A plane carrying a group of boy's during a war which we can assume to be WWII crashes on an uninhabited island. Mysteriously, the boy's survive, yet the plane creates a 'scar' in in the forest of the island. Two of the boy's, Piggy and Ralph, meet on the beach and find a conch, with which they communicate their presence and gather all the other boys, among whom, notably there is the choir, all dressed in black and lead by the only one who can 'sing a high C', Jack. The boys have the first of many assemblies, where the choir wants Jack to be leader, but the majority vote for Ralph. While Ralph is a reasonable person, he does not manage to motivate the other boys to work on necessary measures to survive, such as building shelters for the night, while the choir, still led by Jack, are put in charge of keeping a fire alive on top of the island's mountain as a distress signal for she that may pass by. Soon, the choir re-invent themselves as hunters, and starts hunting pigs in the forest, which gives them more power within this community of adolescents, as the only food available up to then were fruits picked from trees. This gives Jack more and more power to challenge Ralph's position, which he does, openly or covertly, at every assembly. In the meantime, Piggy, an intelligent and pragmatic young person, becomes the butt of the joke for most of the boys, while the rumor that a beast lives in the forest spreads among the community, creating fear and giving yet more power to the hunters, who are now armed, very loyal to their leader and more and more eager to seize power...
Golding does not give us an explicit historical context on purpose, as he wishes his novel to carry an allegorical and universal message. The references to 'the war' ships and airplanes do lead us to understand that the war takes place in modern history, though, and the presentation of the choir, dressed in black and figuratively marching on the beach, can be seen as referring to Nazi Germany. However, Golding wants us to look past here and now, and abstract universal human qualities from the story of the novel and its characters; the fact that the boys are isolated on an island, away from the rest of the world, can be seen as a 'social study' of what happens when humans are left to their own devices, as well as an exploration of the real nature of mankind, with dire conclusions. There are also clear references to the British class system, as the society has leaders who dominate the assembly, which one could see as the upper class, supporters with an individual identity, comparable to the middle class and, finally, the 'little'uns' the unnamed mass, who do not have any role in the running of society.
'Lord of the Flies' falls perfectly within the tradition of realistic writing with symbolic elements, pioneered by Flaubert in 'Madame Bovary' and then brought into English literature by early Modernist texts such as James Joyce's 'Dubliners'. The leap of faith required by the suspension of disbelief is huge, but required only once, at the very beginning of the novel, with the crash of a plane on an island causing the death of all adults yet the survival of all the children. The symbolic element is conveyed by colors, in particular pink, always associated with positivity, democracy, communication, salvation and black, representing dictatorship, destruction and damnation. The Beast is symbolic of fear, a necessary element for the establishment of police states and dictatorships.
I believe 'Lord of the Flies' is not just a classic, but an enjoyable and wonderful read: these two elements rarely come together and work so perfectly. While the adventurous plot keeps the reader entertained throughout, the symbolic and allegorical elements allow us to read the text on deeper and different levels, whilst never spoiling the pleasure of reading. 'Lord of the Flies' is both dystopian and realistic at the same time, providing a link between two genres that have dominated literature for decades, yet, ironically, I think very few contemporary writers have followed Golding's path.
Book Reviewed by Billy Best
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