culture or civilization. The island is a boys' club shaped by the theme of “boys will be boys” when left to their own devices. Obviously allegorical, the novel invites the reader to consider the absence of girls as a symbolic presence and the perils of ultramasculinity.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Riverhead Books, 1954.
For Further Reading
Kindlon, Dan and Michael Thompson with Teresa Barker. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine, 1999.
Crawford, Paul. “Literature of Atrocity: Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors.” In Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down, pp. 50-80. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2002.
Views The Lord of the Flies as a potential criticism of English society.
Fitzgerald, John R., and John R. Kayser. “Golding's Lord of the Flies: Pride as Original Sin.” Studies in the Novel 24, no. 1 (spring 1992): 78-88.
Studies how prejudice and pride are presented in The Lord of the Flies.
Fleck, A. D. “The Golding Bough: Aspects of Myth and Ritual in The Lord of the Flies.” In On the Novel: A Present for Walter Allen on His 60th Birthday from His Friends and Colleagues, edited by B. S. Benedikz, pp. 189-205. London, England: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1971.
Contrasts the usage of myth in James Frazer's The Golden Bough and Golding's The Lord of the Flies.
Friedman, Lawrence S. “Grief, Grief, Grief: Lord of the Flies.” In William Golding's Lord of the Flies, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 231-41. Philadelphia, Penn.: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
Suggests that The Lord of the Flies is a fable that charts mankind's propensity for moral decline when removed from structured society.
McCarron, Kevin. “William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Other Early Novels.” In A Companion to The British and Irish Novel, 1945-2000, edited by Brian W. Shaffer, pp. 289-301. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Explores the roles that war and masculinity play in The Lord of the Flies and other early novels by Golding.
Additional coverage of Golding's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 5, 44; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 2; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 2; British Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; British Writers Supplement, Vol. 1; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 94; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1945-1960; Concise Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8R; Contemporary Authors—Obituary, Vol. 141; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 13, 33, 54; Contemporary Dramatists, Ed. 5; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, 17, 27, 58, 81; Contemporary Novelists, Eds. 1, 2, 3, 4; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 15, 100, 255, 326, 330; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Novels; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; Modern British Literature, Ed. 2; Novels for Students, Vol. 2; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, & Gothic Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writers; Twayne's English Authors; 20th-Century Romance and Historical Writers; World Literature and Its Times, Ed. 4; and World Literature Criticism, Vol. 3.