Dust jacket of the 1954 edition of "Lord of the Flies" Photo/Faber & Faber, London Website.
You are 11 years old. You and your prepubescent classmates are flying home five miles over the crystal blue Pacific Ocean when the plane makes an emergency landing. The kids flee the jetliner and make it to the island they crashed next to, but every adult died. There is no food, no water, and no tools. What do you do?
This is where the author, William Golding, begins his 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies.” Ralph, Jack, Piggy, Roger, and Simon are the oldest boys (11-13 years old). The rest of the other kids are all between the ages of 6-10. The boys know little about survival, and with no adult supervision, they don’t even know that it is good manners to leave camp to use the bathroom.
Early on, Ralph emerges as the main protagonist. The senior officer of a proper British military school, Ralph attempts to create order and democracy by making it so that whoever holds the conch shell should be heard. Piggy, the secondary protagonist, is chubby, has poor eyesight, and is easily moved to tears. Jack, the primary antagonist, clearly wants to be a leader, but reluctantly accepts the initial popular vote that narrowly elects Ralph as chief.
In return, Ralph appoints Jack to be the head of the hunters. Jack eagerly accepts and starts to train his choir to hunt using sharpened sticks as spears. It is this moment, where Ralph releases a part of his power to Jack, that things take a turn.
Jack and his hunters start killing pigs, and the group becomes more powerful as everyone relies on the protein that the roasted pigs supply. Jack begins recruiting more of the castaways to be hunters, eventually setting up the first major confrontation with Ralph. Jack recruits the boys attending the signal fire to join him, and after the smoke dies out, a ship passes the island. With no signal fire, the ship sails past the island. Ralph is furious and confronts Jack, who responds by taking the hunters with him and starting his own “tribe” on another part of the island. Ralph, Piggy, Simon, and the twins, Sam and Eric, are all that remains of the original society. The scales of humanity are now tipped in favor of the antagonist.
Remember, these are just children and childhood is rife with illogical fear: Fear of the dark, fear of what’s under the bed, fear of the unknown. A rumor starts that a monster lives on the highest peak of the island, which is a dead fighter pilot who parachuted there. Jack learns to use this fear to his advantage and promises the boys that if they stick with him, he will protect them from the monster and, if need be, kill it. The breakdown of society begins.
“Lord of the Flies,” at first glance, is a simple story about a group of children stranded on a deserted island. Or is it more? Sara Goldsberry, a senior at UNCP, was introduced to the book in the tenth grade by her English teacher. “The book as a whole has a greater meaning. One of my favorite things is how smaller details help contribute to it. They help make it an even better form of storytelling. For example, Piggy was the voice of reason. He insisted on using the conch, which symbolized order, and what happens to his character was the official fall into chaos.”
Goldsberry also mentioned: “When I first read it, I felt that the book’s meaning is that anyone can be pushed to extreme limits. The book right now is, for me, about a battle between emotions and logic, and how we use each as a part of human nature.”
“I loved reading the book as a group with my friends. It helped us get more involved in our education. I also loved how each of us could see different traits of ourselves in each of the characters. The setting captivated our imaginations and it was a good way for us to learn how to discuss symbols,” Goldsberry concluded.
Darren Chiott, a financial aid advisor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, read the book in his youth. “I found it thrilling and scary, there was no control. I don’t know if it’s meant as a metaphor for society, but it held my attention. Is it an allegory? A story is never just a story, it always means something else. I think it may be an argument about the inherent evil of man. The boys are presumed innocent, yet within a short time frame, they become brutal. It is the struggle of men trying not to be animals. I loved the book, it’s an intense dive into humanity, it exposes us for what we are. It is the loss of innocence.” Chiott took a moment to consider his assessment before saying, “Or it might be organized religion terrorizing mankind, as to mold him to the tenets of the Church.”
Over the decades, “Lord of the Flies” has become an international bestseller and is a common read in U.S. schools. It has been added to “Modern Library 100 Best Novels,” to “Time” magazine’s list of “100 Best English Language Novels,” and just last year, BBC News listed it as one of the most influential novels of all time.
It could be a retelling of World War II. Remember, Golding had just lived through the most devastating war in human history.
If the readers look closely, there are some similarities between the events of the island and the events of the war; the island represents Europe, Ralph is the naïve Neville Chamberlin, Jack is Hitler, Piggy is the weak and unprepared British military, Roger is a strong and well prepared German military, the monster is the Jews, Simon is the truth about what is happening to the Jews, Piggy’s glasses are the Earth’s oil supply, what happens to Simon equates to the concealment of the coming Jewish slaughter (some historians theorize that the Allies knew), what eventually happens to Piggy is equivalent to what happens to the British army at Dunkirk, and the firestorm created to drive Ralph into the open is the Blitzkrieg and the bombing of London and the book’s end is the allies storming of the beaches of Normandy.
An uncommon, yet intriguing freshman term paper theme, is “The Time I Lost my Innocence.” For these children, that time was on this island. Each reader loses a bit of their innocence as they finish “Lord of the Flies.”