- Good v Evil
It is easy to see the book as an allegory: tracing the descent of man from civilisation to anarchy and savagery. A number of commentators go further and see the central theme as man’s inherent evil nature reasserting itself, once the veneer of civilisation is stripped away. Do you see it as civilisation versus anarchy or good versus evil or both?
In support of his statement in 4 below, the author only has to demonstrate that the leaders are inherently evil (Hitler and Mussolini), so that good men become collateral damage. Jack is obviously deranged (a victim of the English public school system) and Roger is a psychopath. Once they become leaders, good people like Ralph, Piggy, Simon and the twins become dispensable. On this view the book is all about leadership and does not necessarily make the point that all men are inherently evil. What you think?
2 The role of Ralph
Ralph appears to symbolise leadership and order. However he does fall from grace on occasion and did take part in the murder of Simon. Is it too far-fetched to say that Ralph “portrays the role of government in any modern society. While he wants to satisfy the wishes of the public, he must also realise that certain rules of behaviour must be followed in order to prevent anarchy”?
3 War paint
It is easier to kill and go troppo if you paint your face and body, engage in war cries, war dances, blood lust and mob rule. This is first apparent in chapter 4 (page 66). “He capered towards Bill and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness”.
Has this any relevance to the world in 1954 or 1945 ? Is it a symbol or metaphor or just part of a boy’s own yarn?
4 Adventure Story v deep and meaningful allegory
On one level, this is a rattling good yarn. However this is not the reason it has been set by numerous schools. There are many interpretations, including by the author. The author is reported as stating, probably in desperation, in answer to speculation about what he intended, that the theme was to trace the problems of society back to the sinful nature of man. He says that he wrote the book to show how political systems cannot govern society effectively without first taking into consideration the defects of human nature.
Can we not accept inevitable degeneration from bad to worse, without subscribing to the sin/evil interpretation? Less sinful defects of man are laziness, selfishness, pleasure, irresponsibility and suchlike. Do we need to treat man as an inherently evil bloodthirsty creature? Or is this perhaps the aftermath of Hitler and Mussolini? It is probable that the author had Nazi Germany in mind (and possibly the Nuremberg war trials) when postulating the inherent evil in all men. However, it is quite possible to treat most of the behaviour of the boys as a descent from fun loving bloodthirsty irresponsibility (boys own annual stuff) to something far more sinister – tribal warfare. But for the improbable intervention of the navy, the boys would have killed Ralph and then probably turned into cannibals when all other food sources ran out. However, even this is not necessarily the result of deep rooted evil. Irresponsibility degenerates into desperation.
What do you think or am I being too kind?
5 Fear of the Unknown
Jack and his hunters were so absorbed in killing the pig that they let the fire go out and lost the opportunity of signalling to a passing ship (chapter 4 page 74). So Ralph called a meeting to discuss the consequences of irresponsibility.
“So remember. The rocks for a lavatory. Keep the fire going and smoke showing a signal. Don’t take fire from the mountain. Take your food up there.” (Chapter 5 page 87)
At this stage, most of the boys were prepared to listen to reason. “Then people started getting frightened” (page 88).
To what extent does fear of the unknown (beast from water, beast from air and lord of the flies) account for, justify or excuse the descent into savagery? Simon alone seems to have exploded this myth, but he fell for the beast within “myth” (see 7 below). Does the author give us a realistic choice between fear of the unknown and the beast within, or is it unfair to link the two together?
6 Rules, Adults and we are British
Ralph and Piggy realise the importance of rules.
“Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got” (Ralph, chapter 5 page 99)
“What’s grown-ups going to say? Cried Piggy again” (page 99).
Ralph, like a good leader, constantly battles his baser instincts. “Supposing I got like the others-not caring. What ‘ud become of us?”
“I dunno, Ralph. We just got to go on, that’s all. That’s what grown-ups would do”.( chapter 8 page 153)
Are we talking here about responsible v irresponsible, mature v immature or children v adults?
Ironically, somewhere early in the book, Jack says something like we are not savages, we are British. This theme is taken up by the Naval officer at the end of the book: – “‘I should have thought,’ said the officer as he visualised the search before him, ‘I should have thought a pack of British boys – you are all British aren’t you? – would have been able to put up a better show than that – I mean –'”
Also, throughout the book, there are references to British schoolboy language such as “waxy” and “caught short”. Do you find any other such references?
Would Australian schoolboys, or any other schoolboys have acted differently or had different standards?
7 The beast without v the beast within
Simon’s epileptic encounter with the lord of the flies takes us further into the occult and the concept of evil.
“‘Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill! said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. ‘You knew didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?’ ( chapter8, page 158)
This is probably the closest we get to the concept of evil being within every one of us. Do you accept this interpretation of the story and, whether or not you do so, is it a valid thesis?
8. 12-year-old boys
In relation to the allegory theory, this is an interesting choice. The absence of girls removes sex from the equation. This allows the author to concentrate on leadership, play and the herd mentality. However, 12-year-old boys are very immature and can be expected to prefer hunting and killing to keeping fires alight 24/7 and being responsible. Also, the choir were accustomed to obeying Jack as their leader. These reservations render doubtful the thesis that the boys represent mankind marooned on a desert island without any of the trappings of civilisation.
A further reservation is the question of whether the boys do act like 12-year-olds, or show maturity (at least in some respects) beyond their years. After everything that has happened, the rescuing naval officer sees them as little boys playing “fun and games” (last chapter page 223). It is amazingly deflating to see Ralph, who has been built up throughout the book as a hero, through the eyes of the officer: – “The officer inspected the little scarecrow in front of him. The kid needed a bath, a haircut, a nose wipe and a good deal of ointment”. This is the boy who had been fighting for his life. And it is deflating to see Jack, king of the hunters, through the eyes of the officer: – “A little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist…”
In the light of all this, how far can the allegory theory be taken?
The book is written in the third person, but mainly through the eyes of Ralph as the protagonist. There is plenty of description of the island scenery – no doubt based on the experiences of the author during the war in the Navy and on islands. Did you find the descriptions helpful, irrelevant or distracting?
The book is written as a boy’s own annual adventure story, so that the reader has to supply the allegory of what happened to man once the trappings of civilisation are removed. As this is a novel and not a book on philosophy, it only works if the story is interesting enough to keep reading and hold your attention.
Did you find it sufficiently interesting and believable or too polemic or contrived?
Has anyone written a sequel or attempted to work out what happened next? It is interesting to speculate whether the Navy would try to find out from the boys what happened and to follow-up Ralph’s statement that two of the boys had been killed. Should blame and legal consequences be attached to Jack for leading the mad sequence which led to the death of Simon and to Roger who deliberately set loose the rock which killed Piggy (page 200)?
Conversely, it is interesting to speculate as to what would have happened if the Navy had not intervened. Do you think this “device” works or spoils the book? Without such intervention, it would have been survival of the fittest – possibly until the last boy was left standing (Jack or Roger?). Would this have served the purposes of the author in demonstrating the ultimate breakdown of civilisation? If so, why the intervention?
Do you agree that this book is now a classic of English literature and if so do you think it deserves its status? Many of us would have seen the film – some years ago. I have seen it recently and it does fairly faithfully follow the book – particularly the bloody and sensational bits. The 12-year-old boys are actually quite believable and quite frightening. However a film can only convey a series of incidents and not necessarily tell the whole story. What do you think?
If you do consider the book a classic, is it because of the subject matter or the writing or both?
It is somewhat strange that this is the only book I can think of which deals with children going berserk on a tropical island. While this book uses children in the allegory, the concept of an apocalypse or holocaust (following nuclear wipe-out) was very real in 1945 and for some years following. The book should probably be seen as part of a genre dealing with what might happen at the end of the world when there are only one or two survivors on a desert island (or New Zealand). In this context, the author’s view of the chances of the surviving adults (or children) recreating a meaningful civilisation, is a very bleak one, but possibly realistic. What do you think? It will no doubt be obvious that I don’t buy the theory of man’s inherent evil nature (making him ungovernable). But I do buy the possibility of the survivors having a choice between responsible action and irresponsible descent into chaos.
I have probably said enough in these questions and comments to justify the book being treated as a classic and set by innumerable schools over the last 10 or 20 years. Kids (and particularly boys) should be able to relate to the characters and should be able to engage in meaningful discussion about the consequences of their actions. However, I may be too optimistic. What do you think?
12 Is It Dated?
During and immediately after the war, the evil of people like Hitler must have been more apparent than today, but query people like Saddam Hussein and the current ruler of Syria.
Today, we are far more conscious of environmental impact – so the destructive fires (particularly the last one which probably destroyed the island) would mean more to us.
Otherwise, it would appear that the book still has relevance to countless schoolboys (query schoolgirls) today as it continues to be set for years nine and 10. My year 10 grandson seemed to enjoy it but had trouble with the allegory – particularly the concept of good and evil. Bible stories as allegories are not the strong suit of most year 10’s (mostly 16-year-olds). Do you agree?
13. What Did You and the Characters Learn?
The question asked of year 10 English at Mosman High was: –“’ Works of fiction involve learning experiences for the characters and the reader.’ In what ways is this true of the novel you have studied this term?”
If we accept the author’s view (4 above), man is inherently evil and ungovernable. On any view all of the characters (with the possible exception of Ralph and Piggy) learned nothing but descended from irresponsible fun into savagery and chaos. Ralph possibly learnt how hard it is to govern a mob – particularly where fun is far more attractive than hard work. We certainly learn the same lesson. Do you agree with my overview and assumptions? Do any of the characters learn anything more – good or bad? Do we learn anything more?
Do you agree with the author (see 4 above) that mankind is essentially ungovernable?