Lord of the Flies: a response

Lord of the Flies by William Golding


“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” (Ayn Rand)

Golding’s characters symbolize ideology and the passages describing weather enhance the allegory. The deterioration of societal breakdown is obvious and predictable. Simon is the “positive”, Piggy is voice of reason, Jack is the “beast” lurking in all men, and Ralph is the naïve protagonist we stupidly cheer for.

The weak or “just” are killed while the fear mongering and ruthless thrive. This is the book Lord of the Flies.

To be honest, I appreciated the depth of what the characters were supposed to resemble and felt the work carried an important meaning, but perhaps it was more original in its own time of 1954. As this is an opinion article I will give you my honest response; Lord of the Flies is formulaic and apparent. It has some subtle passages that I don’t know are worth the digging and could have been a novella. For a psychoanalytical-societal reflection novel, I think the book could have been more intriguing with much more or a much less. A powerful, epic novel or a powerful, epic short story. Where Golding ended up writing was somewhere in between, and not for the better.

I think this story has been told before Golding’s attempt and done better. Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Ray Bradbury all wiped the floor with Lord of the Flies. Maybe not Bradbury, who only really kicked butt with Fahrenheit 451, but you get my point. Where I understood what the characters were trying to all accomplish in LOTF, some of the repetitious chapters (of which, there are only twelve) begin and end the same way, i.e.; start a fight, introspective dialogue, blow the conch, meeting, foreshadow, conch, meeting, foreshadow, conch, another meeting—all the while packed with way too much “on-the-nose” metaphor regarding the weather. The sky did this. The clouds did that. The trees swayed. Snooze fest.

Good for young kids in high school who have never read some of the other greats I suppose, but not for me. If this book does belong on the top 100 novels of the 20th Century, it’s in the bottom half, not the top.

The truth is everything good or bad about this book has already been said and argued about, so if you want to know what is actually in the book as far as plot points are concerned I will let you read it for yourself. The book was good enough, surely ground-breaking for its time, but in story development and themes touches upon, it was “so so.” Don’t get me wrong; it was very strong at times and creatively written at others, but it was nothing I haven’t heard before in 2011, and part of the problem may be that so much time has passed since the inaugural publication in 1954. I mean, hell, here’s the author of the book, wrapping his book neatly up into a few sentences. You don’t even have to read the book—just read this from the Note section of my edition by E.L. EPSTIEN. I’m not joking:

“The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not the political system however apparently logical or respectable. The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?”

For my time spent, I would not recommend reading this book when so many other 20th century classics are out there, especially considering most people don’t read that much to begin with. Maybe this is a really great book and I just didn’t grasp it, but… no. I get it. Make no mistake. I understand what this book is supposed to be doing. I just don’t like how it does it, how there is very little conflict in those early chapters, and how the “note” in the end of the 2006 Perigee edition made me think of the themes just as much as the entire book. It is true – who will save the adults?

Do yourself a favor, read a Golding interview online, go to the Wikipedia page, and read a professional analysis. That will take you an hour, no more. You might really like the style of Golding though, which is easily read. Read the first two chapters and see for yourself. Just see if that curiosity pushes you through all twelve chapters. It shouldn’t be hard, but was for this reviewer. Chapters nine through twelve finally delivered for me, but the payoff wasn’t strong enough for me. Granted, this was Golding’s first novel ever, so I will add half a point for pity’s sake. Perhaps if we spent more time with the boys on the island and made the novel twice as long, the big turning points, act transitions, and events in the book would strike the reader differently. More enjoyably.

Once read is enough, and I’ll keep it on my shelf because it looks nice. Too bad I can’t chop off its head and mount it one my trophy wall. Read On the Road, Lolita, 1984, and The Great Gatsby long before you read Lord of the Flies.

Rating: 6.5/10







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