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Penguin Group (USA) LLC
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Lord of the Flies Kindle Edition
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|Length: 189 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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William Golding would win the Nobel Prize for Literature primarily due to this work, which was originally published in 1954. So often Introductions detract from the main work. Not so in this case. Stephen King has written one of the most memorable ones. It is brief, and describes his childhood reading in Maine. He had read many of the standard “uplifting” books for the young, like the “Hardy Boys.” Eventually he realized that real kids don’t act the way they are depicted in these uplifting tales. He wanted to read a realistic account of what kids do. When the library Bookmobile came to town, he asked the librarian. She pulled this book out of the adult section, with the admonition that he should never tell the source; he had simply found it on his own.
British school boys – and it is only boys – crash in an airplane on a deserted island. The adults are killed, only the school boys remain. They commence to organize themselves. They use a simple conch as a symbol of authority. They hold an election as to who should be a leader. They determine they really are on an island, and realize they must generate smoke in order to attract the attention of any ship that may be passing, in order to be rescued. That’s the rational action part.
Golding was a school teacher when he wrote this novel, so he knew all too well the cliques that kids will form, the bullying of the weaker and the outliers, and yes, the just plain nastiness of kids, some of whom would one day point a presumptive finger at their elders. The “good” kid, the one the reader would like to identify with, is Ralph. But right from the beginning, Golding shows his “feet of clay.” It is a painful re-read at times. Who does not remember the “not cool” overweight kid, who might be asthmatic, with thick glasses? Who would be this kid’s friend? In Golding’s novel, this kid reveals to Ralph that his name in school was “piggy,” and begs him not to tell the others. Ralph does, in a senseless act of cruelty.
And it is downhill from there. Two main factions develop. Fears of the unknown haunt the dreams and the waking periods of the youths. A faction of the school boys evolve to be the hunters, in search of the meat of pigs. Satiating natural hunger degenerates in savagery and blood lust… and the killing of their own kind. It is in our genes is what Golding was saying, as I also saw confirmed in the ‘60’s.
Golding’s work is still apparently a school assignment, based on the number of reviews (including the silly 1-stars). It remains a very well-written “action tale” with a strong moral message about our essential genes that quietly rebuke those “new age” aspirations. I found it better, and definitely more understandable the second time around. 5-stars.
Before I read this book I would say humanity at it's most basic element is good. At this stage in my life I attempt to hold on to those romantic ideals. This book is one of a few factors that made it apparent to me that my previous statement is inadequate, though I do not recant it completely.
As you are likely aware this novel is about a group of boys who are marooned on a desert island without adults-total freedom to live the life they have always dreamed. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. Their community with no outside pressure degenerates. But why?
Some say it is because humanity is inherently evil, so their society degenerates...but I think that answer (like mine) is too simple.
The boys' immaturity is repeatedly, frustratingly on display, and as you read you will realize it is not so much inherent evil, but more inherent immaturity. You will also notice this immaturity is not limited to adolescents or the novel, it is very apparent in much of our society today. In my opinion, rather than saying humanity is inherently evil, Golding's LOTF is more a revelation of why we need an education-- to develop ourselves past our fear/ego/scarcity into a bigger, fuller understanding of life. It reminds me of Plato's desire for philosopher-kings. The boys in LOTF are the opposite of philosopher kings. They are immature boys arguing/fighting on trivial grounds like many (most?) of our leaders throughout history.
This book is valuable for a lot of reasons, I hope the high schoolers reading it don't get lost in the required reading and engage it on a personal level.
The penguin edition I read has a phenomenal literary criticism section in the back, I highly recommend getting that edition and reading those excerpts if possible!
The book is, however an exploration into deeper issues- the decrepit state of fallen human nature, the politics of power and how people seem to consistently select the worst leader available as their ruler.
To understand why this book touched a nerve with the British public in 1954, we really have to look at what was happening at that time. The book deals with the concepts of civilisation and the innate human savagery just waiting to re—assert itself, and the breakdown of morality and social cohesion. The success of these underlying themes seems unsurprising when you consider that in the 1950’s Britain had mostly discarded Christianity and transitioned intto a secular nation that viewed humans as little more than apes evolved by accident; most of the empire had gone and what was left was being lost to African nationalist movements; the natural environment was being destroyed by industrialization. Golding himself was a Christian. In this way the book can be seen as an allegory of mans fall from the garden of Eden- the loss of innocence, rejection of God, and resulting descent into sin. This sense of societal and moral decay is well captured by the final words of the rescuing naval officer- “I should have thought that a pack of British boys – you’re all British, aren’t you?- would have been able to put up a better show than that-“.
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