Lord of the Flies - Review

William Golding was born an Englishman on September 19, 1911, and grew up to become an Oxford graduate, a respectable university, but went on to serve his country by fighting World War II. This experience fighting the brutal war against the Axis powers gave Golding, a writer since young, a strong impression about the true nature of human beings. This led him to write his respected book “Lord of the Flies”.

Lord of the Flies discusses the theme of civility versus savagery. Golding believes that as time passes without proper laws and the enforcement of these laws, people revert to their usual savage selves, and felt this reared its head at the Second World War. Therefore, he wrote a story depicting the “adventure” of fifteen or so boys, twelve and below, who were wrecked on an island without an adult to look after them, and showed the horrors of men.

 I feel that there are three main parts of the story line – first, the arrival of the boys on the island; second, the loss of innocence of the boys; and third, the final outcome of the situation and the rescue of the boys. When the boys are first wrecked on the island, two boys, Ralph, the main protagonist, and Piggy first meet and they become friends soon after. Ralph and Piggy go on to find a conch shell. At this point, we already see that Piggy is the representation of intellect, because he knows about the anatomy of the shell, and teaches Ralph to blow it. From this point onwards, the conch shell is used to gather all the boys at a meeting spot. Furthermore, during their daily assemblies, only the person holding the conch gets to speak. The conch shell thus represents the law and order in this microcosm of society.

The boys have different personalities to start off with. Jack Merridew, the main antagonist, is more pessimistic. He believes that there is a little and insignificant chance of them being rescued, so they should think about how to survive on the island. On the other hand, Ralph believes in his father, who is an officer in the British Navy, so he pushes for them to build a signal fire, which can be used to call out to boats at sea to save them. Already, a conflict breeds here, like in our normal lives.

So how do we solve our conflicts? In our modern world, we turn to more diplomatic ways to solve issues, like talks and meetings, and eventually voting for the best option. That is exactly what the boys do. After some discussion, an election is held, and Ralph ends up winning, placing him as “Chief” of the boys. He then calls for the boys to build a signal fire, which they light up with the intellectual representation, Piggy’s glasses. Jack, of course, is unhappy.

From this point on, the story becomes more tensed, and we enter the second part of the book, where the boys lose their innocence. The “beast” is first discussed by the young children amongst the group, scaring them, and at once, everyone seems to have a common enemy. The “beast” is merely imaginary, but young children being unable to tell myths from truths, believe that it either comes from the forest or the sea. As the story develops, the beast begins to scare the group even more, to the extent that they sacrifice a sow’s head for it. The most good natured, seemingly the most innocent boys, Simon realises that the beast’s existence in all of the boys is the source of the fear of it, and it is actually the representation of the savagery innately built into the boys. The more the boys act like savages, the more the beast seems to materialise. This beast is what Golding tries to warn us of.

Jack leaves the tribe after his continued conflict with Ralph, and begins his own hunting tribe, bent on killing pigs for food and hunting the beast instead of keeping up the warning signal. He even caused them to lose a chance to return home when he let the signal fire go off when a ship passed nearby. During the feast he organises in the evening of this event, his members carry out their ritual dance. In the heat and chaos, they mistake Simon for the beast and kill him. This symbolises the first instance where the innocence of the boys is lost, and they cross the line of civility, when no one seems to care too much about killing Simon. This is vastly different from modern society, where we even punish murderers with the death sentence. The boys seem to have lost their moral compass.

Jack performs continuous raids on Ralph, stealing fire as well as Piggy’s glasses. At this point, it becomes evidently already that the group here has already lost all forms of civil intelligence. Jack’s group now wear paint on their faces, and are now no longer recognisable both physically and psychologically – they become true savages, preying on others. Once the boys are no longer within the jurisdiction of the law, they are no longer afraid or wary of the consequences of their actions, causing them to change in their thought process and mental calculus.

Ralph and Piggy try to remind the boys of their final goal – to go home, and tries to exert his authority as chief, but to no avail. When Ralph’s group go to confront Jack, Piggy is killed, and the other two of Ralph’s members are forced to change their allegiances. In process of the heated argument between the two sides, the conch shell Piggy was holding is shattered. Similarly, chaos overrides order, and everyone begins to accept themselves and others around them as savages.

Finally, Jack orders a hunt against Ralph, bringing his men and setting fire to the entire forest covering majority of the island. Here, we see that the result disagreement has slowly shifted from a state of democratic ruling to savage, brutal means. Not only this, but they seem to have no logical thought – the forest is the source of food and shelter, their source of survival, but Jack and his tribe are willing to sacrifice all this for the sake of the killing of Ralph. Fortunately, a Navy boat spots this crisis and rescues Ralph just as he is about to be killed.

“Lord of the Flies” tells us that mankind is not as civilised as we perceive ourselves to be. As we develop as a species, we simply have a diminished reason to bring out that savagery in ourselves, but it still remains. Once we lack the enforcement of law and order, we will ultimately transition into Man’s natural state of brutality.

We sometimes question the presence of the law – there seems to be little reason to steal, rob or kill another. But what it truly represents is a set of moral guidelines that help us to act in a more civilised manner. It reminds us to look out for our own moral actions, and to continually rein ourselves in if we get out of line. In this sense, the law not only protects us from others, but also from ourselves.

The beauty of the book is in its underlying meaning. On a superficial level, it seems to be a dramatic representation of society – how can we be expected to think of such a scenario? Yet, it really tells us the importance of law and order, and of preserving rational thought over brutal means of solving our problems.


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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.