Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

When a plane crashes on a remote island, a small group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. From the prophetic Simon and virtuous Ralph to the lovable Piggy and brutish Jack, each of the boys attempts to establish control as the reality - and brutal savagery - of their situation sets in.The boys' struggle to find a way of existing in a community with no fixed boundaries i...

Title:Lord of the Flies
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Lord of the Flies Reviews

  • Helen (Helena/Nell)

    Over the years I must have read this book five or six times. Last night I was reading it on a train with a highlighter in my hand, because I decided to teach it this year again. Teachers wreck books, of course. We all know that. On the other hand, whatever you have to study-read, you tend to carry a bit of it with you. You don't forget that book, at least. Although I must add, that it's quite risky introducing to a

    classroom a book with the memorable words: "The English are best at ever

    Over the years I must have read this book five or six times. Last night I was reading it on a train with a highlighter in my hand, because I decided to teach it this year again. Teachers wreck books, of course. We all know that. On the other hand, whatever you have to study-read, you tend to carry a bit of it with you. You don't forget that book, at least. Although I must add, that it's quite risky introducing to a

    classroom a book with the memorable words: "The English are best at everything...."

    I wasn't sure how much it would have dated. I must have read it for the first time 30 years ago. Published in 1954, the phrasing would have been pretty modern then. Even now, most of it has work well. The phrase that jumped at me -- and it only appeared once -- was when Piggy (I think) compared the boys detrimentally to 'niggers', instead of just 'savages'. Ouch. Mental note to make them look hard at this bit. After all this is such a horrible little group of boys. As complacently white as can be, one group of them from a choir school (or a public school with a choir), no less. And Ralph, the 'hero', son of a naval officer.

    Golding, as a teacher in an upmarket school, presumably knew those sort of boys all too well. The boys being prepared to carry the empire forward.

    Except the setting suggests the empire may not be going forward. Somebody somewhere is fighting a war that is evidently nuclear. It's never quite clear what is going on or how the officer turns up cool as cucumber on a naval cutter at the end.

    Most of the young people in my class this year have (sigh) seen the film, so they know what happens. The group of boys marooned on an idyllic Pacific Island first start off having a sort of cheery adventure. There are references to

    and

    too. They want to have fun, and one of their number -- Jack -- talks a great deal about 'fun', though his idea of fun is killing pigs.

    They arrive a fairly civilised little group but they gradually degenerate. Golding's moral message is about the "darkness of man's heart" and it's a good moral companion to

    now I come to think about it. The boys natural fears escalate and the younger children create a mythical 'beast', which then seems to materialise as a fact when the body of a dead airman, killed a war fought in the skies overhead, floats down to the island in a parachute.

    But the real beast is their own desire for control and domination, as well as an interesting bloodlust -- the word 'lust' is used of this, and the killing of the first pig is certainly described with unmistakable sexual resonance. One of the boys pushes a sharpened stick "up her ass". There are no girls in the group -- what a different novel it would have to have been if there were! -- but the pig they kill is a sow, and they interrupt her in suckling a brood of piglets. What a strange, strange thing to put into your novel. Not just the killing, but the slaughtering of a mother pig and a kind of sexual frenzy. Yuk!

    But hey -- he's intending to shock. He's intending to show that this blood lust thing isn't far away from human kind, or male human kind at least, and that it doesn't take much to call it out. Even Ralph, the Aryan protagonist, feels himself getting caught up in it. Paint your face, start whooping and chanting and you can do, it seems, almost anything.

    The kind, poetic, imaginative Simon gets butchered (teeth and nails at this point -- not spears). PIggy is despatched by Roger, the executioner. The whole of their little society is clearly turning into a Stalinist regime, with each boy taking his place, as prescribed by Golding, which is what you get to do when you write an allegory.

    It's a powerful read, though more repetitive, in linguistic terms, than I remembered - almost as repetitive as D H Lawrence in places. At the highpoint, towards the end, when Ralph is completely isolated and being hunted down, the word 'ululation' is done to death. But at least you can't read this book without learning what it means!

    What I both like and

    about it is the way it makes me want to argue. The whole thing is completely manipulated. Is this what would happen? Would the darkness of man's heart take over?

    I have not much doubt that man's heart is dark, I guess, but when I got off the train I left my very lovely reddy-orangy furry scarf, and the chap who was sitting opposite me (I didn't speak to him during the journey) ran after me with it. It brightened my day. Perhaps he was a 'Simon' and would quickly get trampled if our civilisation were to decline.

    But look Golding, my lad -- that bit where you allow the man in the parachute to get dumped, dead, on the island, scaring the boys out of their wits -- if that hadn't happened -- your choice plot element -- well, the three boys Jack, Roger and Ralph, would have established Absence of Beast. It might all have turned out very differently.

    If Piggy hadn't been wearing glasses, there would have been no fire....

    If it had started raining sooner....

    If Ralph had been a bit more intelligent....

    If the pigs had been a bit better at getting away....

    On an island, living on fruit and getting scratched and cut, one or two of them would have developed fatal infections and their main enemy would probably have been illness and death, which would have drawn them together a bit. Even the biting insects would probably have driven them potty. One or two of them, it's my bet, would have descended into depression and just dwindled away.

    It wouldn't have been like

    , but it wouldn't have been the inevitable collapse of civilisation either.

    Steven King likes this book. It fits beautifully with his love of dramatic thriller, increasing isolation of central brave character, and underlying opposition between good and evil. Here evil wins, though.

    Ralph is about to be exterminated when the officer arrives, so the

    is just there as an ironic way to end the book. That bastard is even 'embarrassed' when Ralph bursts into tears. That's British stiff upper lippery for you.

    I don't

    in the boys' behaviour. I don't

    that Jack, the killer (I nearly said Jack the Giant-Killer), is there just below the surface, although I

    believe that wars bring out the worst in us. I don't

    that Roger -- just a little boy -- is the natural henchman, with a desire to execute his peers running just below his veneer of civilisation.

    But then perhaps I do. I've seen it, haven't I? Seen nasty young people doing nasty young things nastily. Conditioned into that, in their turn, by not very delightful adults, damaged adults.

    Oh bloody Golding --

    ! I put my money on man's intelligence. You gotta use your head to survive, whichever allegory you seem to be inhabiting. And sometimes you do survive and sometimes you don't, but the 'darkness of man's heart' is offset by the light, which always returns.

    The trouble is, the dark heart goes for power - doesn't it? And the desire for power and control over others can be wielded quickly and wrongly by just a few people. It's what's happening all over the world at this minute.

    And yet -- the majority are good-hearted souls, who will pick up your scarf on a train and return it to you. There are more good guys than bad ones. Some of them are quietly and happily reading books at this minute. Otherwise, what would be the point?

  • Yulia

    I was Piggy (well, in personality at least, though not in portliness). I hated everyone who picked on him. I still do. Should people be forgiven for what they do on a deserted island? That depends on whether you think their true nature has revealed itself, or their humanity has been corrupted by circumstance and stress. In a world where almost every human trait is now considered a product of both nature and nurture, would Golding have written his tale differently today? No, I don't believe so. H

    I was Piggy (well, in personality at least, though not in portliness). I hated everyone who picked on him. I still do. Should people be forgiven for what they do on a deserted island? That depends on whether you think their true nature has revealed itself, or their humanity has been corrupted by circumstance and stress. In a world where almost every human trait is now considered a product of both nature and nurture, would Golding have written his tale differently today? No, I don't believe so. He was quite ahead of his time to believe some of the boys, though certainly not the majority, still remained moral despite the situation. The question is, what would have happened to me? It was impossible not to wonder after I read this book.

  • David

    I just don't buy it.

    This book is famous for unmasking what brutes we are, just under the surface, but, well, for all the hype, it just isn't convincing. People--even teenage boys--just aren't as savage as Golding seems to want us to believe, and nothing in this book persuades me otherwise.

    Perhaps if I'd gone to English boarding school I'd feel differently--but then that's the real irony of this book, that the brutality from which the British Empire was supposed to save so many people and culture

    I just don't buy it.

    This book is famous for unmasking what brutes we are, just under the surface, but, well, for all the hype, it just isn't convincing. People--even teenage boys--just aren't as savage as Golding seems to want us to believe, and nothing in this book persuades me otherwise.

    Perhaps if I'd gone to English boarding school I'd feel differently--but then that's the real irony of this book, that the brutality from which the British Empire was supposed to save so many people and cultures was in fact the Brits projecting their own savagery onto others.

    But the rest of us, no, we aren't monsters underneath. A little messed up, maybe, a little more raw, but nowhere near the kind of brutes that Golding wants us to believe.

  • Andrew

    I was tempted to give this five stars, since in so many ways it strikes me as the kind of masterpiece, like Heart of Darkness, that I imagine will retain its horror and readability for centuries. The prose veers (or as Golding would say it, "tends") from plain to painterly. The story is well known: a sort of allegorical morality play set in modern times -- fancy English boys left to their own devices don't so much as revert to darkness as discover primitive outlets for the darkness reflected in

    I was tempted to give this five stars, since in so many ways it strikes me as the kind of masterpiece, like Heart of Darkness, that I imagine will retain its horror and readability for centuries. The prose veers (or as Golding would say it, "tends") from plain to painterly. The story is well known: a sort of allegorical morality play set in modern times -- fancy English boys left to their own devices don't so much as revert to darkness as discover primitive outlets for the darkness reflected in their greater society. This is what I love about Heart of Darkness: try as one might, Kurtz cannot be pigeonholed into good or evil. He is excellent at what he does, and what he does is evil. Kurtz is a true reflection of what excellence was to Colonial Europe, and in so far as Colonial Europe was good, cultivated, honorable, and esteemed, so is Kurtz. Kurtz isn't good or evil; he is true.

    Golding's version is darker. It centers mostly around the corrupting power of urges to overwhelm social order. Freudian criticism abounds, but the parallel I kept coming back to was Rome. I found that Piggy, no matter how truly annoying he is (another brilliant stroke by Golding is to make Piggy strangely unsympathetic), recalled those numerous Republicans of the Early Empire who advocated in a shrill but useless manner for a return to Senate rule but were shunted aside and usually killed by deranged sociopaths who behaved quite like like Jack. But be it Freudian or historic, any framing of this book feels cheap and hollow because the story has such a complexity of primal urges that it feels almost biological.

    Golding said he came up with the idea of book after reading his children "Treasure Island or Coral Island or some such Island" in the years of the hydrogen bomb and Stalin and asked his wife, "why don't I write a children's story about how people really are, about how people actually behave?" To me that's a chilling question and it reveals an architecture not based on rigid Freudian or historical or symbolic parallels. Its portrait of sadism could have been lifted out of the newspapers; its struggle for dominion over the weak is an almost sexual frenzy recalls everything I know about torture in the dungeons of Argentine or US military prisons. In this respect, I think the book, like Heart of Darkness, is timeless.

    But I chose not to give it five stars because at the center of Golding's book is a kind of rigid Christian iconography, like that you find in the Poisonwood Bible, that offends me, perhaps because it reminds me of the way I wrote my Freshman year of college, or perhaps because that rigidity, that allegiance to a=b symbolic logic insults my intelligence. The martyrdom of Simon, I felt, demeaned the human quality of Simon. I liked him best because he struck me as the most shrewd and practical. Reducing him to an icon transforms him into a variable: Simon = Paul or Peter or whomever, but ergo facto Simon ≠ Simon. When he comes down to the beach mutting "something about a body on a hill" Simon ceases to be a reflection of human complexity, or biological completeness, and instead becomes a rehashed precedent from Sunday school.

    I've often felt that Heart of Darkness' genius was that it somehow reflected the effect of Darwin and modern thinking on the antiquated ideas of Colonial Europe, ie Kurtz isn't good or evil because good and evil are artifices that wilt beneath analysis. When Golding adheres to this materialist perspective, the book is masterly. When he swears allegiance to worn out Christian parables, that complexity is reduced to slips of paper.

  • Nora

    I read this book a long time ago, long enough to where I barely remembered anything past the basic premise. So I picked it up again, only to wish I hadn't. There's a reason why they teach this book in middle school--in order to enjoy this book, one's intellectual cognizance must be that of a child, because otherwise you'll spend the entire time picking out everything that's wrong with the book. And there's a lot to pick out.

    From what little of the story that is actually coherent, I can see why t

    I read this book a long time ago, long enough to where I barely remembered anything past the basic premise. So I picked it up again, only to wish I hadn't. There's a reason why they teach this book in middle school--in order to enjoy this book, one's intellectual cognizance must be that of a child, because otherwise you'll spend the entire time picking out everything that's wrong with the book. And there's a lot to pick out.

    From what little of the story that is actually coherent, I can see why this book has had a lasting effect on social commentary since it's initial publishing. The overlying illustration of how easily man can devolve back to his feral instincts is striking, yet could have been infinitesimally more effective in the hands of a decent writer.

    See, I would have cared a bit more about the little island society of prepubescent boys and their descent into barbarism if you know, any of the characters had been developed AT ALL. Instead, we're thrown interchangeable names of interchangeable boys who are only developed enough to conform to the basic archetypes Golding requires to hobble his little story along: The Leader, The Rebel, The Fat-Kid, The Nose-Picker, etc. Were he born in this time, I believe Golding would have done brilliantly as a scriptwriter for reality TV.

    And the plot? There's a plot? I'm guessing so, since things seem to happen, but it's kind of hard to tell since he spends pages describing irrelevant events that are never incorporated, characters that possibly exist yet probably don't, and using words that don't mean what he thinks they mean. And as the main characters are a bunch of kids not worth caring about, thus goes the way of the story.

    And the prose? Dear God, the prose! Get it away! It burns us!

    So yeah, this book sucked. It had potential. There were even a few parts I internally squealed at in hopeful anticipation. But whatever potential it did have was hopelessly squandered by a man who wrote like he'd never written anything before in his life. Don't waste your time.

  • Nancy

    is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. It was required high school reading and since then, I've read it four more times. It is as disturbing now as it was then. Using a group of innocent schoolboys stranded on an island, the author very realistically portrays human behavior in an environment where civilization no longer has meaning.

  • Silvana

    This book is horrifying. I'm scared like hell. Totally.

    I was expecting an adventure book telling about some children who got stranded in an island, but ended up with goosebumps.

    A bit of synopsis: A number of English school boys suffered from a plane accident causing them to get stranded in an uninhibited island. The period was maybe during the World War II. Trying to be civilized, they elected a leader for themselves as well started the division of tasks (hunters, fire-watchers, etc). Things tur

    This book is horrifying. I'm scared like hell. Totally.

    I was expecting an adventure book telling about some children who got stranded in an island, but ended up with goosebumps.

    A bit of synopsis: A number of English school boys suffered from a plane accident causing them to get stranded in an uninhibited island. The period was maybe during the World War II. Trying to be civilized, they elected a leader for themselves as well started the division of tasks (hunters, fire-watchers, etc). Things turned bad when there's a power struggle between the group leaders, worsened by various sightings of a monster in the island. No, don't think about "Lost" because this is way different.

    No wonder I had goosebumps at the end, because this book is so true to what happens in the world today. When men tried to govern themselves (and started the whole process with goodwill inside), but blinded with egotism and lust for power, tragedy and destruction in society are inevitable.

    Human nature is corrupt, it only takes a trivial thing to make its nature controlled by nothing but malice. This book represents a perfect allegory for men. Culture fails repeatedly and no matter how hard we can repress it, nothing will ever stop the drive to become savages.

    Despite its length and easy-to-read narration, this is certainly one of the most haunting, powerful books I've ever read. Now I know why this book is listed in so many lists of greatest books in the 20th century.

  • Mk

    I hated this book. First off, as I remember, it talks about humans failure to govern ourselves, or more broadly the failures of human nature. There are a few reasons why I think simply dropping a group of kids on a desert island does not in fact prove anything.

    1) These kids were raised in a capitalist, nominally demcratic society. The first thing they do is appoint leaders. As someone who spends my time working in consensus based groups seeking to challenge hierarchical structures, I have a stro

    I hated this book. First off, as I remember, it talks about humans failure to govern ourselves, or more broadly the failures of human nature. There are a few reasons why I think simply dropping a group of kids on a desert island does not in fact prove anything.

    1) These kids were raised in a capitalist, nominally demcratic society. The first thing they do is appoint leaders. As someone who spends my time working in consensus based groups seeking to challenge hierarchical structures, I have a strong belief that this is not how things need to be. It takes a bunch of unlearning and relearning to use these formats - simply being in a new space or being a child does not do this work. The author and the children he writes about are a part of a specific culture, and it's incorrect to generalize these values to a broader concept of human nature.

    2) They're all boys! Again, socialization (yes, even of a 6 year old) plays a huge role in what behavior we see as appropriate. While it's quite true that men (or at least masculinity) control government, it's ridiculous to use only boys to extrapolate what ways of governing ourselves are possible.

    I read this book in 1996 when I was a freshman in highschool, so maybe there's something I missed. Or maybe my memories are being colored by just how gross the pig's head descriptions were. If so, feel free to correct me. For now though, I have to say that this book is offensive and makes dangerous assumption.

  • Emily May

    I've just finished rereading this book for my book club but, to be honest, I've liked it ever since my class were made to read it in high school. Overall,

    doesn't seem to be very popular, but I've always liked the almost Hobbesian look at the state of nature and how humanity behaves when left alone without societal rules and structures. Make the characters all angel-faced kids with sadistic sides to their personality and what do you have? Just your

    I've just finished rereading this book for my book club but, to be honest, I've liked it ever since my class were made to read it in high school. Overall,

    doesn't seem to be very popular, but I've always liked the almost Hobbesian look at the state of nature and how humanity behaves when left alone without societal rules and structures. Make the characters all angel-faced kids with sadistic sides to their personality and what do you have? Just your average high school drama, but set on a desert island. With a bit more bloody murder. But not that much more.

    In 1954, when this book was published, Britain was in the process of being forced to face some harsh realities that it had blissfully chosen to ignore beforehand - that it is not, in fact, the centre of the universe, and the British Empire was not a thing of national pride, but an embarrassing infringement on the freedom and rights of other human beings. Much of British colonialism had been justified as a self-righteous mission to educate and modernise foreign "savages". So when put into its historical context, alongside the decolonisation movements, this book could be said to be an interesting deconstruction of white, Western supremacy.

    I can understand why some people interpret this book as racist. The racial aspect is a big factor, Golding establishes from the very first page that Ralph is not only white, but

    . And Piggy even asks

    I'm not going to argue with anyone's interpretation, it would be difficult to say exactly what Golding intended, but I think there is room to see this as the opposite of racism. For me, I always saw it as Golding challenging the notion of savages being dark-skinned, uneducated people from rural areas. With this book, he says

    and proceeds to show us how these little jewels of the empire are no better for their fancy education and gold-plated upbringing.

    I think that seemed especially clear from the ending when the officer says

    Golding's way of saying that human nature is universal and no one can escape it.

    Some readers say that you have to have quite a negative view of human nature already to appreciate this book, but I don't think that's true. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with all the implications running around in the novel - namely, the failure of democracy and the pro-authority stance - but it serves as an interesting look at the dark side of human nature and how no one is beyond its reach. Plus, anyone who had a bit of a rough time in high school will probably not find the events in this book a huge leap of the imagination.

    The fascinating thing about

    is the way many historical parallels can be drawn from the messages it carries. You could choose to view the charismatic and manipulative Jack Merridew as a kind of Hitler (or other dictator) who takes advantage of a group of people at their weakest. Dictators and radicals often find it easy to slip in when a society is in chaos... we do not have to assume that Golding believed that everyone everywhere is evil, only that we all have the capacity for it when we find ourselves in unstable situations.

  • Huda Yahya

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