Sometimes the task of reviewing a book can be quite daunting. This could be great for the book, or it could express the readers ill-favor. Sometimes though, the reader may just be at a loss of words as to how to begin. This is an obviously tough predicament for the reviewer but if books were alive, I’m sure they would be flattered. Finding words to describe the particular complexity of certain literature is a task that must not be taken lightly, especially when reviewing William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. There is a quote out there in the world of literature that I can understand.
“Some books should be tasted,
But only a few
Should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”
-Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Lord of the Flies is truly a book that should only be “chewed and digested thoroughly.” The content is not lightly absorbed and the symbolism can be subtle to discern. I was completely enthralled while wrapping my mind around William Golding’s allegory. Lord of the Flies is not just a fantastic story but also leaves the reader with a powerful moral that is truly iconic. To grasp what I am trying to impart, and if you have not had the chance to read it yet, an overview of Lord of the Flies may be sufficient.
The story takes place in the midst of a raging war, where a plane evacuating a group of schoolboys from Britain is shot down over a deserted tropical island. Two boys, Ralph and Piggy, find a conch shell on the bottom of a lagoon which they use to call an assembly. The boys who arrive range from young, aimless children or “littl’uns” to older, more tempermental “bigg’uns.” Jack, the clever leader of a boys choir attempts to secure a position for himself as Chief but Ralph takes the position by popular vote. Jack assumes leadership over his choir as hunters. Together the boys try to build a simple society in which to coexist until rescue arrives. Their attempts were disastrous.
The theme of Lord of the Flies attempts to trace the flaws and defects of society back to the flaws of human nature. The moral of the book is that the condition of a society must depend on the ethical nature of it’s individuals and not on a political system, no matter how perfect or foolproof it may seem. The attempted society portrayed in Lord of the Flies is an excellent example of this. The boys were unable to coexist peacefully for an extended time because their ego’s would not allow it. They fell apart and degraded into savagery.
The “Lord of the Flies” is a translation of the Hebrew word, Ba’alzevuv, which roughly means devil or Satan. In Golding’s book, the satanic forces that compel the shocking events on the island come from within the human psyche rather than from an external, supernatural realm. A lack of spiritual motivation and an overpowering domination of Ego was prevalent among all the boys on the island, except perhaps Simon, who was very morally inclined. This led to the collapse of their society because without God/Spirit, man is truly evil when left to their own devices.
The emergence of this concealed wildness is the very theme of the book. One of the boys, Piggy is the intellectual of the story. The fact that he wears spectacles is of great importance to the symbolic plot. Later on, when his spectacles shatter, it marks the progressive decay of rational thought as the story progresses. The struggle between Ralph, who is the representative of civilization and government, and Jack, whose Ego is much more evident than Ralph’s and who is a good representative of anarchy on the island is also a struggle in society on a much larger scale.
Among the many symbolic moments in Lord of the Flies, one stood out largely for me, the killing of the sow. It was a very important part of the plot because it marked a turning point in the condition of the boy’s society. The symbolism of the act was that the drive or emotions the boys felt while slaying the sow was symbolic for sexual intercourse. It was in all ways amoral and was a great portrayal of the Devil/Ego.
The pigs head was cut off and skewered upon a stick (sharpened at both ends) which was jammed in a crack in the earth. The boys stared in awe as they watched the flies gather around the leering head which was dubbed “Lord of the Flies.” Once the boys had been fully immersed in savagery they planned to kill Ralph toward the end of the book. The death planned for Ralph involved a stick sharpened at both ends. Grim thought eh? 😉
Although the killing of the sow was greatly symbolic in Lord of the Flies, it only laid the groundwork for the most deeply symbolic incident. Simon was greatly affected by the skewered head and seemed to be having a conversation with it in the book. The “Lord of the Flies” explained to Simon, in his heightened perceptions, that he was a part of Simon, as he was of all the boys, and was the cause of the distress among them. Simon eventually loses consciousness and imagines he is looking into a vast mouth. The blackness spread and encompassed Simon’s entire vision just before he lost consciousness. This mouth is the symbol of the ravenous and unreasoning Devil/Ego conquering Simon.
Eventually, the boys on the island are rescued by a naval officer who disrupts the man-hunt for Ralph. This is where the book ends with the boys being saved. Lord of the Flies was one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever had the chance to read. I am grateful to have successfully discerned it’s symbolism and understood its moral. The collapse of a society can only be halted through an acceptance of God or Love. The true nature of humanity, without this force, is inherently evil and will cause the collapse of the most respectable civilizations. This is a great read for those who welcome deep thinking. 😉
-Ival Ty Crisp